by Nick Rotunno
So here we are, late February, with the regular season winding down and the conference tournaments on the horizon. The highly ranked teams are hoping to sustain momentum, the lesser squads are trying to end the season on a high note, and the bubble teams are searching for one more win, one final push toward the Madness.
Those college basketball fanatics out there, the die-hards, have been looking forward to this time of year for many months, while those folks who follow the game only sparingly, the casual fans, are finally starting to pay attention. And what storylines we have: the Big Ten and its usual late-season battles, the suddenly very interesting Pac-12, the weirdly entertaining ACC, the roller-coaster season of Kansas and the Big 12, the typically high quality of the Big East.
Of course, we can’t overlook the myriad mid-major conferences out there, the Big Souths and Ivy Leagues and Conference USA’s, all with their own dramatic games and unheralded stars. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s just going to get better.
OK, that’s enough prelude. Let’s get to this week’s recaps.
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 9 Kansas 68, No. 14 Oklahoma State 67, 2OT—Wednesday
Remember when the Cowboys beat Kansas at the Phog, snapping the Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak? Yeah, Kansas remembers, too, and on Wednesday night in Stillwater the Jayhawks returned the favor.
Naadir Tharpe spun into the lane and knocked down a mid-range jumper with 16 seconds remaining in the second overtime, giving the Jayhawks a one-point lead and stealing a big road win. Tharpe had been misfiring through most of the game—he finished 2-11 from the field—but that final shot was satin.
“Neither team had any offense and he certainly made a huge play there late. Just huge,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters. “Biggest play of his life, I’m sure.”
From an offensive standpoint, this game was not very pretty. Neither team shot well—Kansas was 25-61 from the field; OSU was 21-64. But it was a physical, exciting game, and these two squads have created one heck of a Big 12 rivalry. The Jayhawks’ Jeff Withey hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the game at 57. In the first OT, Phil Forte hit a three-ball for OSU and tied the score again, sending the game into an extra extra session.
Dynamic scorer Travis Releford led Kansas with 18 points, while Withey added 17 points (including 11-14 from the free-throw stripe) and 14 rebounds. Markel Brown had a team-high 20 points for OSU. The Cowboys’ star guard Marcus Smart scored 16 points, but he fouled out in the second OT.
The victory moved Kansas (22-4, 10-3) into a tie with Kansas State atop the Big 12 standings. The Cowboys are sitting in second place with a 9-4 conference record.
No. 2 Duke 81, Maryland 83
A worn-out Duke squad lost a close game at Maryland as the Terps’ Alex Len scored 19 points and snared nine rebounds. The second-ranked Blue Devils were out-rebounded, outscored and outplayed in College Park, and at game’s end the Maryland fans stormed the floor to celebrate a rare win over their (soon-to-be former) ACC rival.
Seth Allen added 16 points for the Terrapins. Duke’s Seth Curry led all scorers with 25 points, but big Mason Plumlee, who has been so dominant this season, managed just four points and three rebounds. Some interesting stats in this game: Maryland won the rebounding battle 40-20, but turned the ball over 26 times. The Terps shot 60 percent from the field (27-45) while Duke shot around 48 percent.
After the game, Coach K, smarting from the loss, took a shot at Maryland for leaving the ACC and heading for the Big 10 next year. “I have a great deal of respect for Maryland,” he told the AP. “If it was such a rivalry they’d still be in the ACC. Obviously they don’t think it’s that important or else they wouldn’t be in the Big Ten.”
Other Saturday notables:
Purdue 55, No. 1 Indiana 83
No. 5 Gonzaga 71, San Francisco 61
No. 8 Michigan State 73, Nebraska 64
No. 16 Pitt 69, No. 18 Marquette 79
No. 23 Oregon 79, Washington State 77
No. 13 Ohio State 49, No. 20 Wisconsin 71
I mention this contest only because it was so gosh darn disappointing. The Badgers, who had just lost to Minnesota the Thursday before, dominated on all fronts and beat the talented Buckeyes by 22 points. I figured Aaron Craft, DeShaun Thomas and Ohio State would give the Badgers a hard time, but I was dead wrong—Wisco led 39-22 at halftime, cruised to the final buzzer and ended up shooting 53 percent from the field.
Showing that characteristic Badgers teamwork, no Wisconsin player scored more than 15 points (Ben Brust and Jared Berggren both reached that number). Sam Dekker added 13 points for Wisconsin. It was discomfiting to see OSU, normally so sound on the defensive end, guard the Badgers so poorly. Credit Bo Ryan and his Wisconsin boys for executing to perfection and shooting the lights out.
Minnesota 51, Iowa 72
Iowa has proven this season that it’s a tough out on its home floor. Minnesota, once again struggling in the latter part of the season, was soundly beaten by the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. The Gophers were up by 16 points early in the game, but Iowa rallied and took command with a 37-10 run. Devyn Marble and redheaded wonder Aaron White scored 15 points each for the Hawks.
No. 1 Indiana 72, Michigan State 68
A Game of the Week candidate, for sure. Behind Victor Oladipo’s 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals, Tom Crean’s top-ranked Hoosiers traveled to East Lansing and took down the mighty Spartans. Oladipo stole the show: he hit two field goals and a pair of free throws in the last minute of the game, an outburst made even more impressive by the fact that he was nursing a sprained left ankle at the time.
“I’m not going to lie, it hurt a little,” the junior guard told reporters. “But I wanted to win.”
I’ve written at length about Oladipo’s playmaking, change of pace and scoring ability. There’s no question he’s an elite talent. But what I find most striking about this young man is his innate competitive fire, his churning drive to win basketball games, and that—beyond the imposing physical gifts—could very well carry this Indiana team all the way to a National Championship.
Oh, and there’s Cody Zeller, the extremely skilled forward who dropped in 17 points against MSU. He and Oladipo are the best inside-outside tandem in the country. Unbelievably, Indiana had not won a game at Michigan State since 1991.
The Spartans didn’t go down easy. Gary Harris scored 19 points, and Adreian Payne dropped in 17. But MSU missed some key free throws late in the game and couldn’t quite catch the Hoosiers.
No. 5 Florida 60, Missouri 63
Missouri’s biggest win of the season was a three-point thriller in Columbia. This was the same Tigers squad that lost to Florida by 31 points back in January, but it looked like a different team on Tuesday night. Laurence Bowers had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Phil Pressey racked up 10 assists, six boards and three steals, and Missouri took care of the fifth-ranked Gators on its home floor.
Mizzou is very tough in Columbia; the Tigers are 15-0 at home this year.
Liberty 101, Longwood 102
Look at that score! Shooting 50 percent from the field and hitting 9-23 three-pointers, Longwood squeaked out a one-point win at home in Farmville, Va. This was a Big South game, by the way, as well as a game without much defense.
Other Tuesday notables:
Virginia 50, No. 2 Miami 54
No. 24 VCU 62, St. Louis 76
North Carolina 70, Georgia Tech 58
Wyoming 51, SDSU 79
Aside from the barn-burner in Stillwater, it was blowout city on Wednesday. Syracuse hammered the Friars at the Dome, Ohio State rebounded from its weekend loss to Wisconsin in resounding fashion, and (surprise!) DePaul got killed. Best game of the day? South Carolina over Ole Miss, 63-62, in a clash of very little national import. Here are some numbers:
Providence 59, No. 8 Syracuse 84
Minnesota 45, No. 18 Ohio State 71
No. 19 Wisconsin 69, Northwestern 41
Washington 52, No. 12 Arizona 70
DePaul 66, No. 11 Georgetown 90
Iowa State 87, Baylor 82
Air Force 65, Boise State 77
California 48, No. 23 Oregon 46
Oregon has struggled against anyone from California this season, and the pattern held on Thursday night: Justin Cobbs hit a buzzer-beating jump shot to knock out the Ducks in Eugene.
Cobbs had a team-high 14 points, along with eight boards and seven assists. Allen Crabbe had 12 points for the Bears, who have won six of their last seven games. Oregon was dismal from the field, shooting just 27.6 percent.
The Ducks haven’t beaten Cal since 2008.
In the Pac-12 race, Arizona and Oregon are tied for first, both sitting at 10-4. UCLA (9-4), Arizona State (9-5) and Cal (9-5) are all knocking on the door, and Colorado (8-6) is still in the hunt. As it’s been all season, the Pac-12 is wide open.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Naadir Tharpe, Kansas
Naturally, the country’s highest scorers tend to collect most of our Player of the Week honors. A guy scores 40 points, and we acknowledge it. But here at the Week in Review, we value other qualities besides just scoring buckets. Like perseverance, and courage, and confidence in oneself. Naadir Tharpe displayed all three on Wednesday at Oklahoma State, when he coolly knocked down a tough jumper and led Kansas to a 68-67 double-overtime victory. Tharpe was just 1-10 from the field as the ball left his hands, but he won the game anyway. We salute you, sir.
GAMES I’LL BE WATCHING
Princeton vs. Columbia, Friday, 7:00 EST
This matchup between 12-9 Princeton and 10-12 Columbia headlines a big day in the Ivy League.
No. 11 Georgetown vs. No. 8 Syracuse, Saturday, 4:00 EST
Georgetown will face a stiff test against Syracuse, which is darn-near unbeatable at home.
No. 16 New Mexico vs. No. 22 Colorado State, Saturday, 4:00 EST
New Mexico is the favorite on paper, but CSU is playing well.
Stanford vs. No. 23 Oregon, Saturday, 8:00 EST
Oregon needs a win… can the Ducks take down archrival Stanford?
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Ohio State, Sunday, 4:00 EST
Ohio State hosts a surging Michigan State team eyeing a Big Ten title.
Illinois vs. No. 7 Michigan, Sunday, 2:00 EST
Michigan should win this one, but I’m intrigued.
No 8 Syracuse vs. No. 17 Marquette, Monday, 7:00 EST
Another good one in the Big East. Marquette is tough at home, but ‘Cuse is playing well.