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Gonzaga had its first loss of the season against BYU and slipped to #4. Kansas is the new #1 team in the ranking. It has been a great season, but it was also marred by plenty of issues outside of it. KU still made history by winning their conference for the 13th consecutive season. North Carolina is not a lock to win the ACC yet, while other conferences, including a few mid-majors to keep an eye on, already have a winner.
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It’s not over yet
North Carolina will be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament but has not won the regular season yet. The conference lived on a balance of power and this is a fitting end for the regular season. Louisville and Notre Dame might still catch the Tar Heels in the standings, although North Carolina won against both of them and has the tiebreaker in case of a tie.
The game against Virginia could have been the right one to secure the regular season win. The Cavaliers have been through a rough stretch and lost 5 of the last 7, slipping to #23 in the ranking. But it could not be that simple. For once, everything seemed to go in Virginia’s way. They found a reliable alternative to London Perrantes on offense in Kyle Guy (top scorer with 17 points), took care of the ball (only 4 turnovers), protected the rim (8 blocks) and played great defense per usual. North Carolina finished with 43 points, exactly half of what the Tar Heels have been averaging for the season (86). It is also the lowest scoring total in a full game for North Carolina since 1979, before the introduction of the shot clock. UNC started with a 7-0 run, but after that, the team could never impose its physicality despite the Cavaliers using undersized lineup most of the time with Devin Hall guarding Isaiah Hicks. UNC will have one more chance to secure it next Saturday, at Chapel Hill, against Duke.
Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils suffered two bad road losses this week, the first at Syracuse and the second at Miami. In both cases, Duke seemed incapable of overcoming zone defenses. Grayson Allen was out with an ankle injury in Florida. With Allen’s injury, Duke had only 7 players in their rotation. Jayson Tatum (4-of-16 and 0-of-7 3P) and Luke Kennard (6-of-20) played the whole 40 minutes. Miami entered the ranking after this win and the team has freshman guard Bruce Brown to thank for that. He is a ball of energy on the court and literally trampled Duke’s guards on his way to 25 points (11-of-18 from the field) 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
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An awkward season for Kansas
Brandon Rush’s jersey, a member of the only team that won a title for coach Bill Self, was retired on February 22nd at the Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas also happened to write a piece of history on the same night by securing the 13th consecutive win of its conference, equaling John Wooden and UCLA. It happened in a win over TCU, a game the Jayhawks won by playing great in the second half. In the days following the win, there were reasons for concern for coach Self and Kansas fans.
On Thursday, Devonte Graham was arrested and booked into the Douglas County Jail for a few hours on suspicion of failing to appear on court. Apparently, the charge stems from an expired tag ticket which was filled in June 2016. He was quickly released after paying a 196$ bond and coach Self decided not to suspend him. Josh Jackson, on the other hand, has been charged for vandalizing the car of a player of the female college team of the same university. Apparently, Lagerald Vick was involved in the incident as well. No suspension was handed to them either, but considering Carlton Bragg has been suspended twice this season, things seems to have been taking a turn towards the ridiculous this season for the Jayhawks.
Kansas’ most dangerous opponents in the Big 12 tournament? It’s not Baylor or West Virginia, although those might be the most obvious answers. The hottest team in the conference right now is Iowa State, winner of 6 consecutive games, including the last one against the Bears (72-69 the final). MVP of the game was Deonte Burton, who finished with 22 points, 3 blocks and went 2-of-2 from behind the arc, including the shot that virtually closed the game.
The bottom line is that if Burton becomes a reliable second to Monte Morris, still one of the most complete PG in college basketball, Iowa State becomes a dangerous opponent to face, since they have reliable outside shooters in Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas. They finished the week tied for second with West Virginia and will finish their season on the road against the Mountaineers.
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Big Ten hunting for seeds
Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa have two things in common.
- All of them won 2 consecutive games, including one each against ranked opponents.
- They are almost certain to get an invitation to the Big Dance.
Let’s start with the Spartans, who won against Nebraska and Wisconsin. It was a huge response after another season-ending injury, this time to Eron Harris, brought up comments of MSU being “done” this season. The closer it gets to March, the more Izzo’s team get better. Michigan State began with improvements on turnovers (at some point they had a turnover rate of 22%). Cassius Winston, despite coming off the bench, became the most reliable playmaker for the team, and in the last two games he finished with 16 assists to 2 turnovers.
Miles Bridges is still playing great basketball (he has an open streak of 12 consecutive games with 12+ points), but the real difference maker was freshman Nick Ward, who averaged 21 points and 9 rebounds in the two wins.
Michigan, on the other hand, is one of the most fun team to watch thanks to a great offense (8th in efficiency in Division I) that makes the best of the players at roster (55.2% 2PG, 38.3% 3PG), and gets 38% of the total team points from behind the arc. In a win (5th in the lat 6 games) against the conference leader Purdue, the Wolverines shot 11-of-26 on threes, thanks in part to 24 points by Moritz Wagner. You’d do well to keep an eye on the sophomore: he moves well on the court and can shoot it from distance (42% 3P%). The Wolverines, however, do give up 38.7% opponents 3PG. When paired with poor bench play and only Duncan Robinson being a reliable contributor, there are concerns once the tournament starts. And by the way, they seem to be a lock to get an invitation, after their last win.
Iowa is still uncertain of its future, despite a win against Maryland. The Hawkeyes are one of the youngest and more inexperienced team in Division I and they have three freshman in their starting five. Their game plan revolves around Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, both rookies and both key in the win against the Terrapins. The former, a guard with great court vision and great shooting touch, finished with 24 points on 8 3-pointer makes (a school record for most 3-pointers in a game for a freshman). Cook, on the other, plays power forward and lives in the paint and in the post. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. These two performances literally saved the team from a bad shooting night for Peter Jok, the Big Ten’s top scorer who is averaging 20.6 PPG.
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The Bracket Busters are back
Remember these two?
They are Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw, the two players responsible for the single upset that busted over 13 million tournament brackets on the Espn website last March, after Middle Tennessee won against Michigan State in the first round. They are still around and are getting ready for more mischief. The Blue Raiders are better than last year and won the C-USA for the first time, the conference they became part of in 2013. Beside Potts and Upshaw, coach Kermit Davis can rely on Jacorey Williams, senior transfer who was banished from Arkansas after causing all sorts of troubles, including using fake money. In Tennessee he is playing the best basketball of his career. Williams is leading the team in points (17.4) and rebounds (7.5) and his season has been perfect on and off the court so far. Potts is not as efficient from behind the arc as he was last year (meaning, he is not shooting over 50% anymore) but he is still averaging 15 per game. Upshaw is his usual do-it-all. The Blue Raiders lost only 4 games this season and made sure to win the regular season with 2 games left.
Most of the attention goes to the youngsters, but Monmouth easily won the MAAC thanks to the team’s seniors. Justin Robinson was expected to have a great season and he delivered: he is averaging almost 20 points and 5 assists and led a team that for once is not only about creative celebrations. The Hawks went on a 16-game win streak, won the conference and will be a dangerous team to play for anyone in the tournament. They play at a fast pace, relentlessly attack the paint with Robinson leading the charge and Micah Seaborn and Je’Ion Hornbeak to punish opponents from outside the arc. The team is averaging 81 points per game with one of the best offenses in the nation and they can be effective even against non-conference teams.