By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. MARQUETTE IS THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE BIG EAST
I’m well aware that the Golden Eagles lost a few weeks ago at Notre Dame and earlier in the season at Georgetown, but other than Syracuse this looks like the team that has the chance to go the deepest in the NCAA Tournament. Senior combo forward Jae Crowder has went from being a solid contributor to a potential All Big East player and Darius Johnson-Odom is no longer the best player in America no one talks about — everyone is now aware of the lefty’s talents. The unsung presence for this team has been junior point guard Junior Cadougan, a player who doesn’t dazzle you with his athletic ability but is incredibly effective at running a team. In Marquette’s last three games, Cadougan has dished out 21 assists to just seven turnovers.
2. DREXEL LOOKS LIKE AN NCAA TOURNAMENT TEAM
The CAA doesn’t have the RPI support it may need to send multiple teams to the field of 68 like it did a year ago but it will be a real shame if Bruiser Flint’s team doesn’t hear their name called on Selection Sunday. The Dragons are 23-5 and have now won 21 of their last 22 games after Saturday’s 69-49 decimation of Cleveland State. The Dragons will have to play the CAA Conference Tournament in Richmond, a location set to favor potential competitors VCU, Old Dominion, and George Mason but even if they reach the finals and lose, Drexel deserves serious consideration for an at large bid. “I hope the committee looks at the league’s history,” Flint said last week. “I know the league isn’t as good as it was last year but there’s a history now that teams from the CAA can advance in the NCAA Tournament.”
3. NO TEAM WILL WANT TO PLAY SAINT LOUIS IN THE MONTH OF MARCH
And they’re extremely under the radar on the national landscape. The Billikens are by far the best team Rick Majerus has had in years and reflect all of the same attributes his teams exuded at Utah — unselfish play, minimal turnovers, and standout defense. “The first key in having successful role allocation is understanding who you are and this team has done a tremendous job of that,” Majerus said this week. “We all know what our each individual strengths are and that’s what everyone focuses on. The best players on this or any team or going to be the ones who get the most shots and that’s the way it should be.” Saint Louis doesn’t have one dominant star but veteran point guard Kwamain Mitchell is a steady ball handler and didn’t commit a turnover in 36 minutes of play in the Billikens’ 66-46 win over Fordham on Saturday. At 22-5, this team has a legitimate chance to play themselves into a top 16 or 20 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. HOW BAYLOR RESPONDS MONDAY AT TEXAS
There was a time earlier this season when many people looked at the Bears as a potential top four seed in the NCAA Tournament — but those talks have dissipated. Baylor has lost three of its last four games and in each of those losses, sophomore forward Perry Jones III has scored in single digits. If the Bears are regain the look of a team that can win multiple games in the field of 68, they’re going to need Jones to show more of a leadership role. Texas meanwhile is on the heels of a tough loss at Oklahoma State where Cowboys shooting guard Keiton Page dropped 40 points on the Longhorns. Rick Barnes and his team are desperate for a marquee win to pad their NCAA resume and you have to believe a victory over Baylor would be just that.
2. SETON HALL’S TILT WITH GEORGETOWN TUESDAY IN NEWARK
The Pirates have three regular season games left in Big East play and will probably have to win two to have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament — but it will carry a lot more weight if one of those victories come against Georgetown. The Hoyas have been a Top 25 team for the majority of the season and should Seton Hall find a way to beat them Tuesday night at The Rock, it would immediately be the best win on the Pirates’ NCAA resume. Look for Georgetown freshman forward Otto Porter to play a key role in hopes of finding seams the Pirates zone while Seton Hall leans on senior point guard Jordan Theodore to exploit his match up against Georgetown sophomore floor general Markel Starks.
3. FLORIDA STATE’S REMATCH WITH DUKE
The first meeting between these two teams earlier this season at Cameron Indoor Stadium provided proof that the Seminoles belonged among the ACC’s elite —- the question is now, can they stay there? Leonard Hamilton’s team avoided a brutal loss at home against Virginia Tech last week by mounting a late comeback and then put together an impressive 40 minutes in a dominant win Saturday at NC State. To beat Duke for the second time this season, Florida State will have to limit their turnovers — something they did a good job of in the teams first meeting as they only committed 12. Keep an eye on Seminoles point guard Luke Loucks to play a key role in this one if Florida State is to beat the Blue Devils for the second time this season.
THIS AND THAT:
- He’s not the first player people think of when someone brings up Iowa State but Cyclones freshman big man Percy Gibson has a chance to be a real productive player in the Big 12. With good size at 6-foot-9, Gibson has a soft touch around the rim and could develop into a real interior threat in the low post. Considering Fred Hoiberg took so many transfers when he first got the job in Ames, having a solid four year player like Gibson will help balance out Iowa State’s roster.
- Tony Barbee is slowly building Auburn into a competitive team in the SEC and the results are tangible. The Tigers only have one senior in in their rotation in power forward Kenny Gabriel and will add two quality guards next season in red shirt freshman Cedrick McAfee and incoming first year guard Shaquille Johnson.
- George Mason sophomore guard Sherrod Wright made a name for himself this past week with his 30 foot game winner against VCU but his contributions to the Patriots go far beyond one possession. The 6-foot-4 Wright has scored in double figures in four of his last five games and is really emerging as a perimeter scoring threat. “He’s starting to resemble the player he was in high school,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said of Wright. The Patriots are one of three teams in the CAA with 23 wins along with Drexel and VCU.
- Staying with the CAA, it’s well documented that the league doesn’t have the depth or quality non conference wins it possessed a year ago but still, this conference deserves two teams in the NCAA Tournament. With parity dominating college basketball, you’re going to see a plethora of teams making cases for at large bids with losing records in their respective leagues — there’s no way those schools should be selected over a team that wins 25 plus games like Drexel, George Mason, or VCU.
- A big reason why St. Joseph’s has won four of five and put themselves in position to earn a third bid out of the Atlantic-10 is the play of sophomore forward Halil Kanacevic. A transfer from Hofstra, the 6-foot-8 power forward is a brute force on the boards, grabbing 62 rebounds in his last five games. “The unique thing about Halil is that he actually wants to rebound,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said of Kanacevic. “You don’t see that often with today’s players.” The 18-10 Hawks are home this week against Richmond and Temple before wrapping up their conference slate at St. Bonaventure.
- It will be interesting to see how Kentucky handles the atmosphere on the road Tuesday night in Starkville against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are in a bit of a funk after losing three straight games but are more than capable of giving the Wildcats all they can handle. Wildcats freshman point guard Marquis Teague will have to continue to be stellar at running John Calipari’s club — something he’s done during the last three games, dishing out 26 points to only nine turnovers.
- Northwestern is maybe as close as its ever been to having a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament and a main reason why is the play of freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski. A major question coming into the season for the Wildcats was how they would replace the departed Michael “Juice” Thompson and Sobolewski
has answered the bell in a major way. Steady under pressure and unafraid to take big shots in big moments, Sobolewski has helped keep hope alive in Evanston — and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish at a school that’s never reached the field of 68.
- Ian Miller is really starting to get into an offensive groove for Florida State. Miller, who missed the first semester for academic reasons has relished in his role as a scorer off the bench and accumulated double figures in each of the last four games.
- Conference USA is not doing a good job at passing the eye test in terms of earning multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. On Saturday, league favorite Memphis lost at home to a .500 team in UTEP while Southern Miss fell on the road to lowly Houston. Don’t be shocked if this league only gets one team in the field of 68 — the same team that wins the Conference USA Tournament.
- America has been officially put on notice. Butler has won four straight games and is peaking in February —- again. Remember this name — Roosevelt Jones. It’s one you won’t want to forget.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: BAYLOR AT TEXAS
TUESDAY: KENTUCKY AT MISSISSIPPI STATE, GEORGETOWN AT SETON HALL, KANSAS STATE AT MISSOURI, MICHIGAN AT NORTHWESTERN
WEDNESDAY: MICHIGAN STATE AT MINNESOTA, WEST VIRGINIA AT NOTRE DAME
THURSDAY: DUKE AT FLORIDA STATE, LOUISVILLE AT CINCINNATI, BYU AT GONZAGA
What did you learn last week in college hoops? Sound off below!