College Top 25 Recap: Big East Takeover
This week’s Top 25 features five Big East teams.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
With the NCAA regular season winding down, it’s time to start getting excited for March Madness. With three Big East teams in the Top 10 and five ranked overall, the Big East is once again the dominant conference in College Hoops. Unfortunately, regular-season success doesn’t mean much if teams can’t win in the post season. There are a few fresh faces in this week’s Top 25 and with some under the radar teams suddenly hot and gaining steam, it’s shaping up to be another wild March.
1. Kentucky (27-1, 13-0)
As predicted, Mississippi State gave the young Wildcats all they could handle Tuesday night. After falling behind 41-28 at the half, Kentucky got a boost from an unlikely source: senior guard Darius Miller. Coming off the bench, Miller had a huge second half and hit a clutch three-pointer that pushed the Wildcats lead to seven and all but ensured victory. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a an outstanding game, playing suffocating defense and finishing with an impressive stat line of 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Kentucky has now won 19 in a row and their final three games are against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida. Barring a loss, the ‘Cats should be the unanimous overall number one seed in the Tournament.
The one-loss Orange are getting all they can handle from the rest of the Big East. On Sunday afternoon they traveled to New Jersey for what many thought would be an easy game against Rutgers. But, the Scarlet Knights gave ‘Cuse everything they had and trailed by two with three minutes left to play. Syracuse showed great poise and hit a few big shots, including a dagger three-pointer from Scoop Jardine, to escape with the dub. When the Orange took on South Florida Wednesday night, it was a similar story. The Bulls led ‘Cuse by 13 and once again the Orange showed the gumption of a veteran team, and just like against Rutgers, it was Scoop Jardine who made the big play. Jardine earned three the hard way with about five minutes left that sealed the game for Syracuse. I was admittedly low on this team a few weeks ago, but they have really impressed me by pulling out these wins while playing with a target on their back.
3. Missouri (25-3, 12-3)
After tearing through the Big 12 during January and the first half of February, the Tigers hit a bump when they lost to Kansas State at home on Tuesday night. Mizzou has now lost twice to K-State this season and with their victory, the Wildcats all but punched their ticket to the Big Dance. Missouri has no time to dwell on this loss though; they have a matchup with Kansas on Saturday that will most likely determine the Big 12 regular-season champion.
4. Kansas (23-5-, 13-2)
After torching Texas Tech by 33 points, the Jayhawks took care of business on the road against Texas A&M on Wednesday night. When Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson got off to a slow start, it was the unheralded Elijah Johnson who stepped up for the Jayhawks and poured in 18 first half points to help take a ten point lead into the half. Over the last few weeks, Kansas has seen unsung players like Johnson and Jeff Withey step up and become big contributors. With guys like Johnson and Withey building confidence it takes a lot of pressure off of Taylor and Robinson which will only help them come Tournament time. Kansas has a huge game with Missouri this weekend that will most likely determine the Big 12 regular-season champion.
5. Duke (23-4, 10-2)
Duke has been hot lately, winning four straight ACC games, and has a huge matchup against Florida State tonight. The Blue Devils waxed Boston College on the road over the weekend thanks to an 18-point effort from Seth Curry. What may hurt they Blue Devils in March is their lack of ball movement and dependence upon the 3-ball. As a team, they only average 13 assists per game, good enough (bad enough?) for 161st in the nation. Duke has also attempted 574 three-pointers (hitting 223 of them); I’ve never been a fan of a team that lives and dies by the three, especially in the NCAA Tournament where a lot games slow down and become a “grind it out” affair.
6. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3)
For a team that started off the season losing two straight to Duke and Carolina, the Spartans are right where they want to be with March a week away. After beating Purdue for their fifth straight Big Ten win, Sparty now sits alone atop the conference and have a potential number one seed looming. Michigan State has a few tough games left; after they play Minnesota and Nebraska, they take on Indiana and Ohio State to close out their conference schedule. This is a battle tested team and with Draymond Green making his last go around, the Spartans are going to be a tough out.
7. North Carolina (24-4, 11-2)
After losing a heartbreaker to Duke on a last second Austin Rivers three, the Tar Heels reeled off four straight ACC wins over Virginia, Miami, Clemson and NC State. Carolina won each of these games convincingly thanks to Harrison Barnes who has been on fire as of late. Since the home loss to Duke, Barnes has put up 23 and 6 against Miami, 24 and 7 against Clemson and 20 and 3 against NC State. While Barnes’ rebounding numbers leave something to be desired, he has been a nice complementary piece to Tyler Zeller who may lose ACC Player of the Year to his own teammate.
8. Ohio State (23-5, 11-4)
The Buckeyes are floundering at the wrong time and are 2-2 over their last four conference games. On Saturday night, Ohio State traveled to Ann Arbor to take on their rival Michigan. Columbus, Ohio native Trey Burke finished with 17 points including the game-clinching bucket with 11 seconds remaining. Ohio State did rebound with a blowout of Illinois but have a true test against Wisconsin Sunday afternoon.
9. Georgetown (20-6, 10-5)
The surprising Hoyas got worked by Seton Hall (who may have earned themselves a trip to the Big Dance) in Jersey earlier this week. G’Town is 2-2 over their last four games, with wins against St. John’s and Providence and losses against Hall and Syracuse. Georgetown will get into the tourney but have to be careful; two of their final three games come against the red-hot Fighting Irish and Marquette. The last thing John Thompson III wants is to head into the Garden after losing three of their last four.
10. Marquette (23-5, 12-3)
Marquette seems to be one of those teams that no one is talking about. To put it bluntly, other teams really shouldn’t be sleeping on this Golden Eagle team. They have a potent, high-scoring combo with Darius Johnson-Odom (18.7 ppg) and Jae Crowder (17.1) and a great coach in Buzz Williams who keeps his team focused and prepared. Marquette has blown out their last four opponents and close out the season against West Virginia, Cincinnati and Georgetown. They could potentially ride into Manhattan with a seven-game win streak and a first-round bye.
11. Michigan (21-7, 11-4)
The Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the country, and are 5-1 (including wins over Indiana and Ohio State) in the month of February. Michigan is undefeated at home and have a chance to finish the season without a loss in Ann Arbor with their final home game coming against Purdue. Michigan has a devastating backcourt duo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr who will be a headache for any team in March.
12. Florida (22-6, 10-3)
After being humbled by Kentucky and feeling the hangover against Tennessee, the Gators got back on track and have now won three straight, including a 30-point thrashing of Arkansas. Florida still boasts one of the most potent offenses in the nation and should continue their winning ways against Georgia before they finish the season with two tough matchups against Vandy and Kentucky.