By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. THIS MAY BE THE BEST COACHING JOB JAY WRIGHT HAS DONE AT VILLANOVA
And it will only be enhanced if the Wildcats reach the NCAA Tournament. Villanova only won 13 games last season and lost their starting back court in Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, — but thanks to Wright — this team has rediscovered the identity that originally allowed them to become one of the elite programs in the country. This particular squad doesn’t have a vintage Villanova guard like Randy Foye or Scottie Reynolds, but the Wildcats are tough as nails, and have gotten better as the season has progressed. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono has scored 23 or more points on four separate occasions, and has given this team the type of intangibles they lacked last season. Villanova is now 7-6 in Big East play, and it says here they’ll reach the field of 68 as long as they get to 10 conference victories.
2. BRUCE WEBER SHOULD BE THE BIG 12 COACH OF THE YEAR
We all expected the Wildcats to have a solid season, but Weber has really done a tremendous job with this group. The core of Kansas State’s team was recruited and coached by Frank Martin before he left for South Carolina, and Weber has added his own little wrinkles to make this team into a unit that’s tied for first place in the Big 12. Weber always plays with two point guards on the floor at the same time, and has moved 6-6 wing Shane Southwell to power forward to maximize spacing on offense. The 20-5 Wildcats have a favorable schedule down the stretch and should be in the mix for a three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
3. FLORIDA STILL LOOKS LIKE THE BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Even without a valuable reserve like Will Yeguete, the Gators don’t miss a beat. Florida has replaced Yeguete’s energy with bouncy forward Casey Prather — and even though they lost a few weeks ago at Arkansas — Billy Donovan’s team still looks like the best college basketball has to offer. The Gators will be tested when they travel to Missouri on Tuesday, but we’re still putting our money on this team when the brackets come out in 27 days. The big X-factor for the Gators could be freshman shooting guard Michael Frazier, who made six three-pointers in Saturday’s win at Auburn.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. INDIANA-MICHIGAN STATE ON TUESDAY NIGHT IN EAST LANSING
The Spartans have only lost once in 2013 and that was against the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. Michigan State has the size, experience, and role allocation to win the Big Ten and go far in the NCAA Tournament. Tom Izzo’s team doesn’t have one dominant star, but they’re extremely balanced, and have a really solid reserve in freshman Denzel Valentine. Indiana has been viewed by many all season as the best team in college basketball, and the Hoosiers will only augment that notion with a road win in East Lansing.
2. VCU’S TRIP TO SAINT LOUIS
It’s no secret that Shaka Smart’s “HAVOC” style doesn’t work as well on the road, and it will be interesting to see if the Rams can rattle the poised, experienced Billikens. Saint Louis has won seven straight games and looks like a team that could be an absolute nuisance to play in the NCAA Tournament. The X-Factor in this game will be Kwamain Mitchell, the Billikens’ fifth-year point guard, who along with Mike McCall will be responsible for dealing with VCU’s all-out defensive attack. Tip off is at 9 PM ET on Tuesday on CBS Sports Network.
3. LA SALLE-TEMPLE ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN PHILADELPHIA
Just how good are the Explorers? Good enough to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. La Salle has the most underrated back court in college basketball and the best floor general no one knows about in junior point guard Tyreek Duren. Dr. John Giannini looks like he has the best team in Philadelphia, but Temple needs this game to keep their NCAA hopes alive. The Owls haven’t been guarding opponents well all season and could have a tough time matching up with La Salle’s deep array of scorers. This game will be fast paced and could get into the 80’s. Tip off is at 7 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
THIS AND THAT:
– Maryland put itself back into the NCAA Tournament discussion with Saturday’s win over Duke. The Terps are now 18-7 and 6-6 in the ACC with victories over the Blue Devils and NC State. Mark Turgeon’s team has no bad losses on their resume and will probably have to win four of their final six games to be in contention for a spot in the field of 68. Maryland closes the regular season with two potential huge games against North Carolina and Virginia — two teams they’ll likely be competing with for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
– It’s going to be tough for Cincinnati to win games down the stretch against quality teams in the Big East if Cashmere Wright continues to struggle offensively. The Bearcats have had issues all season long putting the ball in the basket, and Wright hasn’t been the same player since he suffered a knee injury about a month ago. In the eight games Wright has played since the injury, he’s only made 8-of-49 three-point attempts. Cincinnati is 7-6 in Big East play and travels to UConn on Thursday.
– Memphis and Gonzaga are two teams that are going to be difficult to evaluate prior to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers and Bulldogs are both having terrific seasons, but they’re going to go through a very long period without playing a team that’s likely to wind up in the field of 68. Memphis is destined to run right through Conference-USA once again and Gonzaga is primed to dominate the WCC. Josh Pastner’s team does have a game on February 26th at Xavier, but it’s awfully hard to gauge just how good these teams are without consistently seeing them against higher level competition.
– Kadeem Batts is turning into a monster for Providence. The 6-10 junior has scored 20 or more points in four of his last five games and is averaging 14.9 points and 7.0 rebounds on the season. Player development is one of the most important areas of every program and Ed Cooley and his staff continue to make players better over the course of time. In addition to Batts, Cooley and his staff have turned Bryce Cotton into the Big East’s leading scorer after he was initially a role player. The Friars have won four straight and are 6-7 in league play. You won’t want to play this team over the next month. Providence can score the ball from all areas on the floor and have three capable guards in Cotton, Kris Dunn, and Vincent “Lead” Council.
– He may never put up big numbers in the box score, but Aaron Bowen has had a role in Georgetown’s recent resurgence. The 6-6 sophomore forward became a rotation player for the Hoyas when they lost Greg Whittington about a month ago. While Bowen rarely shoots or does anything of note, he’s a capable reserve that simply doesn’t make mistakes. The Hoyas have won seven games in a row and are 19-4 overall.
– Boston College’s Ryan Anderson could be a first-team All-ACC type player next season if he just develops an outside shot. The 6-8 forward has terrific skills and an incredible feel — but he’s made just three three-point shots this season. Anderson could be a lethal stretch four-man if he adds range to his offensive repertoire. Through 25 games, Anderson is averaging 15.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest.
– Harvard sophomore big man Kenyatta Smith had himself one heck of a weekend. In two games versus Penn and Princeton, the 6-8 sophomore scored 34 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and also blocked 16 shots. The Crimson are now alone in first place in the Ivy League with a 7-1 mark and could have a completely different look down the stretch if Smith continues to progress into a dominant low post threat.
– Mark Fox has quietly done a solid job this season at Georgia. The Bulldogs lost two games last week but Fox has gotten his team to share the ball and play unselfishly on both ends of the floor. Georgia won’t go to the NCAA Tournament this season, but Fox should return a solid young core next year with guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Charles Mann, and Kenny Gaines along with skilled big man Nemanja Djurisic. The Bulldogs are 6-6 in SEC play and next play at Arkansas on Thursday.
– How efficient is Stony Brook freshman Jameel Warney? The 6-8, 255 pound power forward has made 18 of his last 20 shots from the floor, and leads the Seawolves in both scoring (12 PPG) and rebounding (7.6 RPG). Steve Pikiell’s team could be a really tough out for someone in the NCAA Tournament if they win the America East and reach the field of 68. Stony Brook is currently 19-6 overall and 10-2 in league play.
– Looking forward to doing sidelines/halftime for tonight’s tilt between Lehigh and Bucknell. Tip off is at 7 PM on CBS Sports Network. Both teams are tied atop the Patriot League with identical 8-2 records in conference play.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: NOTRE DAME AT PITT, BUCKNELL AT LEHIGH
TUESDAY: INDIANA AT MICHIGAN STATE, VIRGINIA AT MIAMI, FLORIDA AT MISSOURI, VCU AT SAINT LOUIS, WICHITA STATE AT INDIANA STATE
WEDNESDAY: PROVIDENCE AT SYRACUSE, KANSAS AT OKLAHOMA STATE, COLORADO STATE AT UNLV, MINNESOTA AT OHIO STATE
THURSDAY: CALIFORNIA AT OREGON, LA SALLE AT TEMPLE, CINCINNATI AT UCONN
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