College Basketball Nation: Colorado State Rams

3-point shot: Preseason scrimmage lessons

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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Andy Katz discusses some lessons learned from three preseason scrimmages across the nation.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Mountain West.

AIR FORCE

Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/WMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- As in the Falcons get two points for playing Colorado and Richmond at home. Those are nice home games for Air Force. The rest of the slate is weak, but that's OK considering that coach Dave Pilipovich has a rebuilding team. So this schedule matches the current team.

BOISE STATE

Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 10)
Next toughest: Utah (Dec. 3), Saint Mary's (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UT-Arlington (Nov. 8), Simpson (Nov. 15), Seattle (Nov. 19), at New Orleans (Nov. 23), Portland State (Nov. 29), Carroll (Dec. 5)

Toughness scale: 5 -- Boise State has a one-way ticket to Kentucky, and that's enough to warrant a decent grade. The Broncos, likely picked second in the MWC, needed to test themselves. The home games against Saint Mary's and Utah will certainly push them as well. Boise State is the potential favorite in Hawaii but will have to get past the hometown Warriors, which is no easy task. Iowa State is a possible finalist on the other side of the bracket. But this tourney could be Boise's breakout heading into the MWC, short of upsetting Kentucky at Rupp.

COLORADO STATE

Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 11)
Next toughest: at UTEP (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Nov. 30), Colorado (Dec. 3)
The rest: UCCS (Nov. 8), Weber State (Nov. 16), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 25), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Southwestern Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Denver (Dec. 11), UIC (Dec. 23), Lamar (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Rams will have quite a chore winning at Gonzaga and UTEP. These are two quality games for Larry Eustachy. Getting New Mexico State and Colorado at home is a huge plus for a team rebuilding after an NCAA tournament run last March. The rest of the slate is fine, considering the inexperience at a number of key positions.

FRESNO STATE

Toughest: vs. Florida (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next toughest: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 12), at Utah (Dec. 7), at Cal (Dec. 14)
The rest: at UC Irvine (Nov. 8), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 16), Cal Poly (Nov. 20), San Diego Christian (Nov. 25), Drake (Nov. 29), CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 30), Northern Arizona (Dec. 1), UC Merced (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode, but Rodney Terry put together a rough schedule to get to MWC play. Florida is an elite team. Going on the road to Pitt, Utah and Cal would be tough for most clubs, regardless of what rebuilding stage they were in. The pressure will be on the Bulldogs to clean up the rest at home to ensure there is some momentum going into the conference.

NEVADA

Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 28-29)
Next toughest: at Cal (Dec. 10), Iona (Dec. 22)
The rest: Montana Tech (Nov. 4), Pacific (Nov. 8), at Cal Poly (Nov. 12), at San Francisco (Nov. 15), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 18), Chattanooga (Nov. 22), Morehead State (Nov. 24), at UC Davis (Dec. 7), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 14), Long Beach State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Wolf Pack were stuck at the bottom of the MWC last season, so this is a critical year for David Carter. Nevada has three high-level games, all away from Reno, with two of them in Vegas against Missouri and UCLA. No one would expect the Pack to win any of them, but Carter will test his team with those three. There are plenty of other potential hiccups -- even at home with games like Pacific, Iona and Long Beach State.

NEW MEXICO

Toughest: vs. Kansas (Dec. 14 in Kansas City), vs. Marquette (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Cincinnati (Dec. 7), Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at New Mexico State (Dec. 4), New Mexico State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 9), Charleston Southern (Nov. 17), San Diego (Nov. 30), Grand Canyon (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Lobos did an exceptional job of getting quality games away from home like Kansas, Marquette, Cincinnati and the rivalry home-and-home games with the Aggies. If the Mountain West favorites play up to expectations, the Lobos will be well-prepared for the MWC and for an NCAA tourney run. The Charleston Classic also offers a possible power-rating game with UMass in the semifinals, assuming they meet.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Toughest: Arizona (Nov. 14), at Kansas (Jan. 5)
Next toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.), Washington (Dec. 8)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 8), San Diego Christian (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Dec. 18), McNeese State (Dec. 21), St. Katherine College (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale: 8 -- This is a quality schedule for Steve Fisher's club. Going to Kansas is as tough a game as any team can get on the schedule. Arizona has become a rivalry game for the Aztecs, and the Wildcats will be one of the best teams in the country. The Wooden Legacy provides elite competition, too, with either Creighton or Arizona State -- two high-level teams -- on the second day. Washington has upper-level Pac-12 talent as well.

SAN JOSE STATE

Toughest: at Santa Clara (Nov. 12)
Next toughest: at Houston (Dec. 7)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 15 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Northern Illinois (Nov. 16), James Madison (Nov. 17 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Pepperdine (Nov. 20), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 23), at Portland (Nov. 27), at Weber State (Nov. 30), UC Davis (Dec. 18), Westminster (Dec. 21), Pacifica (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 2 -- Going to Santa Clara, an upstart in the WCC, and Houston out of the American will be tall tasks for the Spartans. The first-time MWC member clearly tried to tone down the slate a bit in advance of conference play. But the chances of San Jose State getting high-profile home games is highly unlikely.

UNLV

Toughest: at Arizona (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 19), Illinois (Nov. 26)
The rest: Portland State (Nov. 8), UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 15), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 30), at Southern Utah (Dec. 14), Radford (Dec. 18), Sacred Heart (Dec. 20), vs. Santa Clara (Dec. 22 at Orleans Arena), vs. Mississippi State/South Florida (Dec. 23 at Orleans Arena)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Runnin' Rebels probably made up this schedule before all of the attrition on the roster. Still, UNLV has a multitude of quality games, with only the Arizona game being away from home. If UNLV wants to make a run in the MWC, it needs to take care of business at home with a schedule that is overwhelmingly prejudiced toward the Thomas & Mack Center.

UTAH STATE

Toughest: BYU (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City)
Next toughest: USC (Nov. 8), Mississippi State (Nov. 23)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 12), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 16), at Weber State (Nov. 26), Pacific (Dec. 7), Utah Valley (Dec. 14), Western Illinois (Dec. 19), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 20), Troy (Dec. 21), San Diego Christian (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Aggies get loads of credit for making more of an effort to upgrade the schedule in their first year in the league. Coach Stew Morrill is usually not willing to go places, but he does have the rivalry game against BYU as well as USC at home. Mississippi State is the return of a home-and-home series.

WYOMING

Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 13), at Ohio State (Nov. 25)
Next toughest: at Denver (Dec. 15), SMU (Dec. 20)
The rest: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8), Western State (Nov. 10), Arkansas State (Nov. 16), Jackson State (Nov. 18), South Dakota (Nov. 22), Montana State (Nov. 30), Black Hills State (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cowboys are going on the road to Ohio State, something that is not the norm for Larry Shyatt, who has always worked the schedule to his advantage and not played a high number of upper-level games. The rivalry game with Colorado is always a difficult one. Going to Denver may be close, but the Pioneers have become one of the better squads out West. SMU returns on the back end of a home-and-home series, but this time the Mustangs are much more formidable.

 
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Something happened in that halftime locker room last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Sure, there were words of encouragement from Louisville coach Rick Pitino as well as demands to play the way Louisville was capable of for the next 20 minutes. Senior Peyton Siva made his plea as well.

But these were words. The Cardinals' play over the five halves of basketball since was the action.

And that’s scary for anyone left in this field.

Sure, Louisville can be beaten. The Cardinals lost three consecutive games during Big East play, to Syracuse and at Villanova and Georgetown. They handed Notre Dame multiple lives during a classic five-overtime loss in South Bend, Ind.

But it would take a shutdown by the top-seeded Cardinals, and a patient team that consistently -- and I want to underscore the word consistently here -- makes shots.

Colorado State tried for five minutes. But that was it, as the Rams were swallowed whole by the Cardinals’ pressure and the nearly 90 percent home-court advantage Louisville (31-5) had on Kentucky’s home floor at Rupp Arena.

“I don’t want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they’re special,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said after the 82-56 thrashing in the round of 32. “They need a little luck like everybody does to win it all, but that’s as impressive a team as I’ve been against, certainly.

“I can’t say enough about coach Pitino and how he gets his guys to play for 40 minutes,” Eustachy added. “It’s as impressive as I’ve ever seen.”

The mature, experienced Rams (26-9) were out of sync, committing a season-high 20 turnovers. Once the pressure increased, the eighth seed was in a vise with no release button.

“I would just describe it as chaos,” said Colorado State’s Greg Smith, who had four turnovers. “Some of those guys are just so fast, and you may think that you have an open lane or you may think the pass is coming, and they close it down so quick. They really have each other’s backs as far as their traps and different stuff they throw at different people.”

Louisville turned a double-digit halftime deficit to Syracuse into a 17-point win. The Cards crushed North Carolina A&T by 31.

Louisville’s Chane Behanan said the halftime locker room last Saturday was one of shock.

“You could see the frustration on coach’s face,” said Behanan. “We all work so hard for him. We knew we had to buckle down. I want to see him in the Hall of Fame (Pitino is on the ballot).”

Siva said the Cardinals try not to remember the first half against Syracuse. But they must. That’s exactly how Louisville can be beaten. If the opponent has a hot hand -- like Syracuse’s James Southerland -- and the Cards are passive, they are ripe to be taken down.

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsRuss Smith scored 27 for the Cardinals, who are as dialed in on coach Rick Pitino as he is on them.
And in this field -- where Harvard beats New Mexico and Florida Gulf Coast knocks off Georgetown -- there are no givens.

How do you beat Louisville?

“I can’t tell you that secret,” said Siva. “Then other people will use it.”

But there is one.

“If we don’t come out with effort, we’ll beat ourselves,” said Siva. “We played 35 minutes against Notre Dame and we got beat in overtime. We’re not overconfident. How can we be when we lost three straight? Who are we to be overconfident about anything? We lost a close game to Syracuse when I turned the ball over, and lost a close game against Georgetown when I didn’t have a good game -- and then at Villanova we didn’t make free throws. We’ve got to take care of the ball and make better decisions and make free throws down the stretch.”

Russ Smith was his ridiculous, or Rupp-diculous, self Saturday with 27 points. He and Pitino exchanged plenty of good moments during the game.

They were loving his effort and productivity at both ends of the court.

The one thing you can tell from watching Pitino the past two weeks, in New York and here in Lexington, is how much he absolutely loves coaching this team.

This is not some foreign concept. John Calipari loved dealing with last season’s champion Wildcats at Kentucky. The same is almost always true of title teams and their relationships with their head coaches.

But Pitino is dialed in with this group. The players have bought in completely on how he wants them to play. The practices are intense and don’t have much of a break. The individual workouts have gone from 42 minutes at the beginning of the season to 28 now, according to Pitino. The practices range from 2 hours, 25 minutes to 1:45, with the only break for 20 seconds per correction.

“It’s counter-productive for a well-conditioned team to wear their legs out,” said Pitino.

Pitino said to play the way the Cardinals are handling games right now takes incredible stamina and shape.

He’s not about to anoint this his best team (I’d say the 1996 Kentucky team would take that honor). The talent doesn’t compare.

“It may not be in my top five (on talent),” said Pitino. “But in terms of execution and intensity and will to win, it’s up there. It’s not a who’s-who in the lottery draft. We don’t play for the lottery draft. We play the game for Louisville and move on.”

Louisville has some similar traits to the Maryland teams from 2001 and ’02. They weren’t filled with expected NBA talent. Sure, Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox have lasted in the NBA, but neither one was a lock at the time. The same could be true for Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith. That Maryland team went to the Final Four one year, lost in the semifinals and returned hungry and intact to win it the following season.

Don’t be surprised if that occurs with Louisville.

Coaching this lot has invigorated Pitino like he never thought possible.

“If I can keep recruiting guys like this, I want to coach until 70 and beyond because I’ve had such a blast, and to see guys work that hard inside just fills you up, it really does,” said Pitino. “That’s not easy to do what they do. I don’t think in my best day as an athlete I could have done half of what these guys do in the course of a game. So, it’s really amazing what they do on the court.”

 
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A few observations from Louisville's 82-56 rout of Colorado State on Saturday at Rupp Arena ...

Overview: Well, the NCAA gave the No. 1 overall seed Louisville a virtual home game, and the fans and Cardinals alike embraced Rupp Arena as if it were the KFC Yum! Center. This was Russdiculous, Lou-nacy, and flat-out Siva-licious for the Cards. Louisville took a few shots from Colorado State early -- and I stress early -- in the first five minutes. And then the Cardinals' press, and crowd, woke up and swallowed the Rams whole. The equally seasoned and mature, coffee-drinking Rams needed some sort of fix to get out from under Louisville's pressure. It was too much, and UL busted out to a double-digit lead and didn't look back.

This is a tournament of matchups, more than anything else. And while eighth-seeded CSU (26-9) handled the atmospheres of those legitimately fierce Mountain West arenas without wilting much, it was not in position to handle the blur of Louisville's clutching, grabbing, bumping and pestering press.

UL coach Rick Pitino was relentless in pushing the Cardinals to finish the job. He didn't let up as Louisville (31-5) teased the Rams at times, allowing them to hang around. Louisville has been simply sensational since halftime of the Big East tournament title game against Syracuse. The Cards have put the clamps on the Orange for 20 minutes, North Carolina A&T for 40 minutes and Colorado State for 35.

Turning point: The Cardinals trailed early but quickly caught up to tie the game at 8. But I'll go with the charge Montrezl Harrell took on Colton Iverson as the turning point. Iverson charged into the lane like a bull, going for a flush dunk that would have brought the Rams to within two at 20-18. Instead, Harrell stood there and got slammed, his head smashing against the court. The freshman forward stayed down for a second or two, then got up and tried to say he was OK. He went to the bench, chilled and ultimately returned. But that play seemed to ignite the Cardinals even more, and they raced to a 45-31 halftime lead.

Key player: Russ Smith finished with 27 points as he was able to get to the basket to draw fouls (after which he made 9 of 10 free throw attempts), kept the Rams guessing and also pulled up on the break for back-breaking big shots. Smith could be the MVP of this entire tournament when he's hot. He's on a roll right now, which should be danger for anyone ahead of Louisville in the Midwest Region.

Key stat: The 11 first-half turnovers were a major danger sign for the Rams. The one thing they couldn't do was give the ball away. Some of the turnovers were unforced, as CSU made a few passes across the top of the perimeter that were cut off. Just the slight hedge by Louisville had Colorado State guessing wrong.

What's next: Louisville is off to Indianapolis to the Sweet 16, where the Cards will have a decided advantage again over Oregon on Friday night.

Elder statesmen front Rams squad

March, 22, 2013
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The coaching staff shouldn't have been surprised to see fifth-year senior forward Colton Iverson drinking coffee and taking notes Friday morning during a Colorado State tape session.

Iverson is one of five senior starters on a team that is a rare breed in college basketball. Miami has fifth- and sixth-year players. But the norm for most teams is to have a sprinkle of underclassmen in the top five or six.

This Colorado State team is anything but traditional. This new coffee habit is a symbol of the maturity the Rams have shown and will need to display when they play top-seeded Louisville Saturday night at Rupp Arena.

Iverson transferred from Minnesota to play for Tim Miles and he sat out last season.

While Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk has been receiving praise for his work during a redshirt year, some of the love should also be shifted to Iverson. He changed his body during the year off. He's lighter on his feet. Tubby Smith taught him to play defense at Minnesota. Miles schooled him on how to become more of an offensive threat. Miles left for Nebraska so when Larry Eustachy was hired he molded him into being an all-around player.

[+] EnlargeColton Iverson
AP Photo/James CrispColton Iverson is the oldest player on a Colorado State team that starts five seniors.
"I've been able to take away from all three coaches and learn a lot," said Iverson. "The year off gave me a lot of confidence. I took that year off and used it to my advantage."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he followed Iverson due to his close association with Smith. He now sees an all-around player and an outstanding rebounder who can score over either shoulder.

But it wasn't until this year that Iverson took on the odd habit for a high-level college basketball player.

"It actually started over Christmas break this year," said Iverson. "I used to hate coffee but Wes Eikmeier and Jesse Carr got me hooked and ever since I have to have it every day."

And here's the twist. He drinks it right before practice. By Friday afternoon, Iverson had already had a few cups.

"The younger guys on the team give us crap about it when we show up drinking coffee every day and they're drinking Powerade," said Iverson. "They joke we're the old guys."

Carr said he tries to get Iverson to drink water as well so he doesn't get dehydrated. That was Steve Barnes' plea, too. The longtime Eustachy assistant, who is the director of player personnel, said he found it odd that Iverson, Carr and Elmeier would drink it right before practice. But it has worked for them and they're not about to stop.

Carr said he started drinking coffee the last 10 games of the season and he played well. So he has become superstitious about it. The three players will stop at McDonald's and get coffee before practice and games.

"We were about to start practice here (Wednesday) and I see him (Iverson) drinking a McDonald's coffee on the side before we started running,'' said Carr. "We've all accepted it that we're old for college basketball at 22-23 years old."

Barnes had to do a double take when he saw Iverson jotting down notes with his coffee as if he was attending a seminar.

"I felt bad I wasn't taking notes," said Barnes. "They're an older mature group."

And that's why the Rams won't get rattled against the Cardinals, even if they get flustered by the pressure. They can score. They can board. They can handle the ball. This CSU team has been in games at UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State and have not been flummoxed by the atmosphere.

"This is our last go-round and with five seniors we are looking at every game, taking notes and what to make sure we know what their capabilities are," said Iverson.

Iverson credits Eustachy with putting everything together in his game. Eustachy said he has never had a player improve as much as Iverson.

Now the two, along with the other seniors on this team, will try to shock the tournament and knock off the Cards.


If there is one sidebar to watch during the Butler-Marquette game Saturday night it will be the two coaches' demeanors.

Butler players relish Brad Stevens' calm approach. Stevens can get upset. But he never gets too wild.

Marquette's Buzz Williams is animated, but he reads his team's needs. When the Golden Eagles hit game winners to beat St. John's and Davidson in the past two weeks -- both by Vander Blue -- Williams didn't jump around like Steve Lavin. He stood firm, saw the ball go in and calmly walked down to shake hands with the opposing coach.

"He brings energy to the team and that's good," said Davante Gardner. "It's really funny. Sometimes when I'm on the court, I peek over to see what he's doing."

Trent Lockett and Chris Otule said they don't notice Williams as much during the game but when they see the tape of one they are immediately drawn to him. Williams sweats quite a bit and that's why he shows up in postgame news conferences with a different shirt. Otule disclosed a secret about Williams -- he has to wear a Dri-Fit shirt underneath due to the sweat.

"At the end of the game his Dri-Fit looked like he actually played in the game since it's so sweaty," said Otule. "He's just a really energetic person. It's an honor to play for him."

Williams doesn't hide his emotions. He pushes when he has to and holds back on other occasions.

"I understand that it's emotional most of the time but so much of what we do is based on energy," said Williams. "I don't think that you can have great energy without great emotion."
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Larry Eustachy’s life came full circle a year ago when he took Southern Miss back to the NCAA tournament.

After the appearance ended in a loss, he was off to a more nationally relevant job at Colorado State.

Eustachy had no idea what he was getting into in Fort Collins. He knew this CSU team had experience and had made a cameo in the NCAA tournament in 2012.

What he couldn’t have figured was how much this team needed him, and he them.

On Thursday night, the two formed the perfect coach-team union for a clinic on how to stay composed on the big stage. The eighth-seeded Rams were an offensive juggernaut against No. 9-seeded Missouri, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, exactly 50 percent from 3-point range, and absolutely embarrassing the Tigers on the boards (42-19) in an 84-72 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

How much did the Rams’ unique experience of starting five seniors play into this victory?

“I think it’s huge,’’ said Eustachy, who was stoic on the postgame podium but didn’t hide his euphoria by fist-pumping to the strong contingent of CSU fans at Rupp Arena.

[+] EnlargeLarry Eustachy
AP Photo/James CrispLarry Eustachy's Colorado State squad controlled the Tigers from the start.
“It wasn’t like they were just happy to be here,’’ he said. “I think that was the case last year, and I told them it was the case with me at Southern Miss last year.

“We intended on winning this game and I think that’s a big difference. Our mindset was terrific, and you couldn’t do that with freshmen. It took men to get that mindset into them, and they bought into everything I’ve talked about.’’

The Rams were led by Dorian Green, who was the much less heralded lead guard on the court next to Phil Pressey, but was the better player Thursday in the way he managed the game. Pressey had to hold together a mishmash of transfers that never seemed to be in sync, certainly not away from Columbia. Mizzou coach Frank Haith said he was proud of the team’s ability to make the NCAA tournament with only one player who played in the Tigers’ loss to Norfolk State a year ago.

A year ago, Haith took over a team assembled by Mike Anderson and was named national coach of the year.

This year, Eustachy took over a ready-made team that immediately embraced him.

“With Coach and the staff, their specialty is what we lacked the most, so I think it was just a perfect fit for us,’’ Green said. “We got a little bit tougher and our defensive rebounding is where we lacked last year. So I think it was just the perfect fit. We couldn’t ask for anything better.’’

Eustachy called the victory over Missouri historic for the school. The Rams' last NCAA win was in 1989.

“This is why we came here, to put this program on the map and make this an expected thing each year,’’ said Green, who like the rest of the seniors was recruited by current Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “This is what we set out to do when we got on campus, and it’s great to see the hard work pay off.’’

The Tigers (23-11) admitted that the Rams were the more aggressive team. They were. It wasn’t close. They were also the more disciplined squad. In order to knock off No. 1 overall seed Louisville -- and Eustachy’s close friend and former high school-mate, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich -- the Rams (26-8) will have to handle the pressure, and the basketball, Saturday.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, something that we’ll remember forever,’’ Green said. “We have to enjoy it, come out and play hard for 40 minutes and be aggressive from the opening tip. We’ve just got to seize the opportunity and love the atmosphere and compete.’’

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 8, 2013
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The Mountain West Conference is poised to send an unprecedented percentage of teams to the NCAA tournament. If Boise State can beat San Diego State and avoid a flop in the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas, it's hard to see the Broncos missing the cut. That would give the MWC five out of nine teams in the field, one of the best showings ever by a conference.

On to the final rankings before the selection committee has its say:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have been the most consistent team from beginning to end. Steve Alford is a legitimate candidate for national coach of the year. UNM got pushed by Nevada in Wednesday's first half, only to find a second gear when it mattered most. The Lobos finish up on the road against pesky Air Force. This won't affect the Lobos' seeding in Vegas, but a loss to the Falcons would ruin any outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

2. UNLV. I'm comfortable putting the Runnin' Rebels back near the top of the MWC, where they were projected in the preseason. UNLV seems to have finally found its rotation and might be peaking at the right time. The Rebels should beat Fresno State at home -- where they'll have the rare treat of remaining for two straight weeks, since UNLV hosts the conference tournament. But that doesn't always translate into a tournament title. UNLV is hardly a lock to cut down the nets.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs should end up in the third spot. I'm not sold on San Diego State being able to win at Boise State on Saturday, but the Aztecs still have one of the best players in the league in Jamaal Franklin. I still consider San Diego State a tournament title contender and a tough out in the NCAAs. I'm putting a bit more faith in this team by keeping the Aztecs in the top three, where I projected them in the preseason.

4. Colorado State. The Rams have the experience, but have come up short in a few key games of late. CSU needs some momentum going into the NCAAs. The Rams should beat Nevada to close the season and be a tough out in Las Vegas. This team won't get rattled at all. If Colton Iverson can dominate his position, or at the very least hold his own, Colorado State has a chance.

5. Boise State. Last Saturday, Derrick Marks lit up Colorado State with 38 points. The Broncos then nearly beat UNLV on the road. Now they are on the verge of a program-changing win. If Boise State were to beat San Diego State Saturday afternoon, it should be in the NCAA field. If that happens, Leon Rice would have the Broncos way ahead of schedule.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are playing for a possible NIT berth when they host New Mexico on Saturday. Michael Lyons is also looking to secure his spot on the all-conference first team. Air Force should be proud of its efforts. This team overachieved and was in contention throughout the conference race.

7. Wyoming. Injuries and off-court issues have crushed the Cowboys' momentum. Wyoming, which finished its conference season Wednesday, has slid back into the pack, but can still play spoiler in the MWC tournament. Larry Shyatt had this team as one of the last four unbeatens in the country -- but the margin of error was always thin.

8. Fresno State. Rodney Terry has the Bulldogs heading in the right direction. Fresno State has been relevant this season in the conference race. I'll be surprised if this team isn't moving up in the standings in the next two seasons. The key will be for Terry to ensure Save Mart Center is a tough stop for every opponent.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack looked as though they were going to get a signature victory against New Mexico but lost 75-62. The problem this season for Nevada has been sustained effort, finding the 40 minutes to finish off games. This has to be addressed.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 1, 2013
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The Mountain West Conference has been the most consistent and reliable league the past two seasons for predicting NCAA tournament bids.

Four.

That could change if Boise State makes a late run, but the lock seems to be that the MWC will have four bids yet again.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have answered every challenge. The losses to UNLV and San Diego State on the road didn't have any residual effect. UNM beat San Diego State and Colorado State in the past week as Kendall Williams likely cemented his spot as the Mountain West player of the year with his 46 points in the win at CSU. UNM finishes the regular season at Nevada and Air Force.

2. Colorado State. The Rams are still the most consistent team in the league, even though they hit a bit of a skid. They have the most experience and probably will be the least rattled once they get to the NCAA tournament. CSU has a tough go ahead with road games at Boise State, Wyoming and at home against Nevada.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels might be getting quality production from Khem Birch at the right time, as the Pitt transfer put up a double-double in Saturday's victory at Wyoming. UNLV has underachieved at times, but there is still plenty of talent and time for it to get back in gear and be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team. The Rebels finish with a game at Nevada, then head home for Boise State and Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs have been a bit of a tease this season. Jamaal Franklin has been productive and separated himself with his skills, but the rest of the team has largely been inconsistent. A nagging injury to Xavier Thames hasn't helped. The Aztecs finish with Air Force and at Boise State and could use some momentum.

5. Boise State. Boise State can control its destiny by winning games against Colorado State, at UNLV and at home against San Diego State. Take two of those three -- the home games -- and it would be tough to keep the Broncos out of the field.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are a legit postseason team. Air Force can improve its chances in its final games against Fresno State, San Diego State and New Mexico. Guard Michael Lyons will likely finish as a first-team all-MWC player.

7. Wyoming. The Pokes gave the league a valiant effort, but their conference-mates caught up to them. The Cowboys weren't able to get more than one signature victory (San Diego State) this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack has lost seven of eight games. Nevada can be a spoiler with games against UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State before the tournament in Las Vegas.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have improved overall, but losing five of their past six keeps them at the bottom of the rankings.

Poll thoughts: Lazy voters strike again

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
3:50
PM ET
It's time for this week's poll thoughts. I know this won't be popular, but I'm substituting for his highness, Eamonn Brennan, who was so dismayed by the inclusion of a particular team in the latest poll that he lost all motivation to type, link, click and drop one-liners.

Either that or he ordered the wrong thing last night at the fast-food joint.

Whatever the case, Eamonn is out of pocket. But if he were here, I'm sure he'd be as startled as I am to see that Louisiana Tech -- Louisiana Tech! -- has entered The Associated Press poll at No. 25. Look, I get it. The Bulldogs' 118-48 victory over Central Baptist College last week was impressive. And so were all those victories over WAC powerhouses such as Seattle, Idaho and Texas-San Antonio. Louisiana Tech is 24-3, for crying out loud, and it's not like two of its losses were to McNeese State and Northwestern State.

Oh, wait ... yes, they were.

Sarcasm aside, kudos to the Bulldogs, who are ranked for the first time since 1985, when Karl Malone was on the team. They're doing the best they can with a schedule that's out of their control. Hopefully the publicity they receive from this week's ranking will help their program. But it's ridiculous for Louisiana Tech to be in the poll over teams such as Colorado State, Connecticut, Wichita State, North Carolina and UNLV.

The Bulldogs' inclusion validates the main criticism of the AP weekly rankings: Voters are lazy. Instead of watching games or, at the very least, doing research, they're voting for teams based on record and record alone. It shouldn't always be about how many games you win. It should be about whom you play -- and whom you beat. Sorry to be a party-pooper, but Louisiana Tech is not one of the top 25 teams in college basketball.

A few other thoughts:

-- Miami fell only three spots -- from No. 2 to No. 5 -- following Saturday's 15-point loss to ACC bottom-feeder Wake Forest (12-14, 5-9). I'd have dropped the Hurricanes lower, not just because of their upset to the Demon Deacons, but because of how they were playing before that. Jim Larranaga's squad played one of its worst games of the season in a 45-43 victory over Clemson on Feb. 17. And it didn't exactly dominate Virginia in a 54-50 win two days later. UVa boasts a decent squad, but when you're ranked No. 2 in America, you're held to a higher standard, especially at home. I don't foresee the Hurricanes getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

-- I don't have any problem with Gonzaga being ranked No. 2 -- which, by the way, is the highest ranking in school history. The Zags own two conference victories over a solid Saint Mary's squad and as always, played a tough nonconference schedule that included games against Oklahoma State, Baylor, Butler, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Davidson. Anyone doubting Mark Few's squad needs to watch the Zags play. They clearly pass the eye test. This team has very few, if any, flaws. The frontcourt of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris is one of the best in the country.

-- It's good to see Memphis back in the Top 20 at No. 18. The Tigers have been on fire since losing to Louisville in a curiously officiated game on Dec. 15. Memphis, 24-3 overall, has won 18 straight and is playing with tremendous structure and cohesion. In Saturday's game against Southern Miss, the Tigers had 25 assists on 29 field goals. I've enjoyed watching Josh Pastner -- who was 31 when he was hired to replace John Calipari in 2009 -- grow and mature as a coach.

-- Butler is a difficult team to rank. The Bulldogs boast victories over the country's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams (Indiana and Gonzaga). But they've also lost to Saint Louis, Charlotte and La Salle in recent weeks. And they were nearly upset by George Washington and Fordham. I guess I can understand leaving Butler in the poll, though -- for now.

-- After watching the New Mexico-Colorado State game Saturday, I wouldn't have dropped CSU out of the Top 25 despite its loss to the Lobos. This is a very good Rams team. Heck, it took someone (Kendall Williams) scoring 46 points for them to get beaten Saturday.

-- Kudos to VCU for rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat Xavier Saturday, but the Rams haven't been playing like a Top 25 team. Maybe it's the images of that 76-62 thumping VCU suffered at the hands of Saint Louis last week that are sticking in my head.

-- A few other tidbits from our friends at ESPN Stats & Info: Georgetown has its highest ranking since 2010. ... Syracuse is out of the top 10 for the first time this season. ... Saint Louis is ranked for the first time this season and, at No. 18, has its highest ranking since 1994.

Video: Lobos' Williams after 46-point game

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
11:19
PM ET

 
Kendall Williams exploded for 46 points -- including 10 3-pointers -- as No. 16 New Mexico came back to win at No. 22 Colorado State 91-82.

Saturday afternoon observations

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
7:40
PM ET
Here are 10 observations I made while channel-surfing Saturday afternoon.

  1. [+] EnlargeKendall Williams
    Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsKendall Williams was locked in Saturday, hitting 12 of 16 shots en route to 46 points.
    New Mexico’s 91-82, come-from-behind victory over Colorado State was the most entertaining game of the afternoon -- and it also featured the best performance not just of the day, but arguably of the entire season. New Mexico junior guard Kendall Williams made 10 of his 13 attempts from 3-point range en route to a career-high 46 points as the Lobos snapped CSU’s 27-game home winning streak. At 10-2 in the Mountain West, New Mexico now has a two-game lead over the Rams (8-4) in the conference standings. These teams are not who you want to play in the NCAA tournament. Even in the loss, Colorado State looked more than worthy of its No. 22 national ranking. But the No. 16 Lobos were more resilient Saturday, fighting back from a six-point deficit with six minutes remaining thanks to Williams, who entered the game averaging just 13.1 points. That New Mexico was able to rally in such a tough environment is a credit to Lobos coach Steve Alford, who is on pace to win his fourth MWC title in five seasons. Alford’s name will surely be mentioned during the offseason coaching carousel, but I think it’d take a phenomenal offer to get him to leave Albuquerque. He’s well compensated, adores that part of the country, will have both of his sons on the roster next season and is beloved by the fan base. Why leave?
  2. Miami point guard Shane Larkin had a great quote after his Hurricanes lost 80-65 at Wake Forest on Saturday. “Who ever thought Miami beating Wake Forest at home would cause a court-rushing scene?” Larkin said. Given that history has more often seen Miami near the bottom of the ACC standings and Wake Forest near the top, the point was a valid one. The excitement Demon Deacons fans showed over beating the No. 2 Hurricanes was a testament to just how far Miami’s program has come under second-year coach Jim Larranaga. The question now is how far it will fall. Miami, which saw its 14-game winning streak snapped, lost for the first time in ACC play and is now 22-4 overall and 13-1 in conference. Miami might also have a difficult time holding on to its projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament; another loss could all but negate that possibility. Miami plays three of its final four games at home, but a March 2 tilt at Duke will be tough to win. In some ways, Saturday’s loss shouldn’t have been all that surprising, as the Hurricanes had been playing with fire in recent weeks. Their previous three victories had come by a combined 12 points. Included in that stretch was a four-point win over Virginia and a two-point victory over Clemson. It all caught up to the Hurricanes Saturday at Wake Forest. “We weren’t prepared to play the game, and they came out and punched us in the mouth,” Larkin said.
  3. Speaking of Miami, if the Hurricanes put Saturday’s loss behind them and win the ACC as expected, I’ll have no problem if Larrranaga is named national coach of the year. But some folks are acting as if the race for that award is already over, that Larranaga is a shoo-in. I disagree. What if Marquette wins the Big East title a year after losing Darius-Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder (and replacing them with basically nothing)? I think that’d be a bigger accomplishment than Miami winning the ACC -- the Big East is a much tougher league -- so I’d vote for Buzz Williams. John Thompson III will have a case, too, if Georgetown wins the Big East crown. His team lost second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Greg Whittington in December and actually got better. And, oh yeah, the Hoyas lost their three leading scorers (Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims) from last season. What if K-State snaps Kansas’ streak of eight consecutive Big 12 titles and wins its first conference championship since 1977? Wouldn’t Bruce Weber be a candidate -- especially considering this is his first season in Manhattan? I think so. Then there’s Jim Crews at Saint Louis and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State. This race is hardly over. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
  4. Every time I post something on Twitter about how impressed I am with the Memphis Tigers, the responses are always the same. They play in a weak league. Who have they beaten? Just wait until the NCAA tournament. Something tells me the folks saying these things haven’t watched Memphis play in recent weeks. Saturday’s 89-73 victory over Southern Miss marked the 18th straight win for Josh Pastner’s squad. That’s impressive no matter what league you’re in. Yes, I realize Conference USA doesn’t offer up the best competition, but Southern Miss -- an NCAA tournament team a year ago -- is still darn good. So is Central Florida, which features one of the better forwards in the country in Keith Clanton. Neither of those teams has come close to beating Memphis, which is 24-3 overall and 13-0 in league play. Talent has never been an issue for the Tigers, but lately, they’ve also looked extremely well-coached. Great ball movement, good shot selection, selfless play, tons of energy. Tell me, what’s not to like? I’m not ready to peg Memphis as a Final Four team, but I’ll be disappointed if it doesn't make it to the Sweet 16.
  5. I like VCU’s team -- a lot -- but I’m not quite as high on the Rams as I was after watching them in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November. Back then, I was convinced that Shaka Smart’s squad was better than the unit that made the 2011 Final Four. I realize VCU made an incredible comeback against Xavier on Saturday, rallying from a 17-point deficit in the second half en route to a 75-71 victory. But why were the Rams down by 17 points in the first place? And if they are truly that good, why did they lose by 14 points at Saint Louis on Tuesday? It wasn’t the defeat that bothered me. It was the margin. Saint Louis is very, very good. But VCU got dominated in that game. Cuff me, officer. I’m guilty of over-hyping the Rams.
  6. The worst team in a "power six" conference is easily Mississippi State. Seriously, would someone please give first-year coach Rick Ray a big hug? I can’t remember a time when a program was this decimated by injuries, suspensions, graduations and transfers. The Bulldogs only have eight active players on their roster. Saturday’s 72-31 loss to Vanderbilt marked Mississippi State’s 12th consecutive defeat. Its 31 points were the second-fewest in Humphrey Coliseum history. It was also the lowest scoring output for MSU in the shot-clock era.
  7. I’m not ready to move him into the No. 1 slot, but I’ll definitely be elevating Georgetown forward Otto Porter into the top five of my weekly Wooden Award ballot, which is released each Wednesday. Porter scored a career-high 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting Saturday to help the Hoyas surge past Syracuse, 57-46. That’s right. Porter scored 33 of his team’s 57 points -- and he did it on the road. He also chipped in eight rebounds and five steals. There might not be a more versatile big man in college basketball.
  8. Every time I turn on a Texas Tech game, I always hear television announcers talk about what “an excellent job” interim coach Chris Walker is doing in a “tough situation.” What am I missing here? The Red Raiders are 9-16 overall and 2-12 in conference play. All but two of their league setbacks have come by double digits. On Saturday, they lost to Iowa State by 20 points, 86-66. That’s what passes for doing a good job these days? Walker inherited a tough situation, to be sure. But so did USC’s Bob Cantu, who was named interim coach last month after the school fired Kevin O’Neill. USC has gone 5-4 under Cantu. Now that’s doing a good job.
  9. One team that has quietly gotten better over the past few months is LSU, which defeated Alabama on Saturday, 97-94 in triple overtime. Johnny O’Bryant scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers, who have won seven of their past 10 games. Sure, LSU beat some duds during that stretch, including Mississippi State (twice) and South Carolina. But there have also been victories over Missouri and Texas A&M and, of course, Saturday’s big win over Alabama. The most encouraging thing is that LSU will return virtually every key piece of this year’s team next season, including O’Bryant and guard Anthony Hickey, who leads the nation in steals with 3.2 per game.
  10. Stick a fork in Baylor. The Bears are done. Scott Drew’s squad was embarrassed in a 90-76 loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Or, heck, maybe they didn’t feel embarrassed at all. For the past few weeks, the Bears -- who trailed 47-21 at halftime Saturday -- have hardly seemed like they care. Baylor has now lost six of its past eight games. Drew’s team is 7-7 in league play but only 1-7 against teams in the top five of the Big 12 standings. The Bears aren’t going to make the NCAA tournament, which is inexcusable for a squad that features the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year in Pierre Jackson -- who leads the conference in scoring and assists -- along with future lottery pick Isaiah Austin and one of the nation’s premier 3-point shooters in Brady Heslip. Sure, the Bears lost three players from last year’s Elite Eight squad to the NBA draft. But there are still enough pieces on this roster to have significant success during a somewhat down year for the Big 12.

Video: New Mexico-Colorado State preview

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
6:00
PM ET

Robbi Pickeral previews Saturday's matchup between No. 16 New Mexico and No. 22 Colorado State.

Stats in the Paint: Weekend Outlook

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
3:39
PM ET

Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJames Southerland (center) and No. 8 Syracuse host No. 11 Georgetown on Saturday.

Let’s get ready for the weekend on the college hardwood by highlighting a few notes and nuggets from our college hoops advanced stats research team (a group we call the "Stats in the Paint" team).

(11) Georgetown at (8) Syracuse – Saturday at 4 ET
Saturday marks the final meeting between Syracuse and Georgetown at the Carrier Dome before the Orange leave for the ACC next season. To showcase the matchup of Big East founding members, let’s look at the showdown by the numbers:

36.5 – Syracuse has scored an average of 36.5 points per game in the paint this season, the most in the Big East and the third-most by a Power Six conference school. The Orange are 17-1 when scoring at least 30 points in the paint this season and 5-3 when they don’t.

21.4 - Georgetown has allowed 21.4 points per game in the paint this season, the third-fewest in the Big East. The two teams that allow fewer than the Hoyas are Pittsburgh and Villanova and both of which defeated Syracuse earlier this season.

34.2 & 35.1 – Syracuse is holding opponents to 34.2 percent shooting in the half court this season (fourth in D-I) and Georgetown opponents are seventh in the nation at 35.1 percent in half-court sets.

112.9 – Syracuse is averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions in games in which James Southerland has played this season, an offensive efficiency that would rank 11th in Division I. Its efficiency was 105.4 in six games without him, an average that would be tied for 92nd.

9.7 – Georgetown has allowed opponents to score just 9.7 points per game in transition this season, second-fewest in the Big East. The Hoyas will be tested Sunday as the Orange are third in the Big East with 15.4 transition points per game and have scored 18.1 points per game on the break when Southerland has played.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES SATURDAY

(16) New Mexico at (22) Colorado State – 4 ET
Key stat: Colorado State rebounds 58.9 percent of all missed shots, the highest percentage in Division I this season. In their 61-59 loss to UNLV on Wednesday, the Rams posted season lows in rebounding percentage (44.9), offensive rebounding percentage (27.0) and defensive rebounding percentage (65.6).

Arkansas at (5) Florida – 7 ET on ESPNU
Key stat: Florida allows just 84.1 points per 100 possessions this season, the second-fewest in the nation behind only Stephen F. Austin (78.4). No team from a Power Six conference has finished with a better defensive efficiency over the last 12 seasons.

Creighton at Saint Mary's – 6 ET on ESPN
Key stat: Creighton has been the most efficient half-court offense in the nation this season, scoring a D-I-best 1.01 points per play. The Bluejays are also one of just two teams that have made at least half of their shots in the half court.

Missouri at Kentucky – 9 ET on ESPN
Key stat: Kentucky averages 37.3 points in the paint per game this season, the most in the SEC and second-most among Power Six conference teams. The Wildcats average 42.1 paint points per game at home and 30.7 per game away from Rupp Arena.

Video: Teams seeking revenge

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
9:30
PM ET

Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf discuss possible revenge games for Colorado State and Ohio State.

Wooden Watch: King's POY ballot

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
11:20
AM ET

Victor Oladipo maintained his lead in the race for the Wooden Award with a 19-point performance in Indiana's 72-68 victory at Michigan State on Tuesday.

But who are his biggest competitors?

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, voters would be justified in going a number of ways. Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, Duke's Mason Plumlee and Michigan's Trey Burke are all deserving. With so many conference races coming down to the wire, there will be plenty of opportunities for these players and others to shine in big games and big moments.

In the meantime, here is my latest ballot.

1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana -- The junior had nine rebounds, five steals and a block to go along with his 19 points against Michigan State. Not bad for a guy playing on a severely sprained ankle. The most impressive Oladipo stat: He is shooting 63.9 percent from the field.

2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- The freshman guard has completely changed OSU's program. Smart averages 15 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.9 steals a game. But it's his leadership and moxie that has made the biggest impact. The Cowboys rally around Smart.

3. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga -- The 7-foot junior had 14 points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes against Santa Clara on Wednesday. He is averaging 17.9 points, 6.9 boards and 1.2 blocks on the season for a squad that is three wins away from finishing WCC play without a loss.

4. Trey Burke, Michigan -- The Wolverines point guard is averaging 23.5 points in his last two games while shooting 16-of-27 from the field. He has made six of his last nine attempts from 3-point range and nine of his last 10 foul shots. Burke was No. 1 on this list just two weeks ago before Michigan began to struggle.

5. Mason Plumlee, Duke -- Saturday's 83-81 loss to Maryland did serious damage to Plumlee's Wooden Award hopes. He had just four points and three rebounds in 33 minutes against standout Terrapins center Alex Len and managed to get off only seven shots.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically):

Jack Cooley, Notre Dame -- The Notre Dame forward is averaging 14.5 points and 11.1 rebounds on the season. His rebounding figure ranks fifth in the country. Notre Dame is in contention for the Big East title thanks mainly to Cooley.

Colton Iverson, Colorado State -- The Minnesota transfer averages team highs in points (13.7) and rebounds (9.6). The Rams host New Mexico on Saturday in a game that could decide the Mountain West title. Iverson will have to come up big.

Joe Jackson, Memphis -- The junior guard is averaging 13.7 points and 4.7 assists for a team that is undefeated in Conference USA. The Tigers have won a nation-best 17 straight games. Jackson is shooting 53.9 percent from the field.

Shane Larkin, Miami -- The son of the former MLB star averaged just nine points in close wins over Clemson and Virginia, but everyone knows the Hurricanes wouldn't be 13-0 in the ACC if not for the sophomore point guard. Miami's next two games are against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.

Doug McDermott, Creighton -- It's not as if McDermott isn't playing well, but he hasn't been the dominant force so many fans have come to expect. McDermott had just 10 points in Tuesday's win over Southern Illinois. He is averaging 22.5 points on the season but only 15.6 points in his last five games.

Ben McLemore, Kansas -- The freshman guard had one of his worst games of the season in Wednesday's double-overtime victory against Oklahoma State, when he tallied just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. He is averaging a team-high 16.3 points on the season while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Otto Porter, Georgetown -- The forward sat out most of the second half of Wednesday's victory over DePaul with a sore knee. But Porter still finished with 11 points and is averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season. Georgetown's next two games are road tilts with Syracuse and Connecticut.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes small forward has a gaudy scoring average (20.1 ppg), but he is shooting just 40 percent from the field in his last five games. Thomas went 6-of-16 from the field in Wednesday's blowout win over Minnesota.

Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-foot senior keyed KU's double-overtime win against Oklahoma State on Wednesday with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks. Withey will be a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award in the Big 12 along with McLemore and Smart.

Cody Zeller, Indiana -- The Hoosiers center is averaging 16.6 points on the season and 19 points in his last four games. He scored 17 points against Michigan State on Tuesday but was 7-of-16 from the field. Still, Zeller was aggressive, which is exactly what coach Tom Crean wants to see.

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