College Top 25 Recap: Rivalry Week
A recap of all the wild college hoops action that went down over the last week.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
Rivalry Week may be the second-best week of the college basketball season next to the first and second round games of the NCAA Tournament. The past seven days have seen great action in all the major conferences and a handful of upsets across the nation. Catch up on all the action below and start brushing up; March Madness is only 6 weeks away.
1. Kentucky (23-1, 10-0)
The Wildcats got their first test in over a month earlier this week when they faced Top-10 and SEC foe Florida; and they passed with flying colors. Kentucky dominated the Gators en route to their 16th straight victory. The Cats are playing with extreme confidence and look like they expect to win every time they step onto the court, much like Calipari’s Memphis team that went to the championship game. Anthony Davis has been getting all the fanfare, and rightfully so, but the elevated play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has put this team over the edge. The freshman is the X-factor for this team and Kentucky will go as far as he is willing to take them. The kid is tough as nails and has been playing tremendous defense as the season has wore on. Can anybody in the SEC stop this team? That remains to be seen and with games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State on the horizon, the Wildcats can’t get caught slipping.
2. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1)
Fab Melo proved that he is the most important player in the country. Without him, Syracuse looked unsure of themselves defensively and sorely missed his presence in the paint; with him, ‘Cuse’s 2-3 zone is devastating. With Melo back, the Orange blew out St. John’s at the Garden then narrowly escaped a tough Georgetown team in overtime on Wednesday night—a win that gave Coach Boeheim his 800th career victory. Senior Kris Joseph scored a career-high 29 points against G’Town, including the eventual game winning 3-pointer. Even with Melo back, G’Town dominated the boards, outrebounding the Orange 52-35—a recurring theme for ‘Cuse. Syracuse has now been outrebounded 12 times this season, a cause for concern for Boeheim as the season winds down. Syracuse has a potential trap game this Saturday against UConn before taking on Louisville on Monday.
3. Ohio State (20-3, 9-2)
The Buckeyes got caught looking ahead to their game against Michigan State and squeaked by unranked Purdue thanks to William Buford’s career-high 29 points. Buford, the only senior on Ohio State’s roster, scored 21 in the second half and carried his team to victory while Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft looked on from the sideline due to foul trouble. Their matchup with the Spartans this weekend gives them an opportunity to really separate themselves from the rest of the Big 10 in the standings. Look for a great battle inside between Sullinger and State’s Draymond Green who looks fully recovered after a knee injury sidelined him late last month.
4. Missouri (21-2, 9-2)
The Tigers found themselves in an unexpected dogfight when they traveled to Norman to take on the Sooners on Monday night. After an emotional victory against Kansas on Saturday night, and a matchup with Baylor this weekend, Mizzou got caught looking ahead and almost fell victim to the upset bug. Marcus Denmon, who is battling Thomas Robinson for Big 12 Player of the Year, has been on fire lately. The senior guard had 29 against Robinson and the Jayhawks on Saturday and followed that performance up with a 25-point effort against Oklahoma. Missouri is tied with Kansas atop the ultra competitive Big 12 but have to stay focused and bring their ‘A’ game against Baylor this weekend.
5. North Carolina (20-4, 7-2)
UNC’s game on Wednesday night against hated Duke is just one of the many reasons why Rivalry Week may be the second best seven days during the season. Duke won on a last second 3 by freshman Austin Rivers (more on that later) but Carolina had no business losing this game. The Heels took advantage of a weak Duke frontcourt, getting 23 and 11 from potential ACC POY Tyler Zeller and 12 and 17 from John Henson. But, Carolina let Duke hang around and in the end it was free throws that killed them–they left 9 points at the stripe for the game. UNC has a matchup with surprising Virginia this weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out and blew out the Cavaliers.
6. Baylor (21-3, 8-3)
Baylor may boast one of the most talented rosters in the country–featuring two future first round picks in Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller—but the Bears have looked unimpressive during the last week. After squeaking by an injury and suspension laden Oklahoma State team on Saturday, the Bears were embarrassed by conference foe Kansas in front of a sold out home crowd. Against the Jayhawks, Miller and Jones III were nearly invisible and if it wasn’t for Pierre Jackson, who has been coming up big for them in Big 12 play, they may have lost by much more than 14. Baylor has 21 wins already but have underwhelmed against top ranked competition. Fortunately, Scott Drew’s team has a tremendous opportunity to prove that they are for real when they take on Missouri this weekend for a matinee matchup–though, Baylor hasn’t won at Mizzou in decades.
7. Kansas (19-5, 9-2)
The Jayhawks had an up and down week against the top teams in the Big 12, playing both Missouri and Baylor on the road. Against Missouri, the Jayhawks were up late in the game but were beat almost single-handedly by Marcus Denmon, who scored 9 straight in 2 minutes to unseat Rock Chalk and left Kansas stunned. Kansas rebounded from that heartbreaking loss nicely as they traveled to Waco and wiped the floor with Baylor. After being down by 10 in the first half, Kansas came out in the second and ripped off a huge run to eventually beat the Bears by 14 thanks to unheralded big man Jeff Withey’s career-high 25 points. Thomas Robinson has been tearing through conference play and has put up double-doubles in 4 out of his last 5 games. It will be a close race for Big 12 POY between he and Missouri’s Denmon.
8. Florida (19-4, 7-2)
With a chance to make a statement, the Gators could not match Kentucky’s athleticism and versatility and got blown out by 20 on the road. Fortunately, Florida has a chance to rebound this weekend against a weak Tennessee team. Despite their loss to Kentucky, Florida is still the second best team in the SEC and shouldn’t struggle against the rest of the competition. They have a rematch against the Wildcats on March 4.
9. Murray State (23-1, 11-1)
All hopes of an undefeated season went down the drain last night as the Racers were upset by Tennessee State at home. Despite the loss Murray State is 23-1 and has one of the best players in the country that no one is talking about in Isaiah Canaan. The junior guard has been lighting it up for the one-loss Racers and has scored 20+ points in 11 games this season, including four 3o-point efforts. Despite playing in a weaker conference, those numbers are not to be ignored and he should be getting some looks for National Player of the Year. Canaan is an outstanding shooter; he shoots 46 percent from the three-point line, and plays consistent basketball night in and night out. Canaan and the Racers have a huge matchup with St. Mary’s coming up later this month.
10. Duke (20-4, 7-2)
Two words: Austin Rivers. After being shocked by Miami in overtime on Sunday, the Blue Devils certainly redeemed themselves with a thrilling win over rival North Carolina. Rivers lifted the Blue Devils to victory with a career-high 29 points and an ice-cold game winning 3-pointer over Tyler Zeller. Despite the victory, the Blue Devils are flawed. They are weak upfront and are one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. They also live and die by the long ball—if they do not hit 3′s, they struggle. But, with a kid like Rivers they have the chance to be in every game. The explosive freshman looks like he is hitting his stride and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. Oh, and for everyone wondering, the Carolina-Duke rematch is set for March 3rd in Chapel Hill.
11. Michigan State (19-5, 8-3)
The Spartans look ready for their matchup with Ohio State this weekend. Over the last week they have ran through Michigan and Penn State, beating both by double-digits. Draymond Green is showing no ill-effects from a knee injury that slowed him down last month. Against Michigan he had 14 points and 16 rebounds and against Penn State he had 23 and 12. Tom Izzo will need Green to be in top notch form when he goes up against Jared Sullinger on Saturday.
12. Georgetown (18-5, 8-4)
The Hoyas beat up on South Florida, defeating them by 30 points but lost to Syracuse in overtime Wednesday night. With that loss, the Hoyas slid down to fourth place in the Big East but have a chance to reel off some wins against St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and ‘Nova. As we all know, seeding isn’t very important during the Big East Tournament—it’s more about who gets hot at the right time. The Hoyas have the potential to make a run and win the Big East, but only if they can be more efficient offensively. They currently rank 124th in the nation in scoring and outside of their starting five, they don’t get much help off the bench—somebody needs to step up for them.
13. San Diego State (20-3, 6-1)
The Aztecs have a huge game this weekend against conference rival UNLV out in Vegas. San Diego State has won two in a row and has been led by sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin. Franklin has been averaging 16 points and 7.2 rebounds per but has been getting buckets and grabbing boards at a much higher rate lately. Over the last three games he has been putting up averages of 21.3 and 9.6 and his teammates will look to him to keep up his stellar play as the season inches closer to march.