College Basketball Nation: Kansas Jayhawks
1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.
This was one of those games in which the pictures tell the story.
Wiggins couldn't close
Andrew Wiggins was basically a non factor in this game for Kansas, making only 1 of 6 shots from the field. He had averaged 28 points on 51 percent shooting in his previous four games.
Wiggins averaged 10 paint points in the six games in which Joel Embiid didn't play prior to Sunday, but did not have any points in the paint against Stanford.
The zone worked
Kansas shot 28 percent (8 for 29) when Stanford played zone, including 19 percent (3 for 16) in the first half. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting 48 percent against zone defenses, best in the Big 12 and 21st in the nation.
Wiggins and Perry Ellis were a combined 1 for 8 against the Cardinal’s zone.
Jayhawks couldn't score from inside
Kansas went 10 for 31 in the paint (32 percent). Entering the game, the Jayhawks were shooting 62 percent in the paint for the season.
Kansas averaged 13.7 dunks and layups per game entering the day. It had only six on Sunday.
Did You Know?
Stanford survived going 0 for 9 from 3-point range to pull out the win. They're only the second team to go 0 for 9 from 3 in an NCAA Tournament win, joining Connecticut, which did so in a win over Gonzaga in 1999. No team has fared worse and won an NCAA Tournament game.
KANSAS vs STANFORD
Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.
Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.
That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.
WICHITA STATE vs KENTUCKY
Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.
Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.
IOWA STATE vs NORTH CAROLINA
Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.
North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.
TENNESSEE vs MERCER
Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).
Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.
UCLA vs STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.
Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.
CREIGHTON vs BAYLOR
Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).
Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.
VIRGINIA vs MEMPHIS
Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).
Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.
Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).
ARIZONA vs GONZAGA
Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.
Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.
Are choosing No. 1 seeds about who the best four teams are? Or are they about selecting the best 4 resumes using RPI data?
Using RPI data, Louisville doesn't have the best resume based solely on quality wins.
But there's certainly an argument that Louisville is one of the best four teams in college basketball, maybe even the best team.
Louisville has the best net efficiency in the country. Net efficiency is the difference in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Cardinals are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Louisville ranks No. 4 in BPI, which takes into account scoring margin, opponent strength, pace, location and key players missing.
The Cardinals also rank No. 2 in KenPom rating. They rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which take into account opponent strength.
Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.
The Cardinals have no bad losses, something that can't be said for Duke, Michigan and Villanova. Each of Louisville's five losses are by single digits against teams ranked in the top 50 in both BPI and RPI.
It's often mentioned that the NCAA selection committee evaluates how a team performs at full strength -- if that team is entering the NCAA Tournament at full strength.
If that's true, then Michigan State should be a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State is 13-3 with all of its key players (defined as top five players in minutes per game among players who have played at least half of their team's games): Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.
Michigan State has the fifth-best BPI of any team with all of its key players.
The Spartans are 20-3 with Branden Dawson in the lineup (5-5 without him). Their only three losses with Dawson in the lineup are North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State.
With all of their key players, the Spartans are 6-2 against the BPI top 50 and 8-3 against the BPI top 100.
Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the only teams that rank in the top five in RPI, BPI and KenPom.
Kansas has the No. 1 overall strength of schedule, the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule, the most RPI top-50 wins of any team (12) and the most RPI top-100 wins (18).
The Jayhawks have no losses outside the RPI top 100.
Michigan has 10 wins against the RPI top 50. Only Kansas (12) and Arizona (11) have more.
If Virginia and Florida don't win their conference tournaments, Michigan could be the only "major conference" team to win its regular-season conference title outright and its conference tournament.
Duke has five wins against the RPI top 25, the most of any team. The Blue Devils have a head-to-head win against Michigan, another team competing for a No. 1 seed. They also have wins against Virginia and Syracuse.
Villanova has 16 wins against the RPI top 100. Only Kansas (18), Arizona (17) and Wisconsin (17) have more. The Wildcats have a head-to-head win against Kansas, another team that could potentially receive a No. 1 seed.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) measures how well each team performs based on game result, margin, pace of game, location, opponent strength and the absence of any key players.
Using BPI, we are able to project the chances for each team to win its major conference tournament. The probabilities take into account the matchups in each bracket based on each team’s BPI. The team with the best BPI isn’t necessarily always the favorite if that team has much tougher matchups than other teams in the tournament.
According to BPI, the Arizona Wildcats have the best chance of any team in one of the seven major conferences (American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) to win its tournament. They have a 63 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona has more than a six times better chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament than any other team. The UCLA Bruins have the second-best chance at 10 percent.
Pac-12 best chances: Arizona 63 percent, UCLA 10 percent, Oregon 10 percent, Arizona State 5 percent, Stanford 4 percent
The Florida Gators are the prohibitive favorites in the SEC tournament with a 57 percent chance to win it. The Kentucky Wildcats (25 percent) are the only other SEC team with better than a 7 percent chance. The No. 9 seed Missouri Tigers have a slightly better chance to win the SEC tournament than the No. 3 seed Georgia Bulldogs.
SEC best chances: Florida 57 percent, Kentucky 25 percent, Tennessee 7 percent, Arkansas 3 percent, Missouri 2 percent
American & Big East
The Louisville Cardinals (American) and Villanova Wildcats (Big East) are both close to 50 percent in terms of their chances of winning their respective conference tournaments.
The Memphis Tigers have an edge playing on their home court in the American Tournament, but they still have a significantly worse chance than Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis does, however, have a greater probability of winning the tournament than higher-seeded teams Southern Methodist and Connecticut. With its home-court advantage, Memphis would be a favorite against any team in the tournament other than Louisville.
American best chances: Louisville 49 percent, Cincinnati 18 percent, Memphis 14 percent, SMU 12 percent, Connecticut 8 percent
No team other than Villanova or Creighton has better than a 6 percent chance to win the Big East tournament. There’s a 44 percent chance that Villanova and Creighton meet in the Big East championship game.
Big East best chances: Villanova 48 percent, Creighton 31 percent, Xavier 6 percent, St. John’s 6 percent, Providence 4 percent
Perhaps the most interesting conference tournament is the ACC, where the No. 3 seed Duke Blue Devils are the favorites at 27 percent. The No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers (25 percent) and No. 2 Syracuse Orange (23 percent) are close behind.
ACC best chances: Duke 27 percent, Virginia 25 percent, Syracuse 23 percent, Pittsburgh 12 percent, North Carolina 7 percent
Another interesting conference tournament is the Big Ten, where four teams have between a 17 percent and a 26 percent chance of winning the tournament. The No. 2 seed Wisconsin Badgers are the favorites at 26 percent, while the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines are only the third favorites.
Big Ten best chances: Wisconsin 26 percent, Ohio State 19 percent, Michigan 19 percent, Michigan State 17 percent, Iowa 11 percent
The Kansas Jayhawks have a 37 percent chance to win the Big 12 tournament, but their path isn’t easy. They could face the teams with the fourth- and second-best chances of winning the tournament in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The No. 8 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys, with a 10 percent chance of winning it, could face Kansas in the quarterfinals. The No. 4 seed Iowa State Cyclones, with an 18 percent chance, could face Kansas in the semifinals. Both teams have a 35 percent chance of beating Kansas, according to BPI.
Big 12 best chances: Kansas 37 percent, Iowa State 18 percent, Oklahoma 16 percent, Oklahoma State 10 percent, Baylor 6 percent
BPI No. 1 Arizona fell 64-57 at Oregon on Saturday and lost 0.7 in its BPI rating. But the Wildcats had enough of a cushion over No. 2 Florida that they maintained the hold on the top spot. Similarly, No. 9 Wisconsin, which lost at Nebraska on Sunday, maintained its ranking despite a 1.0 drop in BPI.
Kansas falls after Shockers’ victory
A 92-86 loss at West Virginia brought Kansas’ BPI rating down 0.7, and the Jayhawks kept their No. 3 BPI ranking after Saturday’s games.
After Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game Sunday, the Shockers got a bump of 0.2 in their BPI – a small bump, but large enough for Wichita State to move from No. 4 to No. 3 in the rankings, leapfrogging Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have the toughest schedule among BPI Top 15 teams, are No. 3 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings but fell from eighth to 10th in the weekly Associated Press poll.
Of the BPI Top 10 teams that lost, only Virginia (a 75-69 overtime loser at Maryland on Sunday) dropped in the rankings immediately after the defeat, from No. 7 to No. 8.
Pac-12 climber and faller
Oregon, in its BPI rating, gained less than Arizona lost after their game Saturday but climbed four spots in the rankings Sunday to No. 16. The Ducks have won seven games in a row (earning a BPI Game Score of at least 90 in five of them) and exceeded a 90 Game Score in its loss at Arizona on Feb. 6. The NCAA’s RPI has Oregon at No. 25, and the Ducks have the third-most votes among teams finishing out of the top 25 in the AP poll.
The biggest faller in BPI rankings among the Top 50 was UCLA. The Bruins lost 73-55 at No. 175 Washington State on Saturday and fell from 11th to 21st. UCLA earned a Game Score of 10.6 against Washington State, 10 points lower than any other game score for a team currently ranked in the BPI Top 25.
In the eye of the beholder
BPI and other team ranking systems weigh different factors, which explains why teams such as Michigan and Louisville can be regarded so differently.
Michigan is eighth in the AP poll, ninth in RPI and a No. 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. In BPI, however, Michigan is 22nd. Of the Wolverines’ seven losses, four have been by at least 10 points; of their wins, seven have been by five points or fewer. Also, Michigan is 8-1 with an 88.7 BPI against opponents missing at least one of their top five players (in terms of minutes per game), and BPI de-weights those games.
Louisville rose from 11th to fifth in the AP poll, but the Cardinals are a projected No. 4 seed in Bracketology and are 22nd in RPI. BPI ranks the Cardinals fifth. All five of Louisville’s losses have been to BPI Top 50 teams and have been by an average of six points, whereas its five wins against Top-50 opponents have come by an average of 13.4 points.
After handling Miami (FL) on Wednesday, the Cavaliers defeated Syracuse 75-56 in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Virginia averaged 1.32 points per possession, the greatest offensive efficiency achieved against Syracuse in the last three seasons. By BPI Game Score (a 0-to-100 scale), the Cavaliers earned a 99.7, their best this season and the third-best among all teams.
Not all losses are created equal
It wasn’t just that Saint Louis lost, but where the Billikens lost, and to whom.
On Thursday, Saint Louis fell 71-64 at home to Duquesne, the 142nd-ranked team in BPI. That earned Saint Louis a Game Score of 25.7 – the Billikens’ worst of the season by a margin of more than 25 – and cost the team 2.0 in BPI’s 0-to-100 scale.
On Saturday, Saint Louis lost 67-56 at BPI No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth. That resulted in a drop in BPI of 0.9.
Once the week was over, Saint Louis had fallen from No. 19 in the BPI rankings to No. 30, the biggest drop in BPI ranking this week among Top 75 teams.
In The Associated Press’ weekly Top 25 released Monday, Saint Louis fell from 10 to 17. In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, the Billikens rose one spot to 17.
Falling in place
Kansas’ 72-65 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday had an effect on the Jayhawks’ BPI rating, but not on their BPI ranking.
The Jayhawks’ BPI dropped 0.7 after they lost to the BPI No. 20 Cowboys. Kansas earned a Game Score of 73.2, its third-worst this season, with the performance in Stillwater, Okla.
Kansas maintained its spot at No. 3 in the rankings, however. The Jayhawks had enough of a cushion over the remainder of the teams that the decrease in BPI didn’t drop them in the rankings. (They did fall from fifth in eight in the AP poll and from No. 1 to No. 2 in RPI.)
Last week, the teams that BPI ranked fourth through eighth were separated by 0.1 in the BPI. There is less congestion this week, although No. 6 Louisville, No. 7 Virginia and No. 8 Villanova are separated by 0.2.
Syracuse is No. 1 in the AP Poll, but that is based on the subjective votes of media members.
Arizona is No. 1 in BPI and Kansas is No. 1 in RPI. But those metrics are based on formulas that factor in a team’s performance through the entire season.
The more insightful question is: Which team is the best with the roster we think each team will have in the NCAA Tournament?
For most teams, that's their current roster, but there are a few exceptions.
To evaluate that, we'll use each team's BPI with all of its key players. Those key players are defined as the five players who average the most minutes per game among players who have played at least half of the team's games. Games in which a key player played less than 10 minutes due to injury or foul trouble or any other reason are not included.
Florida reigns supreme
Based on this metric, the Florida Gators are the best team in college basketball.
With their current roster -- with Scott Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith in the lineup together -- they are 17-1, with their only loss coming by one point to UConn on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.
Undefeated Syracuse comes in at No. 2, followed by Kansas at No. 3.
A healthy Michigan State is dangerous
Michigan State is expected to have Branden Dawson back for the NCAA Tournament. Based on Dawson’s returning, the Spartans would rank fourth with their full squad.
That's a significant jump from their overall No. 15 BPI rank. They've lost four of seven games since Dawson went out.
In their two games with all of their key players except Dawson, the Spartans have a 61.1 BPI (win against New Orleans, loss to Nebraska), which would rank well below any team expected to get an at-large bid. That’s how important a healthy Dawson could be to their chances of going deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Is Iowa a top-5 team?
Based on this metric, the Iowa Hawkeyes are No. 5. They're 18-4 with their full squad.
Jarrod Uthoff has played at least 10 minutes in all but two games (at Michigan and against Ohio State). Iowa lost both.
Arizona isn't top 10 without Brandon Ashley
The Arizona Wildcats have been a much different team without Brandon Ashley, who is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Based on this metric, the Wildcats are No. 13. They're 2-2 without Ashley. That includes losses at California and at Arizona State and a two-point home win against Oregon.
Arizona has the No. 1 BPI with Ashley in the lineup, but it's a different story without him. Ashley could be the difference between Arizona being the National Championship favorite and not even contending for a Final Four berth.
What about Oklahoma State and North Carolina?
Although Michael Cobbins isn't among the top-five Oklahoma State players in minutes per game, the Cowboys are a much different team without him. Their BPI without Cobbins but with Marcus Smart ranks 33rd in this metric among teams currently in the BPI top 40.
Oklahoma State is 4-6 without Cobbins and with Smart, with two wins against West Virginia and home wins against Texas and TCU.
North Carolina's current roster includes Leslie McDonald, who was ruled eligible Dec. 18 after he missed the first nine games of the season. Since then, the Tar Heels' current roster has the worst BPI of any team currently in the BPI top 40.
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 32 overall in BPI, but their three best wins of the season -- against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky -- came without McDonald.
Since McDonald returned, they have losses to Wake Forest and Miami (FL) and didn't have a BPI top-50 win before Saturday's victory against Pittsburgh.
Whatever the context, Kansas State’s thorough demolition of the Longhorns changes the stakes for Monday night’s home game against in-state rival Kansas (9 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Actually, that’s not quite accurate: This is Kansas State hosting Kansas in The Octagon of Doom, so the stakes are a constant. But K-State's win over Texas does change the outlook. After a few weeks of mostly mediocre output, the Wildcats suddenly look more than capable of downing the Jayhawks.
Foster is unlikely to have quite as easy a time against the Jayhawks, and not just because it’s impossible to replicate a 34-points-on-16-shots tour de force like the one he just submitted. Kansas is, probably even as you read this, spending a great deal of its time focusing on how to play Foster with one and sometimes two defenders, to deny the ball on Bruce Weber’s motion screens, and to force the action into the hands of Kansas State’s supporting players. It’s likewise safe to assume Wiggins will draw the Foster assignment for whole swaths of the game, and Wiggins -- who is as quick as any guard but is 6-foot-7 and scary-athletic -- is a nightmare matchup for an undersized perimeter.
So that’s an interesting thing to watch. But more likely, the game will turn in the paint, where both teams truly excel.
When you score 1.17 points per trip in conference play, as Kansas has, you’re usually doing a lot of things right. The Jayhawks are. They lead the league in 2-point field goal percentage (55.6) and, somewhat surprisingly, in 3-point accuracy (41.8). But that latter figure is mostly a product of shot selection. The Jayhawks don’t shoot many 3s -- just 27.9 percent of their field goals come from beyond the arc -- so the shots they do take come with a special level of consideration. The only thing Kansas doesn’t do particularly well is handle the ball: The Jayhawks are still turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions in league play. But when Kansas doesn’t turn it over, and especially when it gets the ball near the rim, it typically scores.
The lone exception? An 81-69 loss at Texas on Feb. 1, when the Jayhawks scored just a point per trip and had 12 of their shots blocked by the Longhorns.
Kansas State’s defense, meanwhile, is the best in the Big 12 to date. It is holding opponents to the lowest combined field-goal percentage, and the lowest 2-point field-goal percentage. In half-court sets, according to Hoop-Math.com, Kansas State opponents attempt just 30.7 percent of their shots at the rim. More frequently -- nearly 40 percent of the time -- K-State opponents have to settle for shots in the sub-optimal midrange, where they shoot just 30.3 percent. Good perimeter defense starts the process, while rotations by Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson help seal off the paint. Good shots rarely result.
The Foster-Wiggins-Embiid freshman wow factor might dominate discussion of this game, and that’s fine: Foster deserves that attention. But the Jayhawks’ trip to Bramlage Monday night is most likely to be won or lost based on if and how Kansas gets the ball to the front of the rim. Kansas State’s defense may just have a surprise in store.
One of the main stories in college basketball this season has been the performance of the freshman phenoms. All six of the freshmen who have been included in ESPN's Freshman Focus will be in action Saturday. It's one of three remaining days in the regular season that they will all play on the same day.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse Orange
Although not the most-hyped freshman entering the season, no Division I freshman has more win shares, according to College Basketball Reference. At 3.8, Ennis trails only Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson for the top spot among all ACC players.
Ennis has shined with his clutch play. Syracuse has been tied or behind at the five-minute mark in the second half in five games this season, including in each of its last two. The Orange outscored their opponents by 37 points the rest of the way in those eventual wins.
Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils
Parker and Duke will go head-to-head with Ennis and Syracuse this Saturday. Parker has shined for Duke this season, with 12 20-point games, already tied for sixth-most all-time among ACC freshmen.
Entering Friday, Parker is one of just seven players in all of Division I this season to average at least 18 points and eight rebounds per game. He’s also improving as the season’s going on, averaging 18.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in his last four ACC games (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG in first four ACC games).
Julius Randle, Kentucky Wildcats
No school has had more highly-regarded freshmen recently than Kentucky, but as the chart on the right shows, Randle's offense is exceeding what Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis did to start their freshman years.
Randle leads all Division I freshman with 11 double-doubles this season, three more than Noah Vonleh of Indiana.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona Wildcats
Gordon has played a key role in Arizona's start, which also happens to be the longest win streak in school history.
Although he’s struggled shooting the last few games, he remains one of the best rebounders in the freshman class, leading all Pac-12 freshmen in offensive and defensive rebounds per game.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks
Wiggins is coming off a big night in Kansas’ win Wednesday over the 16th-ranked Iowa State Cyclones. He scored a career-high 29 points, the second straight game he set a career high in scoring.
Wiggins' ability to get easier shots up close to the hoop is his strong point. He leads the Big 12 (and is third in the nation) in transition points per play, and has shot nearly 73 percent from the paint in his last two games, well above his average over the first 18 games (55.8%).
Joel Embiid, Kansas Jayhawks
Unlike his teammate Wiggins, Embiid started the season under the radar among the freshman class, but has put his name among the best in the class with his improvement during the season.
In November and December, Embiid averaged 10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In January, those numbers are up to 12.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
Do Michigan State’s injuries matter? In the words of Orlando Jones’ magazine salesman in “Office Space”: that all depends.
On Saturday, when the Spartans fell at home to hated rival Michigan -- a hard-fought and thrilling game that included a “Just-in Bei-ber” chant, Mitch McGary’s brilliant coaching advice (“win the game”) and a loving Nik Stauskas farewell -- they did so without forwards Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Payne, foot be-booted, missed his fifth straight game. Dawson, who broke his hand in a self-inflicted outburst during an apparently intense Thursday film session, missed his first, with many more to come. Tom Izzo found himself plunging deep into his frontcourt reserves: Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling made appearances. Matt Costello’s 28 minutes were a season high. Russell Byrd, who hadn’t played more than five minutes in any non-guaranteed blowout all season, ran for 13.
It was tempting, then, to attach an asterisk to the entire affair, a temptation ESPN’s Chantel Jennings discussed -- and convincingly dismissed -- Saturday night. The Wolverines were missing McGary, after all, and the adjustments they’ve made since December have been stunning. Besides, Izzo wouldn’t hear of it.
The real question is how these injuries will affect Michigan State in the long run. For starters, there is the Big Ten race, where the Spartans are now staring down a one-game deficit and a much more difficult remaining schedule than John Beilein’s team. But the most interesting fallout could be in the NCAA tournament seeding.
The selection committee weighs a team’s performance during and after injury, and does its best to take the “true” measure of a team based on the gulf between the two. If Michigan State doesn’t slide too far in Dawson’s (and Payne’s) absences, and then looks brilliant upon their various returns, they’ll be seeded accordingly. But if the Spartans nosedive for the next two weeks? Or the next month? The committee can apply only so many asterisks. It’s unlikely, but what happens then?
On Tuesday, Michigan State faces Iowa’s offensive onslaught in Iowa City. On Saturday, they play an even-more-hobbled Georgetown. How the Spartans look next time this week should tell us a lot about just how important their injuries will look in March.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Arizona shrugs off Utah, moves to 20-0. Just after the Wildcats finished their 65-56 brush-off of Utah Sunday night, the Fox Sports 1 crew placed the rosters of the greatest Arizona teams of all time next to Sean Miller’s team -- Steve Kerr, Kenny Lofton, Miles Simon, Richard Jefferson and all the rest. It was a sobering comparison: On paper, this Arizona team now ranks above the greatest Wildcats teams of all time. On the floor, it’s hard to argue otherwise, something the dominant final few minutes of an otherwise so-so performance showed. (It was also, for what it’s worth, a pretty impressive performance from Utah, which continues to look miles removed from the six-win disaster of 2011-12.)
Cincinnati keeps winning. Sshh. You can look at Cincinnati’s 80-76 win at Temple Sunday night one of two ways. You could note that the Bearcats were outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes against a bad team. Or, you could note that Cincinnati was outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes and went ahead and won anyway. You should also note that the Bearcats have ever so quietly jumped out to an 8-0 AAC record, are 19-2 overall, suffered their last loss Dec. 14 against Xavier, beat Pitt three days later, rebound 40 percent of their own misses and have one of the stingiest per-trip defenses in the country.
North Carolina avoided ignominy. Given North Carolina’s horrendous January -- which included a road loss to Wake Forest, a home loss to Miami, a 45-point effort at Syracuse and a throttling at Virginia -- and Clemson’s surprisingly capable defense, you could practically hear people getting ready to laugh at UNC when it inevitably lost its first-ever game to the Tigers at home. Giant clouds of schadenfreude were gathered on the horizon. It was going to be a thing! And then Roy Williams had to go and reminded his team it beat Louisville and Michigan State. North Carolina scored 80 points in 61 possessions Sunday, and the storm broke apart in the atmosphere.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games week to come, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Michigan State at Iowa, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: How’s this for a quick Saturday-Tuesday turnaround? As we discussed above, Michigan State’s road trip week starts in Iowa City and ends vs. Georgetown in Madison Square Garden, and the first fixture is the more challenging by a factor of 10. The Hawkeyes, who rank with the nation’s best by every meaningful statistical measure, drilled Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., after Wednesday’s loss in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa State at Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: For most of the season, Iowa State’s offense ranked among the nation’s best; it was certainly, in all its shape-shifting uptempo glory, one of the most entertaining. Since the start of Big 12 play -- and roughly coinciding with DeAndre Kane’s sprained ankle at Oklahoma -- the Cyclones’ offense is scoring just 1.06 points per trip, ninth best in the Big 12. What better time for a trip to Lawrence?!
Cincinnati at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: For all its travails this season -- the bad nonconference slate, the loss at rival Kentucky, the departure of Chane Behanan -- the Louisville Cardinals have, for the most part, played pretty excellent basketball. (The latest? A 41-point win at South Florida Saturday.) Cincinnati can identify with the whole “good basketball going largely unnoticed” thing. Thursday’s winner should get everyone’s attention.
Arizona at Cal, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: Before we get all crazy: Arizona still has to play at Stanford on Wednesday. It still has a back-to-back road trip to Arizona State and Utah in mid-February. It still has two dates against Oregon. And now, with those important caveats out of the way, if the Wildcats win at Cal on Saturday, it is conceivable -- not likely, not probably, barely possible, but conceivable -- they could run the regular-season table. Gird loins accordingly.
Duke at Syracuse, 6 :30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Two weeks ago, this game would have been a harder sell, because two weeks ago the Blue Devils were coming off back-to-back losses against Notre Dame and Clemson, and freshman star Jabari Parker looked like his face had become intimately acquainted with the notorious freshman “wall.” No more: Duke has won four straight, the latest, a 78-56 rout of Florida State (in 63 possessions) its most complete performance of the season. OK, so it’s Duke-Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It was never actually a hard sell. But now the Orange don’t look quite so likely to dominate.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
There’s been some talk about Wiggins falling short of his lofty expectations thus far. Some draft experts believe Duke’s Jabari Parker may have surpassed Wiggins as the projected No. 1 pick.
But Wiggins reminded scouts of his potential on Saturday, when he scored 13 straight Kansas points in the second half of the Jayhawks’ win against Kansas State. On Monday, he posted a career-high 19 rebounds to go along with 17 points in a win at Iowa State.
Despite his inconsistencies, Wiggins has played his best against his toughest competition.
Against ranked teams this season –- Duke, Florida, San Diego State, Kansas State and Iowa State –- Wiggins is averaging 20.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Against unranked opponents, he’s averaging 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Wiggins has been more efficient and is shooting better from inside the arc and 3-point range against ranked opponents.
Comparing the top three freshmen (based on 2013 ESPN 100 rankings) -- Wiggins, Parker and Julius Randle –- Wiggins is the most efficient offensively against ranked opponents.
Why hasn’t Wiggins taken over games as often as Parker and Randle?
Wiggins has not been featured in the Kansas offense the way the other freshmen have. Most of his offensive production has come within the flow of the offense.
Combining isolations, post-ups and plays in which he is the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Wiggins is averaging about two fewer 1-on-1 plays per game than both Parker and Randle. Wiggins has been more efficient than Randle on those plays despite Randle averaging nearly two-and-a-half more 1-on-1 plays per game.
Where Wiggins really has the edge over Parker and Randle –- and over almost any player -– is in transition.
Wiggins ranks eighth in the country in transition points per play (1.45) among players with at least 45 such plays this season.
While Wiggins may have a long way to go before becoming the next LeBron James, the numbers show he still might be the best prospect in this freshman class.
Each of KU's three losses are against teams ranked in the BPI top 20 – Villanova, Florida and Colorado. Each of those losses were by six points or fewer away from home. Kansas is 1-3 against top-20 teams (defeated Duke) and 8-0 against teams outside the top 20.
The Jayhawks have faced eight top-100 teams, including five teams in the top 50. Each of their 12 opponents are ranked in the BPI top 160.
Kansas has taken care of business against teams ranked outside the BPI top 25. The Jayhawks have the best BPI against teams outside the top 25.
Syracuse gets crucial win vs Villanova
Syracuse is coming off an impressive win against Villanova on Saturday in which the Orange trailed by 18 points in the first half but outscored the Wildcats by 34 over the final 31 minutes of the game. It was Syracuse's best performance of the season. In fact, it was the second-best performance by any team this season according to BPI game score.
The win against Villanova improved Syracuse's BPI rank from No. 12 to No. 10 (now No. 11), but it still differs greatly with its No. 2 ranking in RPI and No. 2 ranking in the AP Poll.
But the Orange also have three wins that hurt their BPI. They have three BPI game scores less than 75 -- against No. 349 Cornell (the only remaining winless D-I team), No. 340 Binghamton, and a six-point win against No. 194 Saint Francis (NY).
The Orange had five solid wins against top-100 teams entering Saturday, but the win against Villanova was their first win against a top-35 team. The Orange now have the best BPI against top-100 teams.
Louisville lacks signature win
The Louisville Cardinals missed their opportunity for a signature non-conference win against Kentucky on Saturday.
The Cardinals lost to both of their BPI top-50 opponents this season -- Kentucky and North Carolina -- and have just one top-100 win (Southern Miss). The Cardinals have the 12th-best BPI against teams ranked outside the top 50.
Louisville has faced seven teams ranked outside the BPI top 200, which doesn't fare well for its non-conference résumé. To Louisville's credit, it has defeated those seven teams by an average margin of 29.3 points per game. Despite the weak schedule, defeating those lackluster opponents by such a large margin doesn't hurt the Cardinals' BPI as much as it could.
Louisville's schedule strength is ranked No. 156 according to BPI. That's the lowest-ranked schedule of any team ranked in the BPI top 50.
Playing a weak schedule and not defeating any highly-ranked opponents is certainly a large factor -- just like it is with RPI. But unlike RPI, BPI takes into account that Louisville has pummeled all 11 of its opponents ranked outside the BPI top 50 by an average margin of 29.2 points per game.
That's the primary reason why Louisville is ranked No. 17 in BPI despite being No. 45 in RPI.
Iowa State is consistent
Iowa State, ranked No. 5 in BPI, is the most consistent team in the country in terms of variation in BPI game score from game to game.
The Cyclones are 4-0 against top-60 teams with wins against Iowa, Michigan, Boise State and BYU. All four of those wins are by seven points or fewer.
Iowa State's seven wins against teams outside the top 100 are by an average of 27.9 points per game.
- Andrew Wiggins’ winter break is already better than yours, in the following ways: 1. He saw the “Yeezus” show in Toronto Sunday night, and 2. He met Kanye West backstage after the show -- and posed for a photo with the man himself so good it might have to become my new iPhone wallpaper. It’s the stuff Tumblrs are made of. It’s that awesome.
- The 2012-13 season was a profoundly weird one in Tallahassee, and not just because the Seminoles were so mediocre. No, it was the way in which FSU was mediocre, how after years of singular defensive dominance Leonard Hamilton’s team was suddenly more permissive than NJIT. (No offense to NJIT … but that’s insane.) That aberrant FSU edition is gone in 2013-14; as Rush the Court details Monday, the Seminoles (ranked No. 7 in AdjD to date) are back to their old defensive ways.
- This week’s new AP top 25 is a rather tepid affair: The top eight teams held the same spots as last week. (Rightfully so.)
- A Sea of Blue charts Kentucky’s defensive performance against Belmont and finds a UK team that is still playing just meh basketball on its own end. The best solution I can see is to keep scoring 1.29 points per possession ever game. It’s just that easy!
- Whatever’s ailing the Maryland Terrapins on the court -- the subject of this morning’s Game Plan, in case you missed it -- bears no relation to their holiday cheer off it. Via College Basketball Talk and CSN Baltimore’s Dan Martin comes a rather excellent holiday greeting card the Terrapins recorded in the form of a horribly butchered, collectively “sung” edition of “Jingle Bell Rock.” The outtakes, which begin after 90 seconds of what can best be described as pained wailing, are the best part. In other words: This is the “Rush Hour 2” of Christmas Jumbotron videos. Merry Christmas.