by Nick Rotunno
What a week we’ve had, folks. With only a few regular-season games remaining on the schedule, it’s crunch time in the ACC, WCC, Big East, Big 10 and everywhere else around the country. There were upsets, fallen giants, virtuoso playmakers and some wacky finishes. And hey, did you know… the conference tourneys start next week! Where has the time gone?
Starting next Friday, the Week in Review is going to look a little different. I’ll recap the week’s most notable contests, of course, but I’ll also include previews for the upcoming conference tournaments. The Power 6 conferences will receive most of the attention (which surprises no one, I’m sure), but conference tourneys with NCAA Tournament implications—Gonzaga and the WCC brackets, for example—may also warrant mention.
Now let’s review the week that was. FYI, choosing a Game of the Week for today’s column was very difficult…
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 2 Gonzaga 70, BYU 65—Thursday
Speaking of Gonzaga, Mark Few and the Bulldogs should be in possession of a No. 1 ranking on Monday—an honor that Gonzaga has never enjoyed. The Cougars didn’t make it easy for the Zags, though, especially in Provo, where the white-clad BYU fans were cheering so loudly it was sometimes difficult to hear an official’s whistle.
The Bulldogs looked impressive early, building a lead with accurate outside shooting and excellent interior passing. The frontcourt duo of bruising Kelly Olynyk and smooth Elias Harris, both upperclassmen, is as powerful as any pairing in the country, and when you factor in forwards Sam Dower and the enormous Przemek Karnowski, the Zags are nearly unstoppable down in the paint.
The Bulldogs big men were finding each other in the first half—good passes inside led to easy buckets, and BYU’s sharpshooting perimeter players were largely misfiring. But the Cougars settled down and improved their defense, and by halftime Gonzaga’s lead was just four points.
Gonzaga played well in the early stages of the second half. With about 11 minutes left in the game the Bulldogs were up by 11 points, and it seemed the Zags were about to put BYU down for the count. But again the Cougars rallied—crafty Tyler Haws was knocking down shots, Craig Cusick was finding the range, and athletic Matt Carlino was attacking and making plays. The game was physical, hard-nosed, personal. Rebounding battles were intense. After a flurry of three-pointers, BYU tied the game at 60 with just over four minutes left in regulation.
It was a two- or three-point game the rest of the way. A late jumper from Olynyk and solid free-throw shooting gave Gonzaga a small cushion, but then, inconceivably, the Zags fouled Cusick as he attempted a three-point shot with seven seconds left on the clock.
Cusick made all three freebies and the Cougars were just two points down, 67-65.
Harris made one of two free throws, and Zags coach Mark Few chose to foul Cusick rather than guard the three-pointer straight up. He missed the first shot, the Cougars ran out of time and Gonzaga, in all probability, earned its No. 1 spot.
Olynyk scored 19 points, Gary Bell Jr. had 15 (on 4-8 from behind the arc) and Harris added 11 for the Zags. Mike Hart didn’t score a point, but he made play after play in key moments of the game, running down loose balls and snagging rebounds. Haws scored a game-high 19 points for BYU.
“Every time we’ve been in those situations this group has executed and they haven’t panicked,” Few told the The Spokesman-Review (Spokane). “We get the ball to the right spots and whoever it is steps up and makes a play.”
With all those pieces in place—the interior dominance, the guard play, the depth and experience—Gonzaga is in very good shape. If the Bulldogs win the WCC Tournament, they could be rewarded with a No. 1 seed heading into the Madness. Is this the year they make the Final Four?
No. 2 Miami 65, Wake Forest 80
Nobody saw this one coming, including yours truly. Miami was undefeated in the ACC coming in, sitting at 22-3 overall. Wake Forest was 11-14 on the year. It didn’t matter, as Wake Forest took control and never let Miami get comfortable.
CJ Harris scored a game-high 23 points for the Demon Deacs, including 5-5 from beyond the arc. Codi Miller-McIntyre added 14 points for Wake. The Hurricanes shot 39 percent from the field and never established the quick-paced, athletic tempo this Miami squad is known for. The Demon Deacons, on the other hand, shot 54 percent from the field and knocked down shots from all over the floor.
Other Saturday notables:
No. 11 Georgetown 57, No. 8 Syracuse 46
No. 13 Kansas State 81, Texas 69
No. 16 New Mexico 91, No. 22 Colorado State 82
No. 4 Michigan State 60, No. 18 Ohio State 68
Floor general Aaron Craft, known more for his on-ball defense and quick hands than his offensive talents, exploded for 21 points—a career high—on Sunday as Ohio State took down the fourth-ranked Spartans in Columbus.
MSU took a six-point lead into halftime, but the Buckeyes outscored the Spartans 43-29 in the second frame and took command of the ballgame. Craft was 7-12 from the field, 7-8 from the free-throw stripe. Forward Deshaun Thomas contributed 14 points and seven rebounds for the Buckeyes. Gary Harris led the Spartans with 14 points.
When Craft and Thomas play well, OSU is extremely tough. The Buckeyes have recovered after a blowout loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 17—they whipped Minnesota 71-45 on Feb. 20, then rallied to defeat a talented Michigan State club.
“We beat two really, really good basketball teams,” OSU coach Thad Matta told the Associated Press. “Minnesota at one point this year was in the top 10 and these guys (MSU) were No. 4 in the country. This was a big week for us—home, away, wherever—especially coming off of that game last week.”
The Buckeyes would handle Northwestern 65-53 on Thursday to improve their record to 21-7. A showdown with Indiana looms large on February 5.
Other Sunday notables:
Boston College 68, No. 6 Duke 89
Illinois 58, No. 7 Michigan 71
Lehigh 71, Lafayette 79
UCLA 75, USC 59
No. 12 Syracuse 71, No. 22 Marquette 74
The Golden Eagles scored a huge Big East win at the Bradley Center on Monday, led by Davante Gardner and his career-high 26 points. Gardner was a model of efficiency: He played 33 minutes, went 7-7 from the field and 12-13 from the charity stripe.
Marquette attacked The Zone with relish—in the second half alone, the Golden Eagles were 24-28 from the free-throw line; Syracuse was 1-2.
No. 1 Indiana 73, Minnesota 77
It’s tough being Number 1. Top-ranked Indiana traveled to the Twin Cities with a big target on its candy-striped back—the Hoosiers carried a 24-4 overall record and had won nine of their past 10 games. As it happened, Minnesota was up to the challenge. Energized, eager, feeding off their home crowd, the Golden Gophers scored one of the biggest upsets of the ‘12-13 season, besting Indy by four points and stubbornly defending their 75-year-old gym (officially Williams Arena, but affectionately known as The Barn).
Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe, the top rebounder in the Big Ten, was everywhere. The long-limbed forward scored 21 points, snagged 12 rebounds and fiercely guarded the paint.
“We weren’t physical enough on the glass,” Hoosiers coach Tom Crean told the AP. “That’s the bottom line.” Indeed, the Gophers out-rebounded Indiana 44-30.
Mbakwe scored early and often, including 10 points in the game’s first seven minutes. He was credited for just one blocked shot, but altered many others. Tellingly, Indiana’s star forward, Cody Zeller, who almost always gets his buckets, was held to just nine points on 2-9 shooting—a testament to Minnesota’s interior defense.
The Hoosiers took a 59-58 lead with under five minutes left in the game. It was as close as they would get. Minnesota’s Austin Hollins responded with a score, and the Gophers held off Indiana in the waning moments.
“We did need to play with a sense of urgency, play with a little edge,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said to reporters. “I think Trevor set that tone for us.”
In addition to Mbakwe’s scoring outburst, the Gophers got 16 points from Hollins and nine from Joe Coleman.
Jordan Hulls scored 17 points and Victor Oladipo chipped in 16 for Indiana.
No. 8 Florida 58, Tennessee 64
The Volunteers held serve at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville and knocked off the eighth-ranked Gators. Guard Jordan McRae scored 27 points for Tennessee, which has won six games in a row.
“I feel like we expected to win this game,” Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes told reporters. With eight points and 14 rebounds, he certainly did his part.
Other Tuesday notables:
Loyola Chicago 75, Detroit 76
Wyoming 66, Air Force 72
No. 19 Memphis 62, Xavier 64
No. 4 Michigan 78, Penn State 84
Another upset in the Big Ten, and this one was even more unlikely: Penn State, with an exceedingly mediocre 8-18 record, defeated No. 4 Michigan in Happy Valley. That’s the Michigan Wolverines, by the way, the former No. 1 team in the country, the Final Four favorite.
What happened? Jermaine Marshall scored 25 points for the Nittany Lions (19 in the second half), including an unlikely layup that gave Penn State an 81-78 lead in the last moments of the game; the Nittany Lions hit 10 three-pointers and shot 47 percent from the field; and Michigan committed 15 turnovers.
The Wolverines are still among the leaders of the Big Ten, still capable of earning a high seed in the NCAA Tourney. But, as this game proves so convincingly, anybody can lose to anybody.
No. 7 Georgetown 79, UConn 78
A nutty, double-overtime game in Storrs. Otto Porter Jr. played the hero for Georgetown, scoring with 9.5 seconds remaining in the second OT—his 21st and 22nd points of the game.
Check out these shooting numbers: Georgetown shot 47.4 percent from the field (27-57) and hit 11-20 three-pointers (55 percent!). UConn was 28-66 from the field and hit 11 of 28 three’s attempted.
DeAndre Daniels scored a game-high 25 points for the Huskies.
No. 3 Duke 68, Virginia 73
No. 16 Ohio State 63, Northwestern 53
Oregon State 75, No. 24 Oregon 85
North Carolina 68, Clemson 59
Missouri 90, South Carolina 68
Utah 46, California 64
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Joe Harris, Virginia
The unranked Virginia Cavaliers defeated No. 3 Duke 73-68 on Thursday, and it was Harris who led the way. The smooth-shooting guard scored 36 points on 12-20 from the field and 10-12 from the free-throw line, one of the more impressive performances we’ve seen this year. Thanks to Harris and his bunch o’ buckets, the Wahoos earned a floor-storming win over ACC rival and perennial powerhouse Duke. Well played, Mr. Harris, well played.
GAMES I’LL BE WATCHING
Iowa vs. No. 1 Indiana, Saturday, 7:30 EST
Let’s. Go. Hawks. But in all seriousness, Iowa will need a monumental effort to beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington, especially if Indiana is still all pissed about that loss to Minnesota. And yet, maybe the Hawks can make it a game. Crazier things have happened.
Portland vs. No. 2 Gonzaga, Saturday, 5:00 EST
In case you’ve been exiled on some foreign shore, this just in: Gonzaga is pretty good. Watch the Bulldogs handle Portland, and watch them do it with panache.
No. 5 Miami vs. No. 3 Duke, Saturday, 6:00 EST
Miami recently kicked the snot out of Duke. The Blue Devils, on their home floor, will not let that happen again.
No. 10 Louisville vs. No. 12 Syracuse, Saturday, 12:00 EST
A battle between two clubs with designs on the Big East title… and bigger things, too.
No. 11 Arizona vs. UCLA, Saturday, 9:00 EST
Two solid squads from Pac-12 country duke it out in L.A.
No. 20 Butler vs. VCU, Saturday, 12:00 EST
A clash of precocious and passionate coaches: Brad Stevens vs. Shaka Smart.
No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Michigan, Sunday, 4:00 EST
In-state conference rivalries are never dull—especially when the teams involved are both ranked in the Top 10.
Albany vs. Stony Brook, Sunday, 2:00 EST
Albany is 21-9. Stony Brook is 22-6. Two good teams from the America East tangle in New York.
Montana vs. Southern Utah, Monday, 9:05 EST
Is this really the first time I’ve mentioned the Big Sky in this column? Shame. Montana is 19-6 and worth a look.
No. 16 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Indiana, Tuesday, 9:00 EST
Depends on which Ohio State team shows up, but could be another pothole in Indiana’s road to the Tourney.