College Basketball Nation: Arnett Moultrie

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
11:15
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Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.
1. Former Mississippi State center Arnett Moultrie said his one-time teammate Rodney Hood will be a one-and-done player when he plays in 2013-14. Hood, who is leaving the Bulldogs after his freshman season, is likely deciding among Ohio State, Memphis and Duke. (He also visited Baylor.) Hood would have to sit out one season before playing for one of those teams. “His skill level is really nice,’’ said Moultrie. “He’s athletic and gets inside when he needs to. He’ll be one-and-done wherever he goes.’’ Moultrie said he talks to Hood multiple times a week and expected him to make up his mind shortly.

2. Purdue coach Matt Painter planned an August trip to Italy at the perfect time. A school can go once every four years and the cycle has worked out for the Boilermakers. Painter, who was in Chicago last Thursday and Friday to watch former forward Robbie Hummel at the pre-draft combine at UIC, said this is the first time that he’ll have a massive group of newcomers that needs that summer preseason push since Hummel’s freshmen class that included former stars JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. The Boilermakers bring in four key newcomers in center A.J. Hammons, shooting guard Raphael Davis, point guard Ronnie Johnson and power forward Jay Simpson.

3. Former UNLV assistant Mark Warkentein (under Jerry Tarkanian) was camped out next to UNLV assistant coach Heath Schroyer during the Chicago draft camp on Friday at the UIC Pavilion. Warkentein is one of many Tark-era personnel who are now fully on board with the Runnin’ Rebels’ program after an extended period where there was not as strong of a connection. Of course it helps that his daughter Kreigh is the director of basketball operations for the men’s basketball program. Former coach Lon Kruger finally offered stability but he didn’t have the same connection that current coach Dave Rice now holds with his one-time teammates and coaches. “The collection of leadership in men’s basketball is at its highest level that it’s ever been,’’ said Warkentein, who has worked for Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, Denver and now New York in the NBA. “The president, Neal Smatresk, is the best they’ve ever had. Jim Livengood, is the best athletic director they’ve had since Brad Rothermel (1981-90 as AD), and Dave Rice is a running version of Brad Stevens.’’
NEW ORLEANS -- Four weeks ago it was a question of where, not if, Mississippi State would be dancing.

The Bulldogs were 19-5 heading into the final month of the season. They were ranked No. 18 in the country and primed for solid seeding in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

Those days seemed like a distant dream Thursday night in the Mississippi State locker room. A month removed from such lofty aspirations, the Bulldogs crashed out of the SEC tournament 71-61 at the hands of lowly Georgia, the No. 11 seed, to complete a 2-6 skid.

"It hurts," said State forward Renardo Sidney. "I know we're one of the better teams down here in the SEC tournament, and we just didn't go out there and play hard. We didn't have no heart."

Huddled around their postgame meals, the Bulldogs looked like they'd just woken up from a bad dream -- a nightmare in which they lost five consecutive games during the month of February.

The only problem is, that's the sobering reality.

Big man Arnett Moultrie couldn't bring himself to even speak about it. Faced with a wall of cameras and recorders, Moultrie steadfastly repeated "no comment" before turning to his dinner.

It's an understandable reaction after the forward, who averaged 16.1 points for the Bulldogs this season, was limited to a mere seven in 39 minutes by a relentless Georgia zone defense.

[+] EnlargeRenardo Sidney
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertMississippi State forward Renardo Sidney found the going tough in the middle of Georgia's zone defense.
"Give Georgia credit. They did a good job of keeping our bigs from scoring inside that zone," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury.

Sidney, who was limited to four points and managed just 19 minutes because of foul trouble, was willing to talk, but found himself at a loss for words.

"It was hard to get the ball down there," he said. "That zone. I can't even explain it."

The only Mississippi State starter who could find his game was guard Jalen Steele. With State trailing 59-51 and five minutes to play, Steele reeled off the next nine Bulldogs points to pull them within as close as three points, 60-57. The run seemed to inspire the MSU bench, and it brought the State faithful to their feet.

"I thought it was going to be just like Vanderbilt, where we came out and came back," Sidney said. "We just couldn't get it over the line. We tried to fight back, but they kept coming."

Two minutes later, two Mississippi State turnovers had allowed Georgia to extend the lead to seven, and the rally was dead.

"We had the thought that we lost to [Georgia] on our mind, but we knew it was a new game," said guard Dee Bost. "We lost the momentum, and they made plays when they were supposed to."

Steele said the Bulldogs lacked heart, and it showed. Led by guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware, Georgia rattled off a 15-2 run starting about five minutes into the second half. Although they only trailed by nine, Steele said it took the Bulldogs too long to respond.

"We came out kind of sluggish. We could have came out with a little more energy, but it didn't fall our way," he said.

It was a similar feeling and a fitting ending. The Bulldogs were within a basket inside the last 10 minutes of five of their six recent losses, but they let them all slip away. Having officially hit rock bottom, all they can do is hope their NCAA hope hasn't slipped away as well.

"We were on the bubble going into this game, and we really needed this game," Sidney said. "Just the thought of your season in somebody else's hands, it's kind of tough. Hopefully we get in."
NEW ORLEANS -- After a nightmare finish to the 2012 regular season, Mississippi State entered the SEC tournament needing some wins to bolster its tournament resume.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs didn't get the memo, instead dropping a 71-61 upset loss to the tournament's No. 11 seed, Georgia.

The Bulldogs (the ones from Georgia) established early on that they wouldn't be rolling over or playing dead for Mississippi State's bubble prospects. Gerald Robinson set the pace, as usual, putting up 12 points to help Georgia to a 31-29 halftime lead. That scrappiness continued into the second half, where the teams traded the lead in the opening minutes.

Where Georgia got production from Robinson, as well as freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and senior Dustin Ware, Mississippi State couldn't find consistency from anyone. It took the Bulldogs (the ones from Starkville) until the 7:59 mark of the second half to have a scorer reach double digits. Mississippi State's bedrock trio of Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney accounted for just 21 total points.

Turning point: With 16:25 to play, Brian Bryant tied the game at 34. Georgia then ripped off a 9-0 run highlighted by two consecutive jumpers from Ware, who finished with 13 points. Robinson and Donte Williams each tacked on a basket to make it 43-34. Jalen Steele's 19 points helped Mississippi State get it as close as three, but the Bulldogs couldn't bring it all the way back.

Key player: Robinson led the Bulldogs as he always does, notching 23 points. But Ware was the key to the second half surge that pushed Georgia in front. Ware finished with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, but he had no points at halftime. He accounted for 11 points of Georgia's 15-2 run that seemed to kill Mississippi State's morale.

Key stat: Sidney contributed as many fouls as he did points (4). The Bulldogs' big guy only managed 19 minutes, and didn't come close to his season scoring average. Moultrie got into foul trouble as well and finished with four of his own. He managed to play 39 minutes, but only scored 7 points after averaging 16 this season.

Miscellaneous: It's fitting that State's final setback happened at the hands of Georgia. The Bulldogs have had a rough month, going 2-6 since a Feb. 11 overtime loss to? Who else but Georgia.

What's next: Georgia moves on to face No. 3 seed Vanderbilt, who beat the Bulldogs by 11 and nine in two meetings this year. Mississippi State, which spent a good chunk of the season in the top 25 and at one point seemed to be playing for tournament seeding, will now go home and hope for an NCAA bid.

Player of the year straw poll update

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
10:45
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With a month left before the NCAA tournament begins, there is a legitimate race for the National Player of the Year.

Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, the leader in the first two ESPN.com National POY straw polls, is getting a major challenge from Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.

And in the Year of the Versatile Forward, it makes sense. College basketball hasn’t seen a year of top big men like this since 2009, when the top three finishers for the Wooden Award and the top four for the Naismith Award were all forwards and centers.

In that year, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin ran away with both awards, blowing by Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and the 2008 Wooden Award winner, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. The top college guard that season, Davidson’s Stephen Curry, had a standout season but his team ended up in the NIT.

That season did have a lot of talented, well-known guards, led by Curry, UNC’s Ty Lawson, Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and Arizona State’s James Harden. All were in the final ballot of that season's straw poll.

As for this season, the top six vote-getters in this week’s poll were forwards, and 12 of 17 players mentioned by the 54 pollsters who responded were forwards or centers. Players like Michigan State’s Draymond Green and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, now among the best players in the nation, were freshmen during that 2009 season and are now in this straw poll as seniors.

For those who missed the first two polls, here’s a recap of how it all works: Each pollster sends us their top three. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote worth two and a third-place vote worth one. Every voter is granted anonymity. Every voter has a voice in at least one of the four major college basketball player of the year awards: Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson (the USBWA award).


Poll analysis:

-- For the third straight ballot, 17 players were represented. They come from 11 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big Ten, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, SEC and West Coast). Just one school, Missouri, had multiple players on the ballot -- Denmon and Ratliffe.

-- Four players are making their first ballot of the season -- Johnson-Odom, Canaan, Anosike and Rob Jones. Five players dropped off from the second ballot: UNC’s Harrison Barnes, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miami (Ohio)’s Julian Mavunga. In addition, the poll had its first returning player after being knocked off the ballot. Denmon was in the first poll, off the second and returns for the third.

-- The biggest mover was Davis, who jumped from fourth to second. Even more so, he went from being on 16 ballots to 47 ballots and from 30 points to 112 points. He also went from four first-place votes to 20. McDermott had the biggest drop, falling from second to fourth and from 70 points to 15.

-- In what is shaping up as a two-man race, only Robinson and Davis received first-place votes. On the second ballot, seven players received first-place votes: Robinson, McDermott, Sullinger, Davis, Kevin Jones and two players completely off this poll -- Barnes and Jenkins.

-- Player on the poll who should be getting more attention: Scott. This is the second poll I’ve mentioned this. His statistical numbers might not be as strong as others, but he consistently faces opponent double-teams and the exceedingly slow pace the Cavaliers play at limits Scott’s possessions to put up huge numbers.

-- Three players not in the poll who should get more attention: Iona guard Scott Machado, who continues to be one of the nation’s top passers, averaging 10 assists a game. Iowa State forward Royce White, while not putting up monster numbers, has been the key cog to the Cyclones' attempt to make a run at the NCAA tournament and is a matchup nightmare for any team facing him. Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, who while being the Orange’s sixth man, has been a major reason for their success averaging 12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just 23.7 minutes -- minutes much lower than any other contender. Three of the four players mentioned here two weeks ago ended up in this poll. The other was Seton Hall’s Herb Pope.

So what comes next? Here is a look at the next two weeks for the main contenders.

-- Sullinger has three marquee games that could give him one last push. He’ll be on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Saturday against rival No. 19 Michigan, then faces elite big man Meyers Leonard and Illinois on Feb. 21 and No. 17 Wisconsin on Feb. 26.

-- Davis faces Ole Miss on Saturday, goes to Mississippi State on Feb. 21 and then faces Vanderbilt on Feb. 25.

-- Robinson has a major statement game on Feb. 25 against Missouri as well as three games against three teams at the bottom of the Big 12: Texas Tech (Saturday), Texas A&M (Feb. 22) and Oklahoma State (Feb. 27).

Wooden Watch: Jason King's POY ballot

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
10:30
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With one month remaining in the regular season, the battle for the Wooden Award appears to be a two-man race between Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. Right now I’m leaning toward Davis, the projected No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. But you could definitely make an argument for Robinson, too. There are still plenty of opportunities for each to impress -- or regress. Here’s how I’d vote if the season ended today.
  1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky - The 6-foot-10 Davis averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks in the Wildcats’ most recent victories over South Carolina and Florida. He shot a collective 17-of-23 from the field in those two games. Davis’ presence alone affects the game on the defensive end.
  2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas - Robinson had 20 points and 17 rebounds in a victory over Oklahoma before erupting for 25 and 13 in Saturday’s 74-71 loss at Missouri. When he’s playing his best, Robinson might be the toughest player in the country to stop in the paint. He’ll be tested Wednesday by Baylor’s Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III.
  3. Kevin Jones, West Virginia - The senior forward continues to post gaudy stats - he’s scored 20 or more points in nine consecutive games - but his team is struggling. The Mountaineers have lost three of their past four contests, with the only victory coming in overtime against Big East bottom-feeder Providence. Impossible as it might seem, West Virginia may need Jones to do even more.
  4. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State - The versatile Buckeyes forward averaged 21 points and 8 rebounds in victories over Wisconsin and Purdue. College basketball fans - and Wooden Award voters - have grown used to seeing Sullinger post impressive stat lines. It’d be a shame if they started taking him for granted.
  5. Doug McDermott, Creighton - The Bluejays sophomore has averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games since the last Wooden Award ballot was released. Creighton, though, lost back-to-back contests at Northern Iowa and Evansville during that span. The setbacks certainly aren’t McDermott’s fault — but it’s definitely on him to make sure they don’t become a trend. Saturday’s home game against Wichita State is huge.
On the cusp:

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State - The leader of the nation’s only undefeated team had 32 points in last week’s victory over Southeast Missouri State. Canaan averages 18.9 points and shoots 47.1 percent from the field.

Draymond Green, Michigan State - Playing on basically one leg, the senior forward matched Michigan on the boards all by himself Sunday. Green had 16 boards while the Wolverines snared a collective 16.

John Henson, North Carolina - The junior had 17 points and 12 boards in Saturday’s victory over Maryland. Henson is averaging a double-double (14.3 points, 10 rebounds) on the season.

Perry Jones III, Baylor - Jones has scored 15 or more points in each of his past four games, but he’ll need to be more assertive than ever if the Bears have any hope of defeating Kansas in Waco, Texas, on Wednesday.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky - The freshman had 13 points and 13 rebounds in Tuesday’s win against No. 7 Florida. He’s one of the main reasons Kentucky is regarded as the nation’s best team.

Damian Lillard, Weber State - The guard had 40 points in Thursday’s win over Portland and 35 in a victory over Northern Colorado two days later. Lillard leads the nation with 25.5 points per game.

Scott Machado, Iona - The nation’s assists leader dropped 23 dimes and combined for 32 points in victories over Manhattan and Canisius. Machado leads the country with an average of 10 assists per game.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State - Moultrie’s presence - he averages 17 points and 11.1 boards - has taken some pressure off of highly scrutinized forward Renardo Sidney. As a result, both players have flourished.

Mike Scott, Virginia - The senior forward scored 16 points in Saturday’s 58-55 road loss at Florida State. He’s shooting an impressive 58.8 percent from the field on the season. Scott could burst onto the national scene with an impressive performance at North Carolina on Saturday.

Tyler Zeller, North Carolina - Most people are obsessed with Zeller’s younger brother, Cody, a standout freshman for Indiana. Tyler, though, has been equally impressive. He averaged 20 points and 12.5 rebounds last week.
So much for a slow Saturday. College basketball fans and pundits alike should know better by now, but we always assume the worst on a supposedly “slow” weekend.

Let’s change the rules, based on what we’ve seen today. If you survey the weekend slate and you can’t find any meaningful games and potential upsets that you’re overly interested in, that means it’s time to call Earl and the crew (everybody has a friend named Earl), stock the fridge and get ready for some good basketball. If this was a lukewarm weekend in college basketball, what qualifies as a great one?

Iowa State 72, No. 5 Kansas 64

Many laughed when Fred Hoiberg began his tenure at Iowa State by recruiting from a pool of players known for their checkered pasts. Royce White, who left Minnesota two seasons ago after a tumultuous stay, led the bunch. But Hoiberg looks like a genius right now after the Cyclones handed No. 5 KU its first Big 12 loss of the season. The win snapped both the Jayhawks' 13-game winning streak over Iowa State and their 10-game overall winning streak (they hadn’t lost since Dec. 19).

The postgame court-storming was well-deserved for the 'Clones and their fans. Hoiberg has as much job security as any coach in the country based on his legendary career in Ames, which allowed him to pursue so many transfers without worry. In other words, he’d get a mulligan if things didn’t work out.

Against Kansas, however, Hoiberg proved that he’s more than a risk-taking recruiter. He can coach, too. Iowa State, a squad that suffered an 82-73 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14, led by three points at halftime. But that didn’t last. The Jayhawks scored 11 unanswered points early in the second half. The crowd’s energy dropped after that KU run, but Iowa State kept fighting, something it had failed to do down the stretch in its earlier loss to the Jayhawks.

White led the charge. With his team leading 56-53 and five minutes to play, he scored the Cyclones' next eight points (three straight layups and a pair of free throws). He entered the game as a 51 percent free throw shooter -- ISU was the Big 12’s worst free throw shooting team at 61 percent overall -- but he was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, making up for his six turnovers. The team was 25-for-34 from the charity stripe.

So yes, the same Iowa State squad that lost at Drake Nov. 15 looks like an NCAA tournament team right now -- no matter what my colleague Doug Gottlieb might tweet. At 5-3, the Cyclones are off to their best Big 12 start in a dozen years and sure seem like they won't be fading away anytime soon.

No. 4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61

It just can’t happen. Not in late January with the stakes so high. Not when it’s so blatant. Officials in this game missed one of the more obvious and critical goaltending calls of the season. In the final seconds, West Virginia's Truck Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer that ended up in Deniz Kilicli’s hands with his team down by a bucket. Kilicli’s layup was swatted away in mid-air by Syracuse's Baye Keita, but replays showed what looked like a clear goaltending violation by Keita. Officials never blew their whistles.

West Virginia got the ball back and Kevin Jones (20 points, eight rebounds) missed a deep 3-pointer to win the game, but the final outcome might have changed had that crew flagged Keita for goaltending. Now granted, WVU had its chances. Brandon Triche (18 points) hit a pair of free throws with a minute and a half to play and the Mountaineers missed four consecutive shots. But the no-call clearly impacted the game.

Syracuse struggled in its third consecutive game without Fab Melo. The Orange just haven’t looked like the same squad without him and his defensive presence. West Virginia secured an astounding plus-21 (41-20) rebounding edge over the Cuse and had nearly as many offensive boards (19) as the Orange had total. How does that happen? It’s not like the Mountaineers are the biggest team in the country. They were just tougher than Syracuse most of the afternoon. And had it not been for that missed goaltending call, West Virginia might have avoided its 13th loss to the Cuse in 14 meetings.

No. 7 Baylor 76, Texas 71

With 4:09 to go, Texas' Myck Kabongo hit a 3-pointer as Pierre Jackson committed a ridiculous foul to put him on the line for a four-point play opportunity. Texas had been down by 12 points early in the second half, but Kabongo’s shot cut Baylor’s advantage to just one. Cameras panned to Baylor coach Scott Drew on the sidelines. He had the “I can’t believe this is happening at home” look on his face.

Perry Jones (22 points, 14 rebounds) was far more aggressive than he’d been in some of his efforts, but Baylor couldn’t keep the pressure on the Longhorns and nearly blew one at home. J’Covan Brown scored 32 points (11-for-22), his third consecutive 30-point effort. But he had way more time to create a better shot than the deep 3-ball he took with 14 seconds on the clock. His team was down by three points in the closing seconds, so I understand why he’d take a deep shot, but he didn’t have to shoot it when he did. He had more time on the clock.

Here’s where you have to have more question marks about Baylor, though. The Bears are at home. Texas shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and was 1-for-12 from beyond the arc before halftime. Seemed like an opportunity for Baylor to flex its muscle. But it turned into another lukewarm finish for the Bears.

No. 13 Florida 69, No. 16 Mississippi State 57

The Bulldogs just couldn’t handle Florida’s inside-outside attack. Patric Young (12 points, six rebounds) was solid for the Gators, especially after halftime. Bradley Beal led the Gators’ talented backcourt with 19 points. The nation’s leaders in 3-point field goals hit 11 of them as they won their fifth straight and 17th in a row at home.

Arnett Moultrie was 4-for-10 and scored 12 points for a Bulldogs team that committed 14 turnovers. It was MSU's third SEC road loss of the season. At 5-3 in league play, they’d better find a way to compete away from home. They’re certainly talented, but the Bulldogs have really struggled on the road. Thought this one would have been a closer game, but give the Gators credit. They can spread teams out with their guard play and minimize their size disadvantages, a tactic they used to perfection against the Bulldogs.

No. 1 Kentucky 74, LSU 50

The Wildcats are in Beast Mode right now. They’re just crushing teams. LSU entered this game following a tight road loss at Mississippi State. But the Wildcats are just a different animal. Terrence Jones led all scorers with a season-high 27 points and the Wildcats held LSU to a 1-for-9 clip from the 3-point line. Just two Tigers reached double figures.

Although LSU is only 2-5 in the SEC, you have to wonder how dangerous the Wildcats can be in March when a guy like Jones can explode despite some inconsistency this season. He entered the game averaging 11.6 ppg and he only scored five points against Georgia on Tuesday. But this game was further proof that Kentucky is a “pick your poison” kind of opponent. How do you defend a team with that number of studs? The Wildcats have so many weapons.

Syracuse is deep. Ohio State has balance. But no team in America looks as potent as Kentucky right now.

Some more observations from the afternoon games ...
  • It Happened! It Happened! It Happened! Towson wins! The Tigers had set a record with 41 consecutive Division I losses, but on Saturday, a miracle happened when the Tigers beat UNC Wilmington 66-61 despite a 1-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. Marcus Damas scored 18 points. There were shaky moments late -- the Seahawks hit some late 3s after Towson took a 60-53 lead with 1:25 to play -- but the Tigers held on and a justifiable celebration ensued. For reaction from coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers, read Andy Katz's story in the Nation blog.
  • Marquette did its normal slow-start/big-finish thing at Villanova, but Dana O'Neil was at the game, so I'll let her tell you more about it.
  • Duke nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against a young St. John’s team. The Blue Devils' 83-76 victory over the Red Storm was nothing to hang their hats on. The Devils should be disappointed that they gave up a late run that could have cost them the game.
  • Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt clashed Saturday in a tight game between the two Tennessee schools. MTSU, 20-2 entering the game, has been one of the bigger surprises on the national scene. The Blue Raiders start four transfers who weren’t with the team last season. But their story hit a roadblock in their 84-77 loss at Vanderbilt. The loss snapped Middle's 12-game winning streak and gave Vandy its 10th win in its last 11 games.
  • Is Pitt about to launch a big comeback this season? I’m not sure. But the Panthers have won two in a row after an impressive 72-60 win over No. 10 Georgetown, their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Hoyas. They lost their first eight Big East games, but Nasir Robinson had 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting, Lamar Patterson scored 18 and Ashton Gibbs added 13 for the Panthers, who have now won an incredible 12 straight home games against top-10 opponents.
  • The Mountain West Conference is legit. Proof? No. 12 San Diego State took a tough 77-60 road loss at Colorado State on Saturday, despite Jamaal Franklin’s 24 points. After a brutal travel week in the Rockies, the loss snapped SDSU’s 11-game overall winning streak and its 58-game win streak against unranked foes, which had been the longest such run in the country. Colorado State’s dwindling at-large hopes certainly got a huge boost with this victory, the school's first over a ranked team since 2004.

Wooden Watch: Jason King's POY ballot

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
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Kansas forward Thomas Robinson still sits atop my Wooden Award ballot. But this time, the decision wasn’t as easy.

A banner week by West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, along with continued steady play by Creighton’s Doug McDermott, has tightened up the race. As the weeks progress, Robinson will find out that staying at the top is just as hard as getting there.

Here’s how I’d vote if the ballot were due today:
  1. Thomas Robinson, Kansas -- The Jayhawks’ star forward clicked the “ON” switch in the second half of the KU's 64-54 come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M. Robinson scored 16 of his 18 points after intermission to help his team remain unbeaten in conference play. Two days earlier Robinson had 17 points in a win at Texas.
  2. Kevin Jones, West Virginia -- Jones averaged 25.5 points and 10 rebounds in victories over Marshall and Cincinnati last week. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Jones has scored at least 22 points in each of his past five games and is averaging 20.7 points and 11.5 boards on the season. And he’s doing it against top-tier competition.
  3. Doug McDermott, Creighton -- With 15 points against Missouri State and 12 against Indiana State, McDermott had a mediocre week by McDermott standards. The Bluejays, though, won each game, which is all that matters to the 6-foot-7 sophomore. Considering the double- and triple-teams he faces, it’s amazing that McDermott averages 23.2 points.
  4. Anthony Davis, Kentucky -- No player in college basketball dominates on the defensive end quite like Davis, who leads the nation with 4.7 blocks per game. Davis also averages a team-high 10.3 rebounds, and his offensive game continues to improve. He’s reached double figures in nine straight games and had a career-best 27 points against Arkansas.
  5. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes forward is still one of the toughest players in the country to stop down low. He’s averaging 17.1 points and 9.1 boards. Sullinger will need to be at his best when Ohio State hosts No. 22 Michigan on Sunday.
On the cusp:

Harrison Barnes, North Carolina -- The Tar Heels' leading scorer had nine points during a 19-0 second-half run that helped North Carolina stave off Virginia Tech.

Will Barton, Memphis -- The top all-around player in Conference USA has scored 24 points in his past two games.

Marcus Denmon, Missouri -- Had 15 points -- and the game-clinching free throw -- in Saturday’s 89-88 win at Baylor.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor -- The tough-minded point guard had 20 points and 15 assists against Missouri. He’s the Bears’ most important player.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky -- The Wildcats’ “glue guy” sets the tone for the nation’s top-ranked team.

Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut -- Had 23 points in a losing effort against Tennessee; too bad he can’t handle the ball any better, as the Huskies need another true guard.

Scott Machado, Iona -- The senior point guard averages a national-best 10.2 assists per game.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State -- His 27 points and 14 rebounds helped the Bulldogs upset Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Mike Scott, Virginia -- Scott won’t stay on this list very long if the Cavaliers suffer another embarrassing loss like the one they endured Sunday against Virginia Tech.

Tyler Zeller, North Carolina -- The underrated center has double-doubles in five of his past six games.
As good as the afternoon was, with exciting upsets and huge road wins over top-five teams, the evening may have matched it in the vital FOPM statistical category. (FOPM stands for freak outs per minute. It's a tempo-adjusted metric, naturally.) Let's lead with what may be the result of the day -- Syracuse's very first loss of the season, at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame 67, No. 1 Syracuse 58

What we learned: Nobody's perfect. OK, yeah, Murray State is still perfect, but you get the drift: Everyone loses eventually. Sooner or later, the Orange were going to have a particularly bad shooting night. Sooner or later, they were going to struggle on the road. Sooner or later, they were going to do these things against a coach and a team that had designed the perfect gameplan to take advantage of this opportunity. As it happens, that coach was Mike Brey. That team was Notre Dame.

Of course, the Fighting Irish don't have a tenth of the talent available to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. What do the Irish have? The Burn. That's what Brey calls his team's intentionally slow, clock-killing offense, and while it isn't always the preferred strategy in South Bend, it is something the Irish keep in their back pocket when they find themselves facing a bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled, pretty-much-all-around-better opponent.

Indeed, as ESPN's Doris Burke noted late in the game, the Irish played a sort of semi-burn Saturday night. They lulled the Cuse into seven fewer possessions (61) than its average adjusted tempo (68) on the season (including a handful of late heaves when the game was out of reach), but ND was also opportunistic: When it broke SU's press, it didn't always pull out and set up the halfcourt offense. It was a clinic in opportunistic decision-making. (At one point, it ended in a contested fast-break dunk by Jack Cooley. Jack Cooley? Jack Cooley!)

Syracuse, being Syracuse, still managed to force a mess of turnovers. At several points in the second half, as Notre Dame forward Scott Martin struggled time after time to inbound the ball on his own baseline, it appeared the Irish were just a few possessions away from a late collapse. But the Orange's poor shooting (they posted a 40.0 effective field goal percentage) and ND's solid free throw shooting sealed this game in the closing moments.

Burke called it a "masterful" gameplan from Brey and, as usual, she was dead on: Notre Dame knew exactly what it needed to do to take a walk through any door Syracuse left ajar. When the time came, it executed.

Going forward, this loss may knock Syracuse out of the top spot in the rankings, but it shouldn't change the perception of this team much. First of all, the absence of leading rebounder and shot-blocker Fab Melo (due to an unresolved academic issue from the fall semester) was a blow to this team's inherent interior advantage. Second, Syracuse didn't shoot the ball well. Frankly, it didn't play well. Overreact if you like, but it's the opinion of this writer that, well, hey, these games happen.

For Syracuse, it was bound to go this way eventually. When it did, the Irish were ready.

No. 15 Mississippi State 78, Vanderbilt 77 (OT)

What we learned: The Commodores will struggle with capable frontcourts. They struggle late in close games. They struggle on the defensive end. They are, in other words, the same Vanderbilt Commodores we've come to know and love in each of the past three seasons. Their recent improvements created the notion that this team had turned some vague corner, that it was finally ready to assume the top-10, Final Four-worthy preseason expectations foisted upon them.

Instead, on Saturday, we saw the team that led us to doubt that status in the first place. Vandy yielded a 12-point second-half lead, allowed Mississippi State to score 1.14 points per possession and got vastly outrebounded on both ends of the floor. In the end, even with very good chances to win the game -- particularly the final shot in regulation, which ended up being an uncontested four-foot shot for Festus Ezeli (which he missed) -- Vanderbilt just couldn't make the key defensive plays.

In the meantime, Mississippi State deserves credit for a major road win. Forward Arnett Moultrie was brilliant (21 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, one block) and guard Dee Bost was just as good (24 points, five rebounds, four assists and a handful of key second-half shots). Even Renardo Sidney, who struggled for much of the game and suffered an injury in overtime, got in on the act, hitting a monster 3 with 1:22 remaining in the second half.

Three days ago, the Bulldogs went to rival Ole Miss and lost and looked vulnerable -- even downright overrated -- throughout. Their ability to rebound from that loss with a win on the road against a streaking Vanderbilt team, one that had won its past eight games -- including on the road at Alabama -- is to be commended. Surprising stuff, to say the least.

No. 12 UNLV 80, New Mexico 63

What we learned: UNLV is still the Mountain West favorite. Yes, yes, San Diego State certainly has a claim to that distinction, too, especially since its first two conference results -- a two-point home win over the Rebels and an incredibly impressive road win at New Mexico -- were among the most impressive back-to-back performances we've seen from any team in any league this season. New Mexico is no slouch, either. Before Wednesday's loss to SDSU, the Lobos had won 13 in a row. There are three very good teams in the MWC, folks. That much we know.

Then again, I'd say we knew that already. The main takeaway from Saturday night's best late-night matchup -- and this is a good old-fashioned eye-test thing to say, but I'm doing it anyway -- is that UNLV just looks like the best team in this league. The Rebels have few, if any, holes in their attack. They have talented players at every position. Their guards push the pace; their forwards run to the rim; their wings hit 3s with ease. Anthony Marshall, Chace Stanback, Mike Moser, Oscar Bellfield and even reserves like Carlos Lopez and Justin Hawkins -- these players are perfectly suited to Dave Rice's new emphasis on uptempo basketball, and when you watch them play, it shows.

The Mountain West race is going to be fascinating, and we'll hear more from the Lobos -- and, of course, the league-leading Aztecs -- before the season is out. Sure, I'd take UNLV as the favorite. But whatever happens, if two of these three teams are playing, it promises to be very entertaining.

A few more observations from the Saturday evening that was:
    [+] EnlargeJamie Dixon
    AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPitt lost its ninth game Saturday, matching the highest season loss total of Jamie Dixon's tenure.

  • Bad times got worse for Pittsburgh on Saturday night, as the Panthers fell to No. 21 Louisville at home, 73-62. In case you're counting, that's Pitt's eighth straight loss and seventh in a row in Big East play ... for the first time in Pitt hoops history. Ouch. Even worse? According to ESPN Stats and Information, this is the first time Pitt has lost four straight home games since 1999-2000. The loss is also Pitt's ninth this season. Jamie Dixon-coached Pittsburgh teams have never recorded more than nine losses in a regular season. There are myriad issues afflicting the Panthers right now, chief among them defense, but it's hard to see any major improvements coming any time soon. If this wasn't a lost season already, it is now.
  • Neither VCU nor Old Dominion are likely to end up with a chance at an at-large bid come March, but their meeting tonight was still full of implications for the CAA title race. Before Saturday, ODU was 6-1 in conference and VCU 5-2, both right there hanging around with George Mason and Drexel in the Colonial standings. In other words, Virginia Commonwealth got a rather massive 61-48 win, handling the lackluster Monarchs rather easily at home. Shaka Smart's team is still rebuilding after last year's miracle NCAA tournament run, but they're not nearly as far down as most would have expected. Keep your eye on the Rams.
  • The C-USA race is going to be interesting. Marshall appeared to have the best odds to challenge Memphis' purported superiority, with Southern Miss a notch or two below -- a dark horse at best. After Saturday -- when Southern Miss topped Marshall and tied the Thundering Herd at 4-1 in league play -- it seems clear things aren't quite that simple. There are no remaining unbeaten teams in the league, with UCF at 5-1 and Memphis, Marshall and USM all now residing in second place at 4-1.
  • I don't know if we'll call the Pac-12 race "interesting." "Mystifying" feels more appropriate. Either way, consider what went down in the conference Saturday: Cal fell at Washington State (not an unforgiveable loss, given how well Wazzu has played at home, but still) just as the Bears appeared set, thanks to a blowout Stanford loss at Washington, to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the league. Meanwhile UCLA -- which keeps struggling, week after week, to sort things out -- fell on the road at Oregon, which is now 6-2 and tied atop the league standings. Elsewhere, lowly Utah not only didn't lose, but actually blew out Arizona State in Salt Lake City; and Colorado held on for a one-point home win over Arizona. Those Pac-12 power rankings are going to be a bear to write. I can't wait.
  • Two results from the West that shouldn't be dismissed. Long Beach State, a team that played perhaps the most grueling nonconference schedule in the country, continues to see the dividends from that gauntlet. On the road Saturday night, LBSU went into the Thunderdome and absolutely obliterated chief rival UC Santa Barbara, 71-48, the talented squad that's beaten the 49ers in the Big West final in each of the past two seasons. And in Laramie, Wyoming beat rival Colorado State -- which had won eight straight -- 70-51 to improve to 16-3. Yes, 16-3. What a job by first-year coach Larry Shyatt. And what a performance by USC transfer Leonard Washington, who set career highs in points (32) and rebounds (14).
  • As for the momentum Nebraska created with that dramatic victory over Indiana on Wednesday? Ohio State did not seem to care. Buckeyes 79, Huskers 45. So much for that.
Meyers LeonardDavid Banks/Getty ImagesIllinois nipped Northwestern on Wednesday despite big man Meyers Leonard getting limited looks.
It’s an epidemic that’s plagued the national college basketball scene for far too long. Too often, this issue is overlooked or dismissed.

But it’s time to address the madness that’s rocking programs throughout the country. I’m referring to Starving Big Man Syndrome.

Perhaps your favorite team suffers from this silent season-killer. Well, it’s time to identify the victims in hopes of rectifying this growing challenge.

  1. Meyers Leonard -- Why won’t the Illini feed the big man? He took four shots in Saturday’s loss to Purdue. Just eight in a Dec. 17 loss to UNLV. He’s capable of duplicating his 20-point effort against Minnesota last week and his 21-point performance in the Illini’s Dec. 3 win over Gonzaga. He should get the ball more often. He was 4-for-9 in a one-point win over Northwestern Wednesday, but his teammates failed to find him multiple times when the Wildcats weren’t doubling.
  2. Patric Young -- Florida’s big man has a 63 effective field-goal percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. He took 20 shots combined in Florida’s past two games. But he’s only cracked double digits in field-goal attempts four times this year. And he’s only responsible for 12.7 percent of his squad’s shots this season. Sure Florida is stocked with perimeter talent. But the SEC is a hotbed for talented bigs. Anthony Davis, Arnett Moultrie, Festus Ezeli and JaMychal Green anchor the league in the post. So the Gators will need Young even more in league play. It’s time to toss the ball inside.
  3. C.J. Aiken -- The 6-9 forward is ranked sixth in the Atlantic 10 in John Hollinger’s NCAA player efficiency ratings (23.59 PER). But prior to Wednesday’s 84-82 win over Duquesne (he was 5-for-10), Aiken had taken 11 shots combined in two previous games. The Hawks -- like Temple and St. Louis -- are going to make the Atlantic 10 race interesting, especially with Xavier’s recent struggles. Aiken is a key part of St. Joseph’s NCAA tourney hopes due to his defensive prowess (his 4.5 blocks per game lead the nation). But he’s more than a shot-blocker as his performance in the Duquesne victory proved.
  4. Anthony Davis -- Finding the best use for Davis’ expansive skill set isn’t simple. He’s 6-10 but he’s certainly not a traditional big man. And Kentucky is stocked at every position. But it never hurts to have an additional offensive weapon, especially one who’s shooting 65 percent from the field. But Davis’ offensive game might become a significant factor in March and April, despite the talent around him. Prior to his 22-point performance (9-for-11) against Arkansas Little-Rock Tuesday, Davis had taken seven shots or less in seven games.
  5. [+] EnlargeUConn's Andre Drummond
    David Butler II/US PRESSWIREPerhaps a loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday might have UConn emphasizing getting the ball to center Andre Drummond much more often.

  6. Andre Drummond -- Every legit mock draft board I’ve read places the UConn forward in the top five of this summer’s draft. Why would a lottery pick take five shots and score four points … EVER? That was Drummond’s stat line in Wednesday’s upset loss to Seton Hall. It just doesn’t make any sense. It was his second five-shot outing in three games. He shot two free throws combined in those matchups.
  7. Arsalan Kazemi -- He leads the nation in rebounding. And he’s on top of Conference USA in steals and field-goal percentage. But he’s averaging 7.7 field-goal attempts per game for Rice, despite boasting a 61.2 effective field-goal percentage, per Ken Pomeroy. But he’s been responsible for just 13 percent of Rice’s field-goal attempts so far this season.
  8. Eli Holman -- Detroit has lost three of its past five games with Holman in the lineup. The 6-10 presence missed multiple games due to an indefinite leave at the start of the season. He’s shooting 62 percent from the floor and averaging 12 ppg. Ray McCallum Jr. and Chase Simon handle the scoring load for the Titans. But Holman can be an offensive difference-maker in conference play. Detroit nearly knocked off nationally ranked Mississippi State when Holman went 6-for-8 from the field.
  9. Alex Len -- He’s only played three games after missing time because of an eligibility issue (he’d previously signed with a pro team overseas). But Len is living up to the hype for ACC sleeper Maryland. I know Terrell Stoglin (21.2 ppg, sixth in the nation) likes to eat. But Len is hungry, too. He’s taken 10 shots in his team’s past two games (he was 10-for-14 from the charity stripe in those contests). He’ll probably become a more viable part of Maryland’s offense in the ACC, where John Henson, Mike Scott and the Plumlee Clan lurk. He’s a dangerous addition for the rest of the league.
  10. James Haarsma -- UW-Milwaukee’s 6-7 forward has hurt himself with foul trouble in multiple games. But the Panthers could use an offensive boost that Haarsma should be able to provide. He had three points in a Tuesday loss to Western Michigan. According to Hollinger’s ratings, he’s No. 22 in the Horizon League in player efficiency with a 15.76 PER. Milwaukee won a slice of the Horizon last year, but the Panthers have lost three of their past four games. In two of those matchups, Haarsma only took four shots, even though his team shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc in those games. Might be time for UWM to look inside.
  11. Royce White -- He’s surrounded by shooters at Iowa State. And right now, there’s really nothing to complain about regarding his role because the Cyclones have won six in a row, including a solid victory over Texas Wednesday night. But the Big 12 is a big league. And White is capable of offensive fury. The league’s eighth-ranked player in Pomeroy’s offensive ratings has taken 16 shots in his team’s past four games. He still leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. So it’s not like Fred Hoiberg’s offense has ignored him. But White’s 22 points and 13 rebounds in a Dec. 3 loss to Michigan weren’t flukes. He’s that good. And he’ll get better with more scoring opportunities inside.

If your favorite team suffers from Starving Big Man Syndrome, please call 1-800-FEED-HIM. That’s 1-800-FEED-HIM. Or just call Bill Walton.

Jackson helps keep Baylor undefeated

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
2:10
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DALLAS -- Forget the national-player-of-the-year candidate.

And don’t be overly concerned with the freshman who’s projected as an NBA lottery pick, or the veteran senior who scores half of his baskets on dunks.

Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy might form one of the most imposing frontcourts in the nation. But all week long, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told his squad that stopping the trio wasn’t the key to beating the Baylor Bears.

Pierre Jackson is the key to their team,” Stansbury said. “He’s the guy that makes them go.”

It was certainly hard to argue that point Wednesday, when Jackson -- the Bears’ diminutive 5-foot-10 point guard -- came through for Baylor yet again.

With 22 seconds remaining, Jackson beat Bulldogs guard Dee Bost off the dribble and streaked through the lane for an uncontested layup that propelled the No. 7 Bears to a 54-52 victory over 14th-ranked Mississippi State at American Airlines Center.

At 13-0, Baylor is off to its best start in school history. The Bears are one of just four remaining undefeated teams in the country. Mississippi State fell to 12-2 after losing for the first time since Nov. 9.

“That was probably one of the toughest teams we’ll play all year,” said Jackson, who scored a game-high 14 points. “Our chemistry is really good right now. We’ve got to keep getting better.”

Wednesday wasn’t the first time that Jackson -- who earned national junior college player-of-the-year honors at the College of Southern Idaho last season -- has come through for Baylor in the clutch.

[+] EnlargePierre Jackson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesPierre Jackson swoops in for Baylor's winning layup against Mississippi State.
He scored 23 points and hit a 3-pointer that forced overtime in last week’s victory over West Virginia, when he reeled off eight consecutive points during a stretch from late in the second half through the first 70 seconds of the extra period. And he blocked a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer in Baylor’s 86-83 win at BYU on Dec. 17.

In short, Jackson and Boston College transfer Brady Heslip have completely reshaped a Baylor squad that missed the NCAA tournament last season because of a porous backcourt that, at times, could barely get the ball up the court. The twosome combined for 21 of the Bears’ 34 first-half points against MSU.

“Those two killed us,” Stansbury said. “Like I said, people can talk about Jones and those other guys all they want. But Jackson is the reason Baylor is so good.”

That’s not to say Jackson and the Bears are without flaws. Baylor found a way to win Wednesday despite turning in one of its sloppiest performances of the season.

The Bears shot just 21 percent after intermission and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts. Baylor also clanked three of its five foul shots in the final 3 minutes -- yet it managed to emerge victorious.

“When you can shoot 21 percent in the second half and still beat a top-15 team, it shows that you really defended and rebounded well,” BU coach Scott Drew said. “We weren’t very good rebounding early in the year. We made it a focus after the BYU game and we’ve improved.”

Indeed, Baylor outrebounded Mississippi State 40-32 and came up with some huge stops down the stretch. Moments before Jackson’s winning basket, the Bears forced Bost into a terrible shot against his momentum on the other end. The Bulldogs had a chance to tie or win after Jackson’s layup, but they couldn’t get a good look before Rodney Hood went up for a guarded jumper with 6 seconds left. Hood’s shot was blocked, and Jackson made a heady play by batting the ball toward the other end of the court as time expired.

“The toughest thing for young players is ... when you’re not scoring, you don’t want to play defense,” Drew said. “For us, to shoot 21 percent and still play defense shows a lot of [character]. I’m proud of our guys.”

The victory in Dallas -- Baylor’s first this season against a top-25 opponent -- could have long-reaching effects. Drew touted after the game that his team is the only one in the country with wins against six top-50 opponents, according to the Sagarin ratings.

“It’s a win that resonates on your resume throughout the rest of the season,” Drew said.

It should also do wonders for Baylor’s confidence, as the Bears likely won’t face many teams in the Big 12 as tough as the Bulldogs. No team in the league has as good of a frontcourt as Mississippi State’s tandem of Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie. Bost is regarded as one of the nation’s top point guards and Hood probably won’t be in school longer than two years before jumping to the NBA.

Baylor has plenty of future pros on its roster, too, but its biggest strength continues to be its depth. Jones and Acy combined for just 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting. But it didn’t matter thanks to players such as Jackson, Heslip and Miller, who had 12 points and 6 boards. Nine Baylor players saw at least seven minutes of action Wednesday, and seven of them played 19 minutes or more.

“We came down here and went nose-to-nose-to-nose with them,” Stansbury said. “We took a team averaging 80 points and held it to 54. It was a hell of a game. These were two pretty good teams. We’ll take a lot of positives from this and get better from it, and I’m sure Baylor will, too.”

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 54, Miss. State 52

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
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DALLAS -- Here are a few quick observations from Baylor's 54-52 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday at American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

Overview: Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson scored a team-high 14 points -- including the game-winning layup with 22 seconds remaining. Quincy Miller added 12 points for the Bears, who are off to their best start ever at 13-0. Baylor trailed for nearly all of the second half -- but never by more than four points. The Bears outrebounded Mississippi State (38-31), an area that Scott Drew's team struggled in recent weeks. Renardo Sidney and Jalen Steele had 10 points each for Mississippi State, which lost for the first time since Nov. 9

Turning point: Baylor trailed for almost the entire second half before Jackson beat Dee Bost off the dribble for what proved to be the game-winning layup with 22 seconds remaining. The Bears also caught a huge break at the 1:35 mark, when Mississippi State's Sidney was whistled for a technical while arguing with an official who had just whistled him for his fifth personal foul. The Bears shot four free throws -- two for the fifth foul, two for the technical -- and made two of them to force a 52-52 tie. Bost missed a runner on the other end. Baylor rebounded and then Jackson made his heroic shot.

Star of the game: Jackson may have hit the winning shot, but Miller may have been the Bears' top all-around performer in a sloppy game. The freshman forward scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 25 minutes, an encouraging sign considering his recent struggles.

What the win means for Baylor: The Bears should be ecstatic about being one of four undefeated teams in the country. They've defeated some good teams and have earned the accolades that will come their way. Still, all teams strive to improve, so head coach Scott Drew should use Wednesday's game to address a handful of flaws that may have been masked by Baylor's successful start. Much like they did last season, the Bears play out of control at times. Jackson, in particular, took a ton of terrible shots in traffic against Mississippi State. Instead of trying to take the game over by himself, he needs to get better at sharing the ball and dishing off when he draws help defense. He's an incredible talent who has a knack for hitting huge shots, but he needs to develop some discipline. Drew also needs to let Miller play through his mistakes. He sat out way too long in the second half. He's simply too talented to keep on the bench. Drew also may want to consider tightening his rotation. Playing 10 to 12 guys early in the season is fine when you're trying to figure things out, but by now it may be better to go with a rotation of seven to eight guys. Brady Heslip sat way too many minutes in the second half. Still, none of that should diminish the magnitude of Wednesday's victory. No one can question the Bears' legitimacy now.

What the loss means for Mississippi State: There is no reason for the Bulldogs to hang their heads. They went toe-to-toe against a Final Four contender and could've easily won. If anything, Mississippi State should be encouraged. On a night when leading scorer Arnett Moultrie wasn't all that productive (eight points) the Bulldogs got huge contributions from secondary players such as Brian Bryant (eight points) and Steele (10). Aside from a silly technical foul in the waning minutes, Sidney turned in a strong performance, scoring 10 points and blocking two shots in just 19 minutes. His poor conditioning is still an issue, but Mississippi State doesn't lose much when Wendell Lewis subs for him. This is a deep, talented team that should finish no worse than third in the SEC. Rick Stansbury, who was under fire after a disappointing 2011-12 season, is doing a nice job.

Up next: Baylor opens Big 12 play Jan. 2 against Texas A&M in Waco. Mississippi State hosts Utah State on Saturday before opening SEC play Jan. 7 at Arkansas.

Tough Baylor hands BYU rare home loss

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
6:59
PM ET


For one scary moment, Perry Jones III feared he was done for a long time.

Baylor's big man was writhing on the court in pain and wasn’t sure he could come back into the game, let alone how much of the season might be missed.

Jones had knocked knees with BYU’s Brandon Davies atop the perimeter on a drive with 1:26 left and his seventh-ranked Bears up 84-83. Without its star forward, Baylor looked like it might lose not only the game, but its shot at a glorious season.

“I was scared,’’ Jones told ESPN.com by phone Saturday. “I couldn’t move my leg on my own. I thought I tore something.’’

But Jones quickly made a decision while on the bench.

He wanted back in.

“I didn’t want to let my team down,’’ Jones said. “I just wanted to ignore the pain, get to the weak side and get the rebound. I was there at the right time.’’

Jones’ tip-in follow with 21 seconds left gave Baylor an 86-83 lead.

“That was huge,’’ BU coach Scott Drew said. “What was really special is that normally a player gets injured, limps around and doesn’t make the big play. He got the big play.’’

Brigham Young had one more chance to tie the game when Davies had a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But Pierre Jackson, a 5-foot-10 guard, came from the side and blocked the 6-9 forward’s shot.

“I was closest to him,’’ Jackson said after the Bears' 86-83 victory. “I know I can jump pretty high. I wanted to contest it but I happened to block it. It was a big block, and it saved the game for us.’’

Drew said Jackson is as athletic a player as Baylor has and that he wasn’t surprised Jackson found a way to block Davies’ shot.

Jones, a clear contender for All-America status and Big 12 player of the year, finished with a career-high 28 points and eight rebounds, while Jackson added 13 off the bench. Brady Heslip made six of 10 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 18 for the Bears.

Baylor hadn’t been tested yet this season, blowing out all its competition, even in the one previous road game at Northwestern.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireBaylor's Perry Jones III led all scorers with 28 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists.
So Drew wasn’t sure how his team would handle going into the Marriott Center, a notorious graveyard for BYU opponents.

“You’re not going to find a tougher atmosphere in college,’’ Drew said. “They were 48-2 in their last 50 games. This definitely gets us ready for Big 12 play and tells us a lot about our team. It showed we know how to execute at the end of games. Toughness is required to win on the road. We weren’t ready early on, and we got dominated on the glass.’’

The Cougars added UCLA transfer Matt Carlino for this game, and he tied Davies for the team lead with 18 points. But Baylor did have length, size and depth advantage in the frontcourt with BYU missing sixth man Stephen Rogers.

However, it was Cal transfer guard Gary Franklin who played a key role Saturday. He made two 3s in 12 minutes, but Drew said Franklin’s defense was just as crucial.

“Normally you like to bring in a player that you add midseason for a home game,’’ Drew said. “But he was tremendous. He guarded very well.’’

It's pretty clear the Bears are more than capable of competing for the Big 12 title and a deep run in March, possibly long enough to get to New Orleans.

But there still are some potholes ahead. Baylor plays Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Las Vegas next week, and then squares off with Mississippi State on Dec. 28 in Dallas.

The length of Arnett Moultrie and size of Renardo Sidney will certainly test Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, while Heslip, Franklin, Jackson and A.J. Walton will have their hands full with Dee Bost and Rodney Hood.

So plenty of tests remain for the unbeaten Bears. But one of the biggest of all was passed in Provo.

“We got through the adversity together,’’ Jones said. “We just have to play smarter and play better together.’’

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 9, 2011
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Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the SEC teams one month into the season:

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats played the toughest nonconference game to date and beat North Carolina on a buzzer-beating blocked shot. UK has the most talent in the league and will be the team to chase throughout the season. Nothing will change that going forward.

2. Florida: The Gators lost on the road in two places (Ohio State, Syracuse) where most teams will fall this season. Wednesday's OT victory against Arizona was a must-win for this team. Having Patric Young score 25 points is a good sign the Gators will keep getting better.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have the most intriguing frontline in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sindey. Dee Bost continues to be a steadying force for MSU, which seems to have righted itself since the home loss to Akron. This has the look of an NCAA team.

4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have played the toughest schedule of any SEC team so far, but the Dores blew leads against Xavier at home and at Louisville. Getting Festus Ezeli back in a road win at Davidson means Vandy can start its season anew. This is still a team with a chance to go far in March.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide lost at home to surging Georgetown and on the road to an erratic Dayton. Bama is still an NCAA-type team, but the Tide need to find some consistency before they hit the SEC season. The ceiling is still high for this crew.

6. Ole Miss: The Rebels squeezed out a win at DePaul when Murphy Holloway came through in the clutch. But that win and the one at Penn State aren't exactly jaw-droppers. The Rebs have a formidable frontcourt, but the guard play has to improve.

7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost Marshawn Powell for the season, but still showed they had plenty of fight in a loss at Connecticut. Mike Anderson has this team highly competitive with a chance for postseason play.

8. LSU: The Tigers have climbed up into the top eight after winning two in a row on the road, at Houston and at Rutgers. The rebuilding job by Trent Johnson might be turning a bit of a corner. A game against Marquette is still on the horizon, which could humble the Tigers.

9. Tennessee: The Vols have lost four of their past five, but Tennessee did show it can hang and play with passion and purpose in losing to Duke and Pitt in close ones, and to Memphis in double overtime in Maui. A soft part of the schedule is coming up. UT needs to take advantage.

10. Georgia: The Bulldogs have hit a skid in the schedule by losing five of their past six, all against power-six schools (no softies here). Georgia needs a win badly and might get one at USC on Dec. 17.

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were looking like one of the worst teams in any major conference early in the season (with losses to Elon and Tennessee State), but the win at rival Clemson keeps them out of the SEC basement. The problem is that Ohio State comes calling on Dec. 17. Uh-oh.

12. Auburn: The Tigers (4-1) have a better overall record than LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina or Georgia, but the four wins were against low-majors. The one time the Tigers played a power-six school they lost badly at Seton Hall. So judging is still incomplete with the Tigers.

Birthday boy Arnett Moultrie eats up Zona

November, 18, 2011
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NEW YORK -- The night before the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer title game, Meo Stansbury had an important assignment for her husband, Rick.

She needed him to broker a taste test. Friday was Arnett Moultrie's 21st birthday and Mrs. Stansbury wanted to make sure she chose the exact right cookie to celebrate.

“Well I liked all three,’’ Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “But I told him he wasn’t getting any cookies until after the game was over.’’

In the end, Moultrie chose chocolate chip. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic, just good.

Sort of like Moultrie.

The Mississippi State forward will not stun you with his flash. He won’t overpower you with his finesse.

He will just beat you down.

Usually it’s on the boards. But on his birthday, Moultrie offered up a special treat, a double-double beatdown of 19 points and 10 rebounds that lifted Mississippi State to a 67-57 victory over No. 16 Arizona, securing the program's first in-season tourney title in more than decade.

Moultrie, who had eight points and eight boards against 18th-ranked Texas A&M on Thursday, took home a nice little birthday souvenir from New York -- tournament MVP honors.

[+] EnlargeArnett Moultrie
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIOn his 21st birthday, Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie dropped 19 points and 10 rebounds on Arizona.
“It’s an amazing feeling,’’ Moultrie said. “The Garden is the biggest stage you can play on.’’

The beauty of Moultrie, though, is that he’s more than happy being a supporting cast member. He is Dennis Rodman without the makeup and the look-at-me-me-me, a voracious rebounder who has not just an instinct for the ball but an insatiable desire to go get it.

In five games this season, Moultrie has pulled down double-digit boards all but once and is averaging a ridiculous 11.2 rebounds a game.

And on a team full of stars, some of them star-crossed, that makes him the perfect complement and antidote for the Bulldogs.

A year ago, Mississippi State was known more for its off-court drama than its on-court success. Moultrie presents a steadying influence and the sort of selflessness the Bullies need.

“I don’t know how many nights he’s going to be our leading scorer, but I do know that one thing he’s going to bring every night is an energy to go rebound that basketball,’’ Stansbury said. “Not many guys have that. You tell a guy to go get that ball and he doesn’t want to hear it. Arnett wants to hear it.’’

Moultrie came to Mississippi State from UTEP, transferring out of El Paso after his coach, Tony Barbee, moved on to Auburn. A big pickup, he still existed in the shadow of the enigmatic talent of Renardo Sidney.

Now he and Sidney combine for a formidable pair in the paint. Mississippi State didn’t command the boards entirely -- it outrebounded Arizona by only five -- but it controlled the paint. The Bulldogs outscored the Wildcats 38-24 there.

Moultrie and Sidney (8 points) scored themselves, but their presence also cleared the lane for their guards to drive and score or drive and dish.

“Their two big guys are enormous,’’ Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “But Arnett, in particular, was the difference in this game.’’

The big question, of course, is what does this all mean for Mississippi State? This long has been a team stuffed with talent -- Sidney and Dee Bost, on paper, should be one of the more formidable inside-outside pairs in the country.

Except it’s never quite panned out, as the team has been done in by infighting, suspensions and Sidney’s wishy-washy commitment.

Five games and two strong ones in New York do not a season make, but all signs right now point to an MSU team that needs to be added to the SEC conversation -- provided the Bulldogs can maintain it.

Mississippi State started 7-2 a year ago before skidding through a 1-5 stretch.

“Everyone wants to win,’’ Bost said. “That’s all that’s on anyone’s mind.’’

Well, that and celebratory cookies.

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