College Basketball Nation: Creighton Bluejays
Founding member Providence will battle new addition Creighton on Saturday, with the conference championship and automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line.
Providence vs. Creighton? Sounds a little funny -- but appropriate, too, given it’s the first championship game of a new era.
The Friars (22-11, 10-8), the No. 4 seed, got here with close wins over St. John’s and Seton Hall. Their path became far less challenging when top-seeded Villanova was upset in the quarterfinals.
Still, Providence has accomplished its primary objective this week -- getting off the NCAA bubble and into the projected field of 68. Now it’ll try to win the Big East tournament for only the second time in school history.
“This was one of our goals coming into the season,” said Providence junior forward LaDontae Henton. “Madison Square Garden -- it’s a big place to play at, a great place to play at, and we just wanted to come in here, and we know we can compete with all the teams in here.”
Providence senior guard Bryce Cotton (21.4 points per game) was the second-leading scorer in the conference in the regular season. But Henton has been the team’s best player in this tournament with a pair of double-doubles -- 16 points and 11 rebounds against the Red Storm, followed by 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Pirates.
“LaDontae was a man-child today, an absolute man-child,” said Providence coach Ed Cooley. “I always think he’s one of the more underappreciated guys on our team.”
Creighton (26-6, 14-4), the No. 2 seed, has had a little easier time of it this week, with a 22-point victory over DePaul followed by an eight-point win over Xavier. Now the Bluejays will try to win their conference tournament for the third year in a row -- only this time it’s in the Big East.
“It’s just an unreal feeling,” said Creighton center Ethan Wragge. “Five years ago, I was playing in the Missouri Valley, and now today -- or tomorrow at least, we’ll be playing for one of the most historic college tournaments of all time.”
Fellow senior Doug McDermott has not disappointed in New York, pouring in 35 points in the quarterfinals and 32 more in the semis -- breaking the record for most points in a player’s first two Big East tournament games, previously held by Georgetown’s Allen Iverson (58).
The Bluejays lead the nation in 3-pointers per game (10.4) and 3-point percentage (42.7), and shot 11-for-25 from beyond the arc Friday night. Wragge drained five long balls and three other players buried a pair as Creighton avenged a 75-69 loss at Xavier two weeks ago.
“We were 10-for-34 from the 3-point line that night,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, Doug’s father. “I think Doug took 12 3s and was 5-for-12, and I think Ethan was 3-for-9. So two of our best shooters had some decent looks at the basket and didn’t make them.”
Creighton,projected to be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament by ESPN's Joe Lunardi as of Saturday morning, will be the favorite Saturday night. But the two teams split their two regular-season meetings. Providence won 81-68 at home on Jan. 18 and lost 88-73 in Omaha just one week ago, in the teams’ regular-season finale last Saturday.
“So we’re both familiar with each other,” McDermott said. “It’s going to be two good teams playing basketball and having the time of their life.”
One year ago, Louisville vs. Syracuse was the matchup in the Big East tournament final, and it was a classic -- the Cardinals rallied from a 16-point deficit with under 16 minutes to play to win by 17 en route to a national championship.
Now we get Providence vs. Creighton -- a different kind of Big East title game, but with similar stakes.
“We’re thrilled. In less than 24 hours, we’re playing for a Big East championship,” McDermott said. “None of us ever dreamed that would be a possibility.”
We couldn’t boil down the list. That was the amazing thing.
Every year, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association board members and district representatives get together on a conference call to boil down the candidates for player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year. Usually it’s not terribly complicated. This season it was.
Not for the first two, but for the third. There were so many choices, we were worried we’d leave someone off.
Which got me to thinking, what would coaches say? Who among their peers would they deem the most worthy?
So I decided to ask. I polled 22 different coaches -- from big conferences and small, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest and South -- and asked them (anonymously so they wouldn't feel strange) to name their national coach of the year and why he earned their vote.
A majority, yes, but not a consensus.
Of the 22 people polled, 11 said Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, three picked Florida's Billy Donovan and two chose Cincinnati's Mick Cronin, while Creighton's Greg McDermott, Virginia's Tony Bennett, Villanova's Jay Wright, SMU's Larry Brown, Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan's John Beilein received one vote apiece.
Marshall got the edge for logical reasons. The head coach of the undefeated Shockers has already made history, leading his team not only to the NCAA's first undefeated regular season in 10 years, but also to a 34-0 record and the Missouri Valley regular-season and conference tournament titles.
"They simply haven’t made a mistake," one coach said of Marshall’s Wichita State team.
Added another: "Going undefeated is next to impossible. Going undefeated after a Final Four appearance is beyond impossible because of the target you have to wear into every game."
Donovan earned the respect of his peers for his ability to overcome suspensions and injuries yet still lead his Florida team to 23 consecutive wins, the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history, an SEC regular-season title and just two losses.
"If the guys weren’t hurt or out against Wisconsin, he could have one loss," one coach said of the Gators’ first loss, in which both Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin did not play. "And he just does his job. That’s it."
Cronin, the only other multiple-vote-getter, earned props for Cincinnati’s relentless style. The Bearcats, picked to finish fourth in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference, instead shared the league title with Louisville.
"He’s just done a heckuva job with his team," one coach said. "They play the best defense and he’s gotten so much out of those guys."
Even though McDermott, Self, Wright, Bennett, Brown and Beilein each received just one vote, plenty of coaches mentioned them while whittling down their choices to a single name.
The stakes were raised this year for Creighton with the Bluejays' move to the Big East, yet thanks to McDermott and in no small part to his son, Doug, not much has changed. Creighton finished second in the league.
"I understand he has the best player in the country, but still, to move up a league, that’s impressive," one coach said of McDermott.
In the expanded and ever-more-difficult ACC, Bennett led Virginia to its first conference regular-season title since 1981, losing just two league games in the process.
"Sixteen-and-one and 13 in a row in the ACC is pretty impressive," the one coach who voted for Bennett said before the Cavaliers closed the regular season with a 75-69 overtime loss to Maryland to end that streak.
"This is an example of how a team with capable college players executing a cohesive brand of basketball can achieve at a very high level," Wright’s voter said. "Jay has masterfully orchestrated this championship team, pushing all the right buttons."
And speaking of unexpected, there is SMU. Larry Brown promised big changes when the school hired him two years ago. No one expected such dramatic improvement so quickly.
"No one else could have done what LB has done at SMU," Brown’s endorser said.
Self, meanwhile, essentially has rebuilt his roster with little change in results. Kansas won yet another Big 12 title, the Jayhawks' 10th in a row despite a roster heavily reliant on freshmen.
"He started brand new and here he is. That’s pretty amazing," another coach said.
Finally, Beilein is almost a combo of Self and Donovan. He led the Wolverines to a Big Ten regular-season title despite losing the player of the year (Trey Burke) and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last year’s national championship runner-up team and Mitch McGary for the better part of this season due to injury.
"At the end of the day, it’s not all just about toughness," one of Beilein's peers said. “We talk about that too much. It’s about execution, and he’s the best execution coach in the game."
Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.
And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.
It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:
3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.
4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.
41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.
18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.
13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.
1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”
7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.
73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.
33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.
30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.
2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.
It’s March. Championship Week begins Friday, and we’re less than two weeks away from the Big Dance.
We’ll probably see a multitude of thrillers, overtime games and clutch performances in the coming weeks. At least, we hope we will.
With the game on the line, these players should have the ball in their hands.
Here’s a list of America’s most clutch performers:
- Sean Kilpatrick: Cincinnati’s defense has been critical in the Bearcats’ rise to the top of the American Athletic Conference. But Kilpatrick has been the offensive catalyst for a team that’s struggled from the field this season. He’s arguably the top shooting guard in America, and his 34-point effort in Thursday’s 97-84 win over Memphis was his 17th performance this season with 20 points or more.
- Shabazz Napier: This list wouldn’t be valid without Napier. The senior guard has been clutch throughout his career at UConn. He’s always confident with the ball in his hands during big games. The legend continued when he hit the game-winning shot over Florida in December. He’s averaging 18.1 PPG, 5.3 APG and 1.9 SPG, along with shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. He’s always ready to show up down the stretch.
- Russ Smith: He’s still “Russdiculous.” Sometimes Smith can lose control and force shots, but he rarely shrinks under the spotlight. The senior star just keeps rolling, even on his worst nights. Against Cincy on Feb. 22, he’d missed seven of nine field goals when he caught the rock in the final seconds. He hit the shot, beat the buzzer and won the game for Louisville. The shot alone was impressive, but Smith’s ability to move on to the next play and help his team is rare.
- Tyler Ennis: Yep, Syracuse is struggling. But prior to this 1-4 stretch, Ennis was probably the most dependable player in America in the final minutes of a game. Through Feb. 12, he was 8-for-9 from the field and 14-for-14 from the charity stripe with a 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in the final five minutes of the second half and overtime, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That’s a ridiculous stat line that illustrates Ennis’ reliability in crucial moments for the Orange this season.
- Doug McDermott: Perhaps a list like this has to feature a senior who is on the verge of scoring 3,000 points for his career and earning his third consecutive Associated Press first-team All-America honors (he’ll be the first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing in the 1980s to complete that feat). McDermott is also shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line this season and averaging 25.9 PPG.
- Traevon Jackson: Wisconsin’s veteran guard can’t match the accolades that other players on this list boast. But whenever the Badgers are in a tight spot toward the end of a game, Bo Ryan usually turns to Jackson, the son of former Ohio State and NBA standout Jim Jackson. Sure, Jackson has missed a few late, but he’s also nailed clutch shots during his time in Madison. He beat Minnesota and Penn State last season with shots in the closing seconds. And his most recent heartbreaker was a last-second dagger that finished Michigan State last month.
- T.J. Warren: His blood type? Ice. The 6-foot-8 sophomore plays on a Wolfpack squad that won’t crack the NCAA tournament field without an ACC tourney championship. But he has put together some of the season’s most magnificent performances. His 41 points (16-for-22) in a 74-67 victory at Pittsburgh Monday probably opened some eyes, but he has scored 30 or more eight times this season.
- Billy Baron: There is only one player with a higher offensive rating (125.2) than Doug McDermott, per Ken Pomeroy. That’s Baron. But Canisius fans knew that already. Last season, Baron hit a 3-pointer toward the end of regulation to force overtime in a win at Youngstown State in the CIT, capping a comeback from a 45-28 halftime deficit. This season, Baron put together a late barrage during a 40-point night that lifted Canisius to a triple-overtime win versus Siena.
- Jermaine Marshall: Arizona State wouldn’t be in the NCAA tourney conversation without the Penn State transfer. He hit big shots in overtime during ASU’s win over rival Arizona last month. In January, Arizona State beat California in overtime after Marshall’s 3-pointer forced the extra period. He hit clutch free throws in a win over Oregon a few days later, too. The senior doesn’t have much time left and is playing with a sense of urgency, an attitude that has helped the Sun Devils compete for an at-large bid.
- Nik Stauskas: The versatile sophomore has fueled Michigan’s run to the Big Ten title. He’s averaging 17.3 PPG in a season that could end with All-America and Big Ten Player of the Year honors. His teammates can trust him with the game on the line. In January, two clutch performances stood out. Stauskas helped the Wolverines secure a road win over Minnesota Jan. 2 after Glenn Robinson III missed the second half with an ankle injury. Two weeks later, he knocked down a 3-pointer in the final minutes to help the Wolverines hold on to their lead in a win at Wisconsin.
If the NCAA tournament comes anything close to what we witnessed during Tuesday night’s slate of 7 p.m. games, we’ll have a fulfilling end to the college basketball season.
This closing week of the regular season felt like the opening weekend of the tournament with upsets that will potentially upset the tournament bubble. A must-win for Georgetown ended with a 75-63 victory over No. 13 Creighton. A must-win for Baylor ended with a 74-61 triumph over No. 16 Iowa State. Georgia Tech contributed to the downward spiral of No. 7 Syracuse by pulling off a 67-62 upset.
No. 1 Florida and No. 25 Kentucky both needed second-half awakenings before pulling away for their respective wins.
No. 12 Michigan was the only team than made the outcome totally boring. The Wolverines secured the Big Ten title outright by pummeling Illinois 84-53.
Baylor and Georgetown played with the desperation of teams needing to solidify their résumés. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Bears in as an 11-seed before beating Iowa State. Tuesday’s win should just solidify their standing -- especially if they end the regular season with a win at Kansas State to reach .500 in Big 12 play.
Brady Heslip broke a 61-61 tie with his fifth 3-pointer of the second half and the Bears never trailed again.
Georgetown’s win over the Bluejays propels it into Saturday’s regular-season finale with another opportunity to impress the committee at No. 6 Villanova. The hot-shooting Hoyas jumped on Creighton from the beginning en route to shooting 54 percent from the field.
It was the defensive job they did on Creighton’s Doug McDermott that keyed their win. Though McDermott did score 22 points, he needed 23 shots to get there. The Hoyas held him to just six points on 3-of-10 shooting as they built a 42-28 lead at halftime.
McDermott got hot in the second half and led a charge that cut a 16-point deficit down to five with 1:34 left. But the Hoyas made five of six free throws and Creighton couldn’t muster another basket to close the game.
Syracuse’s fall from being a potential No. 1 seed in the tournament appears to be complete unless it can turn things around quickly. That doesn’t seem likely as the Orange lost for the fourth time in five games and suffered their second setback to a team in the lowest third of the ACC.
The Yellow Jackets were a perfect senior night opponent having entered the Carrier Dome as losers of their past four. But they were in control most of the game against a Syracuse offense that again struggled to score.
C.J. Fair delivered 28 points and Tyler Ennis added 18, but no other Syracuse player reached double figures. Guard Trevor Cooney went 3-for-12 from the field -- including just 1-of-7 from 3-point range -- and finished with seven points.
The Orange sorely missed the presence of sophomore forward Jerami Grant, who is nursing a back injury and did not dress out for the game. Grant averages 11.8 points and is their leading rebounder with 6.7 rebounds.
The loss dropped Syracuse one step closer to a full scale panic. Kentucky nearly joined them.
The Wildcats trailed Alabama 28-25 and were flirting with their first three-game losing streak in five years. Tied at 32-32 in the second half, they used a 9-2 spurt to take the lead for good en route to a 55-48 win.
It wasn’t an overwhelming show of strength for the Cats. They shot just 32 percent from the field, including a 1-for-11 outing by James Young, but they showed fortitude they didn’t have in the loss at South Carolina. Julius Randle's 11 rebounds powered a 41-27 advantage for Kentucky, which helped it outscore Bama 18-3 in second chance points.
No. 1 Florida made upset-minded South Carolina believe that it was headed toward paying another SEC fine. The Gamecocks knocked off Kentucky on Saturday leading their crowd to rush the court after the game. That drew a $25,000 fine from the league for violation of policy and another violation would have upped the ante to $50,000.
The Gators led just 28-26 at halftime and by four points at the under-12 media timeout. The Gamecocks’ confidence seemed to be rising with each minute they remained close, but Michael Frazier II put an end to that.
Frazier already had five 3-pointers in the half. He made six more over the game’s final 11 minutes, including his first of those six that ignited a 15-0 run en route to a 72-46 win. Frazier set a new school record with his 11 3-pointers, beating Joe Lawrence’s mark of nine set on Dec. 27, 1986. He also scored a career-high 37 points.
The Illini never really had a chance against Michigan. They held their previous four opponents to less than 50 points. The Wolverines scored 52 in the first half. They bombarded Illinois by shooting 11-of-14 from 3-point range and 67.9 percent overall from the field.
The win secured Michigan’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The Wolverines were the only ranked team that seemingly were never seriously challenged on Tuesday. That’s why, although the tournament is still two weeks away, the madness has already started.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: At this point, it's getting hard to come up with material for the Arbitrarily Capitalized Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker. Well, OK, that's not exactly true. McDermott is doing plenty of awesome things. But it's just like, come on guys, do I really need to recap the statistics and individual milestones this week? Do we have to go through this whole process every time? You're on board by now, right?
This week, McDermott scored 39 points on 13-of-17 shooting in Creighton's 101-80 rout of Villanova, and afterward, Wildcats coach Jay Wright, honorary member of ACDMcAT Nation, said this:
“I think he’s as complete a player -- and I do not use that term loosely -- with size, as I’ve ever seen. With 6-8, 6-9, there’s nothing he can’t do. He can take you off the dribble. He guards, he’s tough as hell guarding. He defends. He rebounds. He moves without the ball. He seals. He’s the best post player that we’ve played against and he’s the best perimeter player, and maybe one of the best passers, and he’s 6-8, 6-9. I think he’s as good a basketball player as I’ve seen.”
I'd say that just about sums it up.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Now that the weather has cleared and friend of the Watch Dickie V isn't looking quite so bummed out on Instagram, we can finally get back to the business of Parker’s first and likely only trip to the Dean E. Smith Center, which, as you might have heard, happens tonight. If there was some possible way McDermott could have lost the POY award, eight days ago I would’ve said this was the chance for Parker to put on a case-bolstering show with all eyes watching. But that window is now closed, so instead, you'll have to settle for watching one of the most gifted offensive players in years -- and still a crucial anchor for the Blue Devils on the defensive glass -- play on the road in the best rivalry in the sport. So there's that.
3. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): So Cincinnati beat the daylights out of Houston and UCF this week, and Kilpatrick jumps from No. 10 to No. 3? What gives, Brennan? What gives is that Kilpatrick's sensational play in both games (9-of-16 from 2, 8-of-18 from 3, 51 points, seven assists, six rebounds, one turnover, 146 offensive rating, need I go on?) was indicative of his immense individual season writ large. Among players who use more than 28 percent of their team's possessions, only two -- McDermott and Canisius' Billy Baron -- are more efficient offensively. Neither plays the kind of defense Kilpatrick plays. It's high time we put him near the top of this list. He's been great.
4. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: This wasn't Thames' greatest week, but whatever: He's still using 28.1 percent of his team's possessions and putting up a 120.1 offensive rating, which is positively McDermottian (or Kilpatrickian). He creates assists, he doesn't turn the ball over, he plays great defense, and all of the above is utterly priceless to a San Diego State team that still doesn't have another reliable offensive weapon. Where would the Aztecs be without him?
5. Russ Smith, Louisville: Can y'all just let the Based King live?
"I have two Final Fours, I have Big East championships, a national championship. I have all the accolades. Now they're saying I'm under the radar. If you want me to get 30 and 40, I can do that. But I don't need to do that. Now I'm getting my teammates involved, I'm being solid, I'm being efficient. Now everybody thinks Russ is bad now.
"I'm efficient, I'm getting guys the ball, I'm averaging five assists, having the best assist-to-turnover ratio of my life. I'm good. I could care less about who they think is better than me. Guys have to do more on other teams, I have to do less. All I have to do [is] put guys in the position to do good, and that's what I'm doing."
You know what? In his own way, Smith is exactly right! He's having the best and most efficient statistical season of his life, and he was already way better last season than most people gave him credit for. Russ, you're not under the radar here, man. Also, stop reading Twitter. Your coach doesn't like that.
We're going to stick to our corner-cutting guns, and include Fair and Ennis as a tandem, for at least one more week. Maybe we'll have to decide between one of the two eventually, but that process didn't get any easier even as Syracuse barely survived NC State and then fell at home to Boston College on Wednesday night. The Orange are still 25-1, and Fair is still Fair, and Ennis is still Ennis, and the workhorse-finisher combo should still hold the Orange in good stead in the weeks to come.
7. Shabazz Napier (Connecticut): How did Shabazz fare this week? Um, well: He made five 3s and went 10-for-21 from the field for 34 points in 37 minutes (with five assists, four rebounds and four steals) in a huge UConn home win over Memphis. Find a replay of that game if you can. It was a lot of fun.
8. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: Would Early be on this list if Wichita State weren't undefeated? That's a good question. I'm not sure. He'd be really close either way, of course, but his individual numbers don't quite stack up with a handful of players here. You could argue that has more to do with the Shockers' balance than anything else -- you might also take Ron Baker or Fred VanVleet here -- and that's kind of my point: Wichita State is undefeated, and minimizing that fact or Early's contributions to it would be a mistake.
9. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle is ho-humming his way through some typically dominant interior performances, but his best contribution this week was whatever explanation he offered John Calipari that led to one of the greatest college basketball gifs of all time. May we cherish it forever.
10. Nick Johnson, Arizona: It's probably time to downgrade Nick Johnson a bit, if not take him off the list, after Friday's 5-of-20, three-turnover performance in Arizona's loss at Arizona State. It's not like Johnson doesn't deserve to be here. Let's not get crazy. But he hasn't been a top-five player in the country lately.
Honorable mentions: Casey Prather (Florida), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Gary Harris (Michigan State), T.J. Warren (NC State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Brown (Missouri)
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Doug McDermott ties season-high 39 as Creighton dominates Villanova again, this time 101-80. The line: 39 points, 13-of-17 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3, 9-of-9 from the free throw line. The milestone: Those 39 points pushed McDermott above Larry Bird -- Larry Bleeping Bird -- to 13th on the all-time scoring list. The upshot: Creighton is now in the Big East driver’s seat in its first season in something called the Big East, its first not as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. That's all impressive. The conference change, the Bluejays’ bonkers offense, and especially the 6-foot-8 Iowan at its center, whose statistical brilliance and locked-in national player of the year status offers us a chance to sit back, relax and savor it all. So, you know, do that. Savor it. Even Jay Wright is on board.
Temple upsets SMU. Let’s pause for a moment and consider how upside-down that headline is. How strange a college basketball world we live in when Temple beating SMU in its own gym is considered an upset? But it really was an upset. Temple, 7-17 and 2-10 in the American, playing without Anthony Lee, knocked off Larry Brown’s No. 23-ranked Mustangs 71-64 on Saturday afternoon. The win has more than just catharsis for Temple, or a letdown for SMU. It was also a really bad loss where the Mustangs’ NCAA tournament hopes are concerned. For one thing, Temple’s RPI is down in the 200-ish range. For another, it cements the notion that SMU -- which played a bad nonconference schedule and hasn’t beaten a good team on the road all season -- can’t replicate the high-level stuff it does on its own floor elsewhere in the country. The Mustangs’ profile is still much better than most of the bubble teams you’ll see in the next few weeks, but the schedule/road knocks are key selection committee pet peeves to be avoided at all costs.
Stat of the week: In two games against Villanova, Creighton scored 197 points in 135 possessions, an average of 1.46 points per possession. It also shot 30-of-50 from 3. Against every other team in the country, Villanova is a daunting defense. Against Creighton, it's Boston College.
One more thing about McDermott, via ESPN Stats & Information: Doug McDermott has been held scoreless once in his career and has been held to fewer than 10 points in 10 of his 135 career games. Seven of those games were during his freshman season (2010-11).
GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games to come earlier in the week, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m., ESPN: The weather issues that strained the entire east coast last week are coming back around on the Blue Devils just eight days later. On Thursday, Duke plays the first of a two-games-in-three-days series at North Carolina and versus Syracuse. At least there’s not much travel involved, because ouch.
VCU at UMass, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Rams suffered just their third loss of the A-10 season Saturday at Saint Louis, while UMass spent last week pulling off some sort of weird, inverted win-at-GW-lose-to-George-Mason-at-home D.C. combo platter. Anyway, this is a really good A-10 game, not only for standings purposes or tournament seeding but because both teams are athletic and fast and a lot of fun to watch.
Louisville at Cincinnati, 12 p.m. ET, CBS: The last time these two met, it was at the Yum! Center, and Cincinnati came away with one of the more impressive road victories of the season -- putting Louisville into so deep an early hole that loads of turnovers and defensive pressure in the final 20 minutes weren’t enough to climb out. Sean Kilpatrick is the big matchup for Russ Smith on the offensive end, but Justin Jackson's insane defensive versatility is really what makes that Bearcats' defense go.
Syracuse at Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The latter half of Duke’s crazypants Thursday-Saturday turnaround is also the reprise of the best game of the season to date. It seems hard to imagine Syracuse at Duke coming anywhere close to the Feb. 1 classic that the Orange won 91-89. But then again, we thought Creighton might cool off against Villanova the second time around, and you saw how that went.
San Diego State at New Mexico, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2: After last week’s results -- when SDSU lost for the first time since Nov. 14 (at Wyoming) and New Mexico fell to Boise State 71-70 on the road -- the Lobos still trail the Aztecs by one game in the Mountain West Conference race. This game is slightly important, in other words, and it’s also a rather awesome matchup of really good Aztecs defense and a really good, underrated Lobos offense led by sneaky All-American candidate Cameron Bairstow.
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