Can somebody please explain to me what is going in college basketball this year? Michigan State, a final four team last year that lost nothing more than Raymar Morgan and replaced him with more talent, is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament and lost to Michigan for the first time in 23 years, and at home. Which was Michigan's first road win all year. Syracuse, who started the season at 18-0, has now lost four straight, which included losses to two other top 10 teams in Pitt and Villanova. Teams who both lost this week - Villanova twice. Duke, who looked nearly unstoppable most of the year, lost to St. Johns, the same team that lost to both St. Bonaventure and Fordham. BYU gave San Diego State it's first loss on the year, and then turned around and got beat by New Mexico, Texas A&M lost to lowly Nebraska, and UCONN completely blew a home game they had in hand against Louisville. Two of the top five, 3 of the top 10, and 5 of the top 15 teams in the preseason poll aren't even ranked right now. It's insane. I know it's great for a fun season and an even better NCAA Tournament, but it's been hell on my bank account so let's just knock this crap off.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. St. Johns Red Storm. If ever a team could have used a win like this it's St. Johns, and beating Duke by 15 is an awfully nice chip to have in your pocket when March rolls around. They're in good shape RPI-wise thanks to a very tough strength of schedule, and a 4-5 Big East is probably ok, but this game gives them a huge marquee win and stops a three-game skid, not to mention the shot of confidence they probably get considering they just completely blew the doors off the Blue Devils. The schedule gets easier going forward here, so you can expect to see the Red Storm with a bid for the NCAA Tournament. Which is what I called, way back in October. Seriously, sometimes it's hard being so smart.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions. You gotta admit, they're doing what they can. It's an uphill climb considering they're just 12-8 and missed every chance to get a quality non-conference win, but they're now 5-4 in a good Big Ten, the RPI is moving up (now #45), the strength of schedule is good (#6), the win over Duquesne is looking better and better, and, even if Michigan State is free-falling, the wins over Illinois and Wisconsin will hold up nicely. Talor Battle is getting help from PSU's trio of senior forwards - David Jackson, Andrew Jones, and especially Jeff Brooks - and that makes this team very dangerous. Their home court advantage has been quite strong this year, if they can steal a game or two on the road they'll be in the big dance.
3. Duquesne Dukes. At the beginning of the year, the Atlantic 10 was supposed to be very strong at the top with Xavier, Temple, Dayton, and Richmond, and the rest of the schools kind of blah. Three of the four have been good, but Dayton has sucked (which they deserve) and Duquesne has not only snuck into their spot, but might be the best team in the conference. They beat Temple earlier this year, and after shellacking Dayton on Saturday are now 7-0 in conference play and tied with Xavier at the top. The schedule is favorable, with Xavier still to come at home and both Dayton and Richmond on the road, but everything else is against pretty bad squads. I don't know if they can get an at-large - the RPI sits at #89 despite the gaudy record, but it would be a shame if they fall short because this is a really fun team to watch. Or at least it was fun watching them destroy the most hated team in the country. I'm referring to Dayton and it's dirty hippie fans.
4. Darius Morris. I said he's the best point guard in the country and he really helps bolster my argument when he does things like he did against Iowa on Sunday: 12 pts, 11 assists, 10 rebounds for just the third triple-double in Michigan history (Manny Harris, Gary Grant). Considering Kalin Lucas and Talor Battle are not point guards, and I have no idea what McCamey is but he sure as hell isn't a PG (more later), that leaves Morris up against Jordan Taylor, Michael Thompson, Al Nolen, Bryce Cartwright, Aaron Craft, Lewis Jackson, and Jordan Hulls. Not a bad group, and Craft might end up the best of the bunch eventually, but I'd take Morris for sure over every other one of those guys except maybe Jordan Taylor. That one would be close, but if you need a pure distributor Morris is your man. If you need more scoring go with Taylor. Or roofies.
5. Georgetown Hoyas. I'm not sure if there's a tougher team to figure out than the Hoyas. They're clearly good, but are they GOOD or just good? They have three awesome guards and a suspect interior, so are they are March sleeper because of their guard play or a March quick out because of a weak interior? I don't know either, but they are looking like they might be hitting their stride, so if you want to jump on the wagon I'd do it now. Their win over St. Johns was expected, but doing it by 25 was not, and then going to Villanova and knocking off the #7 Wildcats wasn't. Austin Freeman is a stone cold pimp (scored 10 of G-Town's last 12 against Nova, and assisted on the other 2), Jason Clark is a dead-eye from deep, and Chris Wright just makes it all happen. If they get anything from their post guys they're a final four team. Although they could also go out in the first round. Just like every other god damn team in this crazy stupid year.
1. Syracuse Orange. First their defense was exploited on the road at Pitt, then Villanova shot the lights out to beat them in Syracuse, then they were shredded by Seton Hall - in Syracuse - and followed that up by dropping yet another game to Marquette. So that makes four straight losses piggybacking their 18-0 start. Three of the four losses are explainable, even if the home loss to Nova is unfortunate, but that loss at home to Seton Hall is troubling and rather inexplicable - especially since they lost by 22. The Hall had only two prior conference wins, over bottom feeders DePaul and South Florida, but they roll into the Carrier Dome and run the Orange out of it. Here's what I think happened - Pitt exploited the zone and showed how athletic guards with some size could dribble-penetrate into the gaps and either score or find open teammates and everybody else has copied them. Each team they've lost to on this skid has guards who can do just that. They're done. Cooked. Over.
2. Michigan State Spartans. Well you knew this was coming, and these guys are just a mess. A home loss to Michigan and an comeback overtime one-point win against Indiana, also at home, say that this isn't a team that's starting slowly and will peak in March. No, this is more like a team that sucks and will be lucky to sniff the NCAA tournament, let alone peak during it. Suddenly, despite being nearly the same team that made the Final Four last year, they're turning the ball over like crazy and playing nearly zero defense - not a great combination. Their strength of schedule is good, which will keep them in the postseason picture if they can turn it around or at least play like an average team, but it's looking less and less likely that it's even a possibility. If Wisconsin doesn't implode late in the game in East Lansing, Jeremiah Rivers doesn't miss free throws down the stretch, and Northwestern doesn't blow a lead with 30 seconds to play, the Spartans are 2-7 and in 10th place. I know that's a lot of IFs, but it just underscores how awful they've been. And I really don't have a clue why.
3. Demetri McCamey. I've said it a million times, but I'll say it again: Demetri McCamey is not a point guard and Illinois will not win their first round NCAA game with him running the show. He proved me right yet again in the Illini's awful loss @ Indiana this week - Indiana's first win over a ranked team in their last 20 tries. McCamey's line: 6 points on 2-11 shooting (2-7 from three, nice job getting in the lane, guy), with 3 assists and 5 turnovers. Even worse, down the stretch Illinois had Brandon Paul running the point, who isn't a point guard either. Trust me you guys, I know the numbers look like something a good PG would put up (15 pts and 7 assists per game), but just watch him. Or watch Illinois in any late game situation, several of which they've screwed up already this year. He's awful. Please, I beg you, pick against them in round 1 of the tournament. It's a lock.
4. Butler Bulldogs. I'm actually really sick of writing about Butler, but they keep showing up here because they are a huge disappointment and they suck. This week they did an absolute awesome job of making sure they don't get an at-large bid, losing to both Milwaukee (at home) and Valparaiso (on the road), dropping their Horizon record to 6-4, overall record to 14-8, and chances of getting an at-large to about 1.4%. Of course, I'm sure they'll win their conference tournament and sneak in, and everybody will think they are a trendy upset pick, but you'll know they suck and pick against them. I swear to god if there's a first round Butler/Illinois matchup I'm going to the light something on fire.
5. The Coreys. No, not Haim and Feldman. Those guys rocked in everything, even Dream a Little Dream and that Lost Boys movie with that hot chick from the final season of the O.C. (pictured). I mean the stupid fake Coreys from Villanova, who are less irritating than Scottie Reynolds but still make me want to punch my own nuts with a pepper grinder. Villanova had a rough week, losing to Providence on the road and then at home to Georgetown, dropping them to 5-3 in the Big East, and fake Corey Haim and fake Corey Feldman didn't help. Corey Fisher (Feldman) shot 7-20 in the two games, while Corey Stokes (Haim), whose only identifiable skill is scoring (shooting heroin) went 4-23 (Four. For. Twenty. Three) and registered four turnovers against just one assist. Those two aren't the only reason they went 0-2 this week, because the whole team sucked outside of Maalik Wayns (who we'll call Nicole Eggert), but the Corey's are what make this team go. Just like grandpa's cadillac. Probably end up about the same, too.
Oh, and I missed the second half of the Gopher game because I was at a kids' birthday party, so my thoughts on that are: did you really expect them to win @ Purdue? Just worry about the games they could/should win. Let's just win in Bloomington here, mmmmkay? This one is terrifying.