By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. MIAMI NEEDS TO START BEING MENTIONED AMONG THE ELITE TEAMS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL
And as crazy as that sounds, it’s the truth. The Hurricanes haven’t just been good this season — they’ve been dominant. Jim Larranaga’s team beat North Carolina by 26 points on Saturday and now have a perfect 10-0 record in ACC play. Miami is 19-3 overall and has still yet to lose a game this season when they’ve had their entire roster at full strength. The Hurricanes are terrific defensively and possess the type of experience that wins in March. There’s absolutely no reason to think this team can’t go to a Final Four and win a national title.
2. OTTO PORTER IS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE BIG EAST
And if you watch him play, you’ll see why. The 6-8 forward doesn’t do any one thing great — but he does everything really, really well. Porter has carried Georgetown since the Hoyas lost Greg Whittington a few weeks ago for academic reasons, and has single handedly kept Georgetown in contention for a Big East title. “He’s been unbelievable,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said last week of Porter, whose averaging 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. “He’s doing everything for us. He’s a special kind of player.” The Hoyas are 17-4 overall and have a 7-3 mark in the Big East heading into tonight’s match up with Marquette.
3. MICHIGAN STATE IS VASTLY UNDER APPRECIATED
In a year in which the Big Ten has come to college basketball’s forefront, Sparty has somehow fallen slightly under the radar. Indiana and Michigan have both been regularly highlighted throughout this season, and it feels like Ohio State’s evolution is becoming more of a story than Michigan State’s consistency. Tom Izzo’s team can play big or small, and has two burgeoning stars in Keith Appling and Branden Dawson. There are 34 days from now until Selection Sunday — and we don’t know just where Sparty will be seeded — but we expect to see them in Atlanta during the first week in April.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK
1. KANSAS-KANSAS STATE ON MONDAY NIGHT
Will the Jayhawks break their three-game losing streak? It’s hard to see this team dropping back-to-back games at Allen Fieldhouse and extending their skid to four — but beating Kansas State is not going to be an easy task. The Wildcats are currently in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and are playing with great confidence under Bruce Weber. Bill Self’s team is ready for a bounce back game and we expect them to have one against the Wildcats, but this isn’t the same team that Kansas beat a few weeks ago in Manhattan.
2. KENTUCKY’S TRIP TO GAINESVILLE ON TUESDAY
Trial by fire? Absolutely. John Calipari is doing a tremendous job molding his young team together, but taking a trip to Gainesville to play Florida will represent the toughest task that Kentucky has had this season. Nothing speaks more about a team’s identity than how they handle an adverse situation, and the Wildcats are guaranteed to face just that on Tuesday night. Calipari pushed all the right buttons a few weeks ago when his team beat Ole Miss in Oxford, but going on the road and playing Florida is definitely stepping up a weight class. We’ll know a lot more about Kentucky after this game.
3. SAN DIEGO STATE’S BATTLE WITH COLORADO STATE ON WEDNESDAY
This is the first of two monumental tasks in a four-day stretch for the Aztecs. Steve Fisher’s team will take on the Rams in Fort Collins on Wednesday and then head to UNLV on Saturday. San Diego State clearly isn’t the same team without point guard Xavier Thames, who continues to nurse a nagging back injury. It will be interesting to see if the Aztecs can win on the road in a hostile environment without one of their most valuable players.
THIS AND THAT:
- VCU will be a different team if junior guard Rob Brandenberg continues to play the way he did in the Rams’ 68-61 win at Charlotte on Saturday night. The 6-2 Brandenberg scored 21 points and made three three-point shots in the victory over the 49ers, giving VCU another scorer to go with their usual cast of characters. “When Rob makes shots, it opens things up for everyone else on our team,” Rams coach Shaka Smart said of Brandenberg, whose averaging 10.2 points per game on the season. “We need him to be a factor for us on a regular basis.” VCU is currently 19-5 and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10.
- Oklahoma looks like an NCAA Tournament team after Saturday’s home win over Kansas. The Sooners are now 15-7 overall and already have wins over the Jayhawks and Oklahoma State. Lon Kruger’s team has eight games remaining before the Big 12 Tournament and only one game on that slate features a team that is currently ranked in the Top 25.
- Cincinnati’s offensive struggles have officially become a major concern. The Bearcats scored a combined 102 points in losses last week to Providence and Pitt, with Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combining to go 3-of-20 from three-point range against the Panthers. This team has no reliable third scorer after their two standout guards, who have to score close to 40 points combined to give their team a chance to win.
- How has Towson gone from one win a year ago to 14 already this season? Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon. The 6-8 power forward is averaging 17.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, and already has 17 double-doubles on the season. Pat Skerry’s team is second in the CAA standings with a 9-4 mark in conference play. It’s too bad a low APR situation will keep this team out of playing in their league tournament in March.
- The loss of reserve big man Aaron Jones could wind up being a big blow for Ole Miss. The 6-9 Jones was a key reserve up front and added critical depth on the baseline behind Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. With Jones out for the year with a torn ACL, Andy Kennedy is going to have to find another capable contributor up front off the bench.
- Wisconsin does an unbelievable job of playing aggressive defense without fouling. In Saturday’s overtime win against Michigan, the Badgers committed just eight fouls in 45 minutes. Bo Ryan’s teams simply don’t beat themselves. Discipline!
- Memphis wouldn’t have 20 wins this early in the season without a reserve like Chris Crawford. “He’s so underrated,” Tigers coach Josh Pastner said of Crawford last week. “He does so many things that people don’t see. He’s a key player for us.” The 6-4 Crawford regularly plays in the shadows behind Joe Jackson but adds incredible balance to Memphis. The 6-4 guard is averaging 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds. and 3.5 assists per game for the 20-3 Tigers.
- Illinois State’s win at Creighton on Saturday night reminded everyone why people were so high on the Redbirds early in the season. First-year coach Dan Muller has an exceptionally talented team and a gem in power forward Jackie Carmichael. At 15-10, Illinois State is a long shot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they can continue to build momentum this week with games at home against Bradley and Wichita State.
- UCLA point guard Larry Drew has dished out 35 assists while only committing 10 turnovers in his last five games. Drew also hit a jumper at the buzzer to lift the Bruins over Washington last week. Think North Carolina could use this guy this season? The former Tarheels’ floor general is flat out flourishing in Westwood. UCLA is 18-6 overall with an 8-3 mark in the PAC-12 — and they wouldn’t come close to that type of a record without Drew.
- I’ve never seen a college basketball season with so much unpredictability. The sport has a completely different story line almost every 24 hours and that’s part of what it makes it so special. Just when we think we know what to expect, the exact opposite happens. College basketball — where the unexpected becomes the ordinary.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: KANSAS STATE AT KANSAS, MARQUETTE AT GEORGETOWN
TUESDAY: KENTUCKY AT FLORIDA, MICHIGAN AT MICHIGAN STATE
WEDNESDAY: NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE, SYRACUSE AT UCONN, SAN DIEGO STATE AT COLORADO STATE
THURSDAY: ST. JOHN’S AT LOUISVILLE, GONZAGA AT SAINT MARY’S, ARIZONA AT COLORADO, WISCONSIN AT MINNESOTA
Your thoughts around the college basketball scene? Be heard in the comments!