We’re reaching that point of the year where college basketball is reaching the national spotlight. College football is over, the NFL is winding down, and the NBA is in the dog days of January. With those factors combined with the start of conference play, it feels like this weekend had some added importance and interest. Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest storylines I took out of the weekend.
- Big Win for Iowa:
- Iowa headed into their game Sunday against Ohio State with a 13-3 record with road losses to undefeated Wisconsin and 1-loss Iowa State and a neutral court OT loss to 1-loss Villanova. All of those games were one possession games with 5 minutes or less to go in the 2nd half. So clearly, Iowa’s losses were very good losses that were close to being very good wins. They finally got that good win Sunday at #3 Ohio State.
- Iowa was up 70-68 with 3:22 left, and it was shaping up to be another one of those close games that Iowa has struggled to win this year, as well as last year. Iowa closed the game on a 14-6 run to record one the best victories by any team in the nation yet this season. Iowa’s two best players, Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, had highly effective and efficient games on Sunday. Marble had 22 points on 7-13 shooting from the field and 8-11 from the line, while White put up 19 points on 8-12 shooting. Iowa is known for its depth, they play 11 guys. But Marble and White are the key for this club and are two of the more underappreciated players in the nation. When they play like they did Sunday against Ohio State, Iowa is extremely tough to beat and will be a threat in March to make the Final 4.
- One Undefeated Survives, One Falls:
- We went into this weekend with 5 undefeateds remaining in college basketball. Three won fairly easily (more on that later), but two had tough battles on the road. Wichita State was down 19 points with 12 minutes remaining in the 2nd half at Missouri State and faced a 7.1% win probability at that point per Kenpom. They battled back by doing Wichita State things, playing ridiculous defense, Ron Baker hitting 3’s, and Cleanthony Early dominating down low and getting to the line. The game ended up going to OT and Wichita pulled it out 72-69. We’ll see if they can continue to survive some of these sneaky-tough road matchups in the Valley, where it’s never easy to go on the road and win.
- Iowa State faced no such luck in battling back on the road for a win. Iowa State played at an underrated Oklahoma squad on Saturday, and the Sooners pulled out the win 87-82 in an entertaining up-and-down game. The Cyclones continued a semi-disturbing trend of finding themselves in a double-digit deficit after already coming back from double-digit deficits to win in 4 games this season, against Michigan, BYU, UNI, and Boise State. Against OU, Iowa State was down 59-46 with 13:50 to go in the 2nd half, and was able to battle back in yet another game to take a 77-76 lead with a little under 3 minutes to go. However, they couldn’t close this one out as Oklahoma finished the game on a 11-5 run with the help of Gonzaga transfer, Ryan Spangler, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds (7 offensive). Even worse for Iowa State was the injury of DeAndre Kane, who rolled his ankle late in the game. It doesn’t look like it’ll be a longterm, serious injury, but we’ll see if Kane can play tonight against Kansas in a Big Monday tilt.
- Duke and North Carolina Lose, Continue to be Confusing:
- Duke and Carolina both lost on Saturday, and we are in danger of having neither ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1982 (yes, the year). Duke lose 72-59 on the road at Clemson. They continue to be a great offensive team and a terrible defensive team at the same time. They rank 96th nationally in defensive efficiency, while being 2nd ranked offensively. That is a great recipe for entertaining basketball games, but maybe not so much for the whole winning those entertaining games. Clemson is solid this year, they’re 37th in Kenpom’s rankings. But, that’s still a troubling loss for Duke who’s struggling to find their foothold right now.
- North Carolina, on the other hand, quite simply might just be a bad basketball team. Sometimes our judgment can be clouded by sparse moments of extreme success for a team. After beating Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, that may be the case with UNC. The fact of the matter is, other than those 3 games, the Tar Heels have looked like a mediocre to below-average team the rest of the season. Saturday against Syracuse was no different. North Carolina only scored 45 points, the fewest in any game by UNC since 1985. They are now 0-3 in the ACC and face what I would say is a must-win game at home against Boston College this Saturday.
And here’s some quick-hitters.
- The other three undefeateds, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse, were able to stay that way fairly easily this weekend. Syracuse had the previously mentioned 57-45 win over UNC in the Carrier Dome. Wisconsin had the weekend off (which is always the easiest way not to lose). And Arizona recorded a 20-point win on the road at USC. If I had to place bets right now for who stays undefeated the longest, I’d go with Arizona. They have three straight home games up next, followed by a road trip to Stanford and California. If they can survive that trip, it’ll be February and the discussion on whether or not this team can run the table through the regular season might get more serious.
- Doug McDermott is ridiculous. McDermott put up 35 points Sunday on 9-14 shooting (4-10 from 3) in Creighton’s 95-89 win over Xavier. Oh, and he was supposed to have an injured shoulder too. At this point, McDermott is the runaway favorite for National POY. We’ll see if he can keep this up and if he can lead Creighton to a Big East title in their first year in the league. It’d be tough to doubt him much right now. And just think, he and his own father didn’t think he’d be good enough to play in the Big 12.
- I’m interested in seeing what happens with Minnesota and Illinois as the season progresses. Minnesota had a disappointing loss at Michigan State on Saturday, while Illinois had a terrible loss at Northwestern on Sunday. There’s a defined Top 5 in the Big 10 this season, with Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan. Minnesota and Illinois seem to be the 6th and 7th teams in the league. Will they be able to pull out any wins against those top 5? They’ll need to if the Big Ten wants to get seven teams into the tournament in March.