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.
So, Marcus Smart pushed a guy. Maybe you heard a little bit about this? Maybe your entire Sunday was dominated by it! I hope not, for your sake.
Still, folks will be talking on this Monday morning -- although not nearly as much after that other far more important thing that happened in sports Sunday night -- so you may want to get caught up. Here’s the deal:
Our news story, with all of the pertinent info -- heavily reported by Andy Katz, Jeff Goodman, Jake Trotter and the Associated Press -- is available here. On Sunday night, Oklahoma State announced that Smart would be suspended three games for shoving a fan after an altercation. Smart accepted that punishment and apologized, but did not take questions from reporters. Neither he nor coach Travis Ford provided details on exactly what was said. The Texas Tech fan involved, Lubbock-based air traffic controller Jeff Orr, also apologized in a statement, and said he would not go to any home or road games. He also insisted he did not use a racist slur.
The overheated reaction to what was essentially a slight shove -- Orr was moved backward, but never fell down -- cooled Sunday night, in large part because all of the parties involved handled their damage control exceedingly well, but also because the freakout was pretty silly in the first place.
In the end, the only party that didn’t come out looking well was Ford, as our own Dana O’Neil unsparingly detailed Sunday night: “Ford has done nothing to help Marcus Smart this season. His failure to act is as much to blame for Smart's meltdown as Smart's own immaturity and lack of self-control. Given the opportunity during Sunday night's news conference to either own up to his blame or at least admit Smart had issues that led to this mess and three-game suspension, issues that he could have addressed, Ford demurred. Rather, he spoke about Smart, placing the totality of blame on his player's already overburdened shoulders.”
Now the Cowboys -- and hopefully everyone else -- will move forward, with lessons learned the hard way, beginning with Tuesday night’s game at Texas.
I think that just about covers it.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Wisconsin survives Michigan State 60-58, in thrilling finish. On Saturday, Adreian Payne started for the Spartans for the first time since an early-January injury robbed him of seven key games in the heart of Michigan State’s conference season. He looked better than ever all afternoon, constantly challenging and pressing Wisconsin’s defense, finishing 9-of-16 for 24 points. His final three points -- a deep shot off a double curl screen that coach Tom Izzo dialed up down 3 with 15 seconds to play -- should have made him the hero. Instead, it only momentarily delayed Michigan State’s loss. Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson got the ball out of the rim, raced downcourt and iced a too-easy step-back midrange jumper that gave Wisconsin the win. (Oh, and for the record, Travis Trice's last-second return heave was agonizingly close.) It was a massive win for the Badgers, aided by a 3-for-20 night from Gary Harris, that helped ease their monthlong struggles in the Big Ten. Did they turn the corner?
SMU ends Cincinnati’s 15-game win streak in rout and is really, genuinely good. Back on Jan. 4, when the Mustangs handled UConn and star point guard Shabazz Napier with relative ease in their suddenly vibrant home gym, we issued an official greeting to the “new SMU” -- the result of legend Larry Brown’s rapid-fire turnaround. Five weeks later, the Mustangs haven’t missed a step. On Saturday, they routed -- not just beat, but routed -- Cincinnati, an indefatigable team riding a 15-game winning streak that included wins over Pittsburgh, UConn, Memphis and Louisville, the latter two on the road. If there is one area where SMU might be lacking, it is reproducing these kinds of performances on the road. This week presents a fascinating little challenge: The Mustangs have road games at Rutgers (Thursday) and Temple (Saturday).
Memphis got a nice win against Gonzaga. Saturday’s featured "GameDay" special was almost immediately overshadowed by the Marcus Smart mess, but for posterity’s sake, let’s note that the Tigers played about 32 minutes of very so-so basketball before turning it on down the stretch and edging Gonzaga on its own floor, 60-54. It wasn’t a statement win, or even particularly impressive. But it was a nice win all the same.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Creighton was upset by St. John’s Sunday night, but Doug McDermott’s 10 field goals pushed him to 1,000
on the season for his career, making him the first player since 1992-93 to score 1,000 field goals in a season career.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games in the week to come, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Oklahoma State at Texas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Oklahoma State-related reasons for tuning in to this game Tuesday night are pretty self-apparent. But what about Texas? The Longhorns rose all the way to No. 15 last week after a series of impressive wins (Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and Kansas) but fell flat in a 74-57 turnaround loss at K-State Saturday. Smart-related drama aside, this is a big one for both teams.
Syracuse at Pitt, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Wednesday offers a massive ACC doubleheader on the mothership network, and for all the heat and pomp of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, Syracuse at Pitt looks like the better game. The Panthers, and star Lamar Patterson, have struggled lately, losing home games to Duke and UVa and needing overtime to win on the road at Miami and Virginia Tech, two teams with a combined 19 wins between them. But the Panthers, who don’t turn the ball over often and record an assist on 63.8 percent of their made field goals -- sixth best in the country -- are inherently designed to work well against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and nearly knocked off the ‘Cuse in the Carrier Dome on Jan. 18. It should be a good one.
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Just because Syracuse-Pitt looks like the better game doesn’t mean this one will be bad. Quite the contrary: Duke’s scorching-hot offense -- the Blue Devils have averaged a ridiculous 1.24 points per possession against ACC opponents -- will meet with UNC’s defense, one of the few things that the Tar Heels have been remotely consistent at this season. Jabari Parker & Co. should be able to get stops against a UNC offense that still hasn’t really figured things out. But if Duke’s scoring dips slightly, we could get a close, exciting addition to this legendary rivalry.
Florida at Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: How about this week for Florida? On Tuesday, the Gators will be expected to beat Tennessee in Knoxville, despite the Vols being this season’s best example of a team that is much better on a per-possession basis (KenPom rank: No. 24) than their losses indicate. Then, on Saturday, it’s on to Lexington, Ky. to face the uber-talented Wildcats, their keyed-up offense and an insane "GameDay"-juiced Rupp Arena crowd. A split would be more than satisfactory. Two victories will speak volumes.
Villanova at Creighton, 5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1: The last time these two Big East title contenders met, Creighton submitted one of the great offensive performances in the history of college basketball. The Bluejays also exploded Villanova’s previously stout defense into smithereens, and on its home floor to boot. The Wildcats could have fallen apart; they would have had good reason. Instead, they’ve rattled off five straight wins, the first three of them on the road, keeping themselves very much in the conference championship hunt. It’s safe to bet Creighton won’t go full Metal Gear Solid “Extreme” difficulty mode in the rematch. But can Villanova do enough to earn redemption?
PHOTO OF THE WEEK