WEEK IN REVIEW—January 12-18
GAME OF THE WEEK: Wisconsin 64, No. 2 Indiana 59—Tuesday, January 15
We love the Big Ten around here, and not just because I went to Iowa. By all accounts it’s the finest conference in the land right now, with five teams in the Top 25 (and Wisconsin is knocking on the door). In my opinion this game was the best of last week, not just in the Big Ten, but in the country.
Bo Ryan’s unranked and underrated Badgers swept into Assembly Hall and shocked the Hoosiers on Tuesday, taking sole possession of first place in the Big Ten (a short-lived first place, as it turned out). The teams traded buckets throughout the first frame, and Indy held a tenuous 32-31 lead after 20 minutes of intense action.
Indiana’s Cody Zeller showed again why he’s among the nation’s best big men; he did not miss a shot in the first half (8-8 with 18 points). It helped that most of his shots were from two feet away, either dunks or running finger rolls that were so deft and lovely I couldn’t help but marvel at the execution. Indy is a first-rate passing team, and Wisconsin’s forwards—tough but a little undersized—struggled to contain Zeller inside.
Offensively, however, the Badger bigs were impressive all night long. Jared Berggren had the dunk of the game in the first half, when he drove the lane and threw one down over Indy’s Victor Oladipo.
The Badgers defended Zeller well in the second half—he was just 1-7 from the field, and Wisconsin made sure he didn’t get the easy looks he had enjoyed in the first frame. Great performances from bruising Mike Bruesewitz (10 points, 4 assists), Ryan Evans (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Traevon Jackson (11 points) carried Wisconsin to a 5-point upset win. The Badgers were fired up.
“I know we’ve got a bunch of mean guys in that locker room that won’t quit and are tough and gritty,” Bruesewitz told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I’ll hoop with these guys anywhere in the country. I don’t care if it is on blacktop. I don’t care if it’s snowing. I’ll play with any of these guys because they’re mean and they want to win. And they know how to win.”
Indiana is one of the top scoring teams in the country, but the Badgers limited the Hoosiers to just 20-54 from the field (37 percent). Zeller finished with 23 points to lead all scorers.
After this game, the 13-4 Badgers were sitting on top of the Big Ten, but still hadn’t cracked the Top 25.
Side note: Dan Dakich and Mike Tirico, one of my favorite broadcaster pairings, called this game from the sideline. At one point they were talking about the vertiginous balconies at Assembly Hall, which seem to hang a mile above the floor and look awfully dangerous.
Dakich, an Indiana alum who can be very insightful and very annoying at the same time, claimed that he had once made a shot from the balcony above. He said it quite seriously.
“That’s… impossible,” Tirico replied, dismissing the story entirely. For some reason I found this exchange hilarious.
Saturday, January 12
No. 1 Duke 76, No. 20 NC State 84
On Saturday, January 12, the previously undefeated Blue Devils, looking good enough to run the table in the ACC, tangled with a determined NC State team in Raleigh. The upshot was a tightly-contested ballgame and a (sort of) upset for the Wolfpack, who shot over 50 percent from the field (including 4-8 from behind the arc).
In 38 hard-working minutes, NC State forward CJ Leslie scored 25 points, a game-high. Fellow frontcourt man Richard Howell racked up 16 points and 18 rebounds, a big-time double-double against a potent Duke lineup.
On the flip side, the Blue Devils misfired more often than not, shooting about 45 percent from the field and just 6-20 from three-point range. Seth Curry had 22 points, but injured his left ankle in the second half.
Not surprisingly, exuberant NC State fans stormed the floor when the final buzzer sounded.
“I thought our guys, they accepted the challenge,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried told reporters after the game. “Our guys mentally showed a lot of toughness.”
Back in the preseason, NC State was picked to win the ACC and started the year ranked No. 6. The Wolfpack lost two games in November, though, and mostly flew under the radar for the past couple of months. This victory over the top team in the country puts NC State back in the hunt for an ACC title.
Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, their winning streak was short-lived: Maryland beat NC State 51-50 on the following Wednesday night.
Sunday, January 13
No. 2 Michigan 53, No. 15 Ohio State 56
Every day or two, it seems, the Big Ten offers a must-watch matchup, a clash between ranked rivals. This one certainly lived up to its billing, as OSU held off a very talented Michigan team and handed the Wolverines their first loss of the season.
Ohio State got off to a torrid start. Its defense gave Michigan fits, and the Wolverines’ exceptional backcourt looked out of sorts and rattled. With about 7 minutes left in the first half, the Buckeyes had built a 28-8 lead, and point guard Aaron Craft was in control of the game. Michigan settled down after the initial OSU run, but was still trailing 34-22 at halftime.
There would be no blowout, though. Michigan adjusted in the second half and coolly cut the deficit, led by terrific guard play from dynamic scorer—and Columbus, OH native—Trey Burke. At the six-minute mark, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III hit a three-pointer that tied the score at 46.
OSU grabbed the lead again, but Michigan nearly took control with 17 seconds left. The ball was in Burke’s hands, and he let fly a long three-pointer that was halfway down before rattling out. OSU hit some late free throws and held on for the three-point win.
If I were the coach of a middle or high school team, and I was teaching on-ball defense, I would show a video of Aaron Craft guarding Trey Burke on that last Michigan shot. Craft was low, knees bent, feet moving, staying right in front of the shifty Wolverine guard. His dribbling stymied, Burke had no choice but to create separation—with a nice little step-back move—and launch a low-percentage shot over Craft’s outstretched hand. Because of pure shot-making talent, the ball almost went in, but Craft did everything exactly right.
“Some go in and some don’t,” Burke said afterward, philosophically.
Craft finished with 9 points and 4 assists. Deshaun Thomas was Ohio State’s big scorer; he had 20 points on a variety of pretty moves. Watch him work, next time OSU is on TV—Thomas’s footwork and touch around the rim remind me of a young Kevin Garnett. And the Buckeyes’ Sam Thompson, characteristically, did several ridiculous things throughout the ballgame—he threw down multiple dunks, including alley-oops, with rim-rattling abandon.
Burke led Michigan with 15 points, while Tim Hardaway, Jr. added 12.
Both of these teams are offensively loaded. Both can defend with equal aplomb. I’ll be surprised if OSU and Michigan don’t make the late rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Other weekend notables:
No. 4 Arizona 80, Oregon State 70
No. 8 Minnesota 81, No. 5 Indiana 88
No. 10 Missouri 49, Mississippi 64
No. 12 Illinois 51, Wisconsin 74
No. 14 Butler 79, Dayton 73
No. 18 Kansas State 65, West Virginia 64
Marquette 74, Pittsburgh 67
North Carolina 77, Florida State 72
UCLA 78, Colorado 75
Oklahoma State 68, Oklahoma 77
Wyoming 59, Nevada 48
Washington 65, Stanford 60
(Fun fact: Every game on the above list was played Saturday. According to the NCAA’s database, 158 Division I games took place on January 12. That’s a lot of ball.)
Tuesday, January 15
UNI 68, No. 12 Creighton 79
The Missouri Valley Conference is perennially among the strongest mid-major circuits in the country, so it’s never a shock when a team like Creighton is ranked as high as No. 12. They play some good ball in those parts.
Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott scored 31 points as the 17-1 Jays defended their home roost in Omaha. Creighton outscored UNI 42-36 in the second half and held off a Panthers team that has several weapons, namely Anthony James, powerful Jake Kock and sharpshooting Marc Sonnen. James had 25 points, and Koch scored 19.
But it wasn’t enough against McDermott and the Jays, who shot 55 percent from the field and buried six three-pointers.
No. 20 Notre Dame 63, St. John’s 67
A big upset in the Big East—the Johnnies took care of Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, utilizing their athleticism and up-tempo style against a slightly slower Irish club. De’Angelo Harrison was making plays all night for the Johnnies, including some beautiful passes off penetration. He finished with 8 points, made a late three-pointer and blocked a Notre Dame shot to seal the victory for St. John’s.
Jakarr Sampson had 17 points and five rebounds for the Johnnies, who are now sitting at 10-7 on the year.
Wednesday, January 16
UNLV 82, No. 15 San Diego State 75
Unranked UNLV traveled to San Diego and beat the Aztecs in a high-scoring Mountain West matchup. Anthony Marshall scored 20 points for the Runnin’ Rebs.
St. Mary’s 70, BYU 69
Matthew Dellavedova knocked down a running three-point shot at the buzzer, just a couple of steps inside half court, and St. Mary’s outlasted BYU in Provo. BYU was up by seven at the half, but the Gaels hit seven three-pointers in the second frame, closed the gap and set up Dellavedova’s heroics. He had 18 points, while James Walker III scored 13.
St. Mary’s might be the only team in the WCC that can challenge Gonzaga for the league crown; the Gaels and Zags played a close one in Spokane earlier this month.
Other Wednesday notables (so many games, so little time):
Richmond 47, No. 13 Butler 62
No. 14 NC State 50, Maryland 51
Georgia 62, No. 17 Missouri 79
No. 18 Michigan State 81, Penn State 72
Seton Hall 62, Marquette 69
Colorado 54, Washington 64
PLAYER OF THE WEEK(S)
Travis Bader, Oakland—Mr. Bader scored 47 points on Thursday night, leading Oakland past IUPUI 89-71. The guard was a Kobe-like 15-24 from the field, and 11-18 from three-point range. His impressive total was the most points scored by a Division I ballplayer this season.
Doug McDermott, Creighton (Honorable Mention)—Douggie scored 31 points in Creighton’s win over UNI on Tuesday, January 15. The skilled forward was 12-22 from the field, had 6 rebounds and made 6-7 free throws. With good range and solid low-post skills, this kid’s more versatile than a Swiss Army Knife, and he’s a legit player of the year candidate.
Unfortunately for the Jays, he was feeling under the weather this past Wednesday, when Creighton played in-state rival Drake. McDermott scored 17 points in the first half but could only muster two in the second; Drake won the game 74-69.
GAMES I’LL BE WATCHING
Maryland vs No. 1 Duke, Saturday, 1:00 EST
How will the Blue Devils respond after that bludgeoning in Miami?
No. 12 Minnesota vs Wisconsin, Saturday, 2:00 EST
An interesting Big Ten matchup between two squads that have slipped of late.
North Carolina vs No. 18 NC State, Saturday, 7:00 EST
A chance for the much-maligned Tar Heels to score a big ACC win.
No. 2 Michigan vs Illinois, Sunday, 6:00 EST
Can Michigan win on the road and earn a No. 1 ranking?
No. 13 Michigan State vs No. 7 Indiana, Sunday, 1:00 EST
Ho-hum, another powerhouse Big Ten tilt on national TV.
Pittsburgh vs No. 5 Louisville, Monday, 7:00 EST
Louisville is reeling after two losses in the Big East. Will the Cardinals rebound against Pitt?
Wisconsin vs No. 14 Ohio State, Tuesday, 7:00 EST
A Game of the Week rematch!
Kentucky vs No. 23 Ole Miss, Tuesday, 9:00 EST
Coach Cal’s Wildcats face a very good Mississippi team in the Deep South.
No. 15 New Mexico vs Wyoming, Wednesday, 9:00 EST
More on the newest No. 1, the gumbo in the Pac-12 and the SEC in next week’s column. Stay tuned!