By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. SAINT LOUIS IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE ATLANTIC 10
And they’re good enough to play deep into the NCAA Tournament. The Billikens have all the ingredients to beat any team in the country, and are playing their best basketball at the perfect time. This team doesn’t have one dominant star, but the pieces on their roster fit together like a puzzle. Saint Louis has three savvy veteran guards in Kwamain Mitchell, Jordair Jett, and Mike McCall along with a plethora of capable forwards in Grandy Glaze,Cody Ellis, Dwayne Evans, and Rob Loe. Jim Crews’ team has now swept Butler and pounded both VCU and New Mexico. They’re for real.
2. THE ONLY PERSON THAT CAN STOP ALEX POYTHRESS IS HIMSELF
Kentucky’s freshman forward went six straight games without scoring in double figures before erupting for 21 points and seven rebounds in Saturday night’s overtime win against Missouri. Poythress is built like an adonis, and has all the tools to be one of the better players in college basketball. For the Wildcats to make the NCAA Tournament, they need Poythress to be regularly be a factor. John Calipari’s team is now 10-4 in SEC play and 19-8 overall.
3. OTTO PORTER MAY BE THE BEST PLAYER IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL
And he’s more valuable to his team than any other player in America. Georgetown has won nine games in a row and hasn’t lost since January 19. The Hoyas are currently in first place in the Big East (21-4 overall) — and they’re doing it without their second best player in Greg Whittington — who was suspended for academic reasons in early January. Porter means more to Georgetown than any other player means to his respective team in the sport. There’s a legitimate chance the 6-8 sophomore could win Big East player of the year, John Thompson III could be Big East coach of the year, and the Hoyas could win the conference. That’s what you call a clean sweep. Porter torched Syracuse on Saturday for 33 points, eight rebounds, and five steals in Georgetown’s 57-46 victory at the Carrier Dome.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. IOWA STATE-KANSAS ON MONDAY NIGHT IN AMES
The Cyclones have looked like the sleeper team in the Big 12 because of their offensive prowess, and they should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament if they find a way to win against the Jayhawks tonight. Iowa State had Kansas beat earlier in the year at Allen Fieldhouse, but lost a difficult game in overtime. The X-Factor in this high-level tilt? Cyclones freshman big man Georges Niang. The skilled forward made two three-point shots the first time these two teams played, and can bring Jeff Withey away from the basket thanks to his ability to make shots from the perimeter.
2. SYRACUSE’S VOYAGE TO MILWAUKEE TO FACE MARQUETTE ON MONDAY
Both of this teams are coming off losses and need a win to keep pace in the Big East standings. The Orange and the Golden Eagles are both currently tied with Louisville for second in the conference with a 10-4 mark in league play, and the team that’s wins this game will have the best chance at catching Georgetown for the Big East regular season title. Keep an eye on Marquette big man Davante Gardner, who could be a big factor on the interior against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
3. MEMPHIS’ TRIP TO XAVIER ON TUESDAY
Just how good are the Tigers? We’ll find out after they visit the Musketeers. Josh Pastner’s team has won 18 games in a row, but it’s tough to get a gauge on this group because they play in Conference-USA. Xavier will be a quality litmus test for Memphis, who has the best chemistry of any team Pastner has had since he’s been the Tigers’ head coach. A big key in this game will be whether or not the Musketeers have sophomore guard Dee Davis, who left Saturday’s game against VCU with an apparent concussion.
THIS AND THAT:
- Kadeem Jack is emerging for Rutgers. The 6-9 sophomore forward is averaging 13.5 points along with 8.5 rebounds in his last two games, and is finally showing the promise that made him of the nation’s most sought after recruits in 2011. The Scarlet Knights (13-13, 4-11) have had their struggles this season, but Jack looks like he’s primed for a breakout season next year as a junior. Keep an eye on this guy down the stretch.
- After being picked in the preseason to win the Atlantic 10, Saint Joseph’s has been a major disappointment — but the Hawks still have a golden opportunity on Wednesday when they travel to Saint Louis. Phil Martelli’s team is 15-10 overall and 6-6 in conference play, but a win over the Billikens could instantly change their season. Saint Joseph’s still has arguably the most talented roster in the Atlantic 10, and is capable of winning against any opponent left on their schedule. It will be interesting to see how they perform on Wednesday against one of the hotter teams in the sport. Tip off is at 8 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
- As Rob Brandenberg goes, so does VCU. The Rams are undefeated this year (11-0) when Brandenberg scores 11 points or more. Shaka Smart’s team trailed Xavier by 13 points at the half on Saturday before rallying for a dramatic 75-71 win on the road. VCU closes the season with home games against Butler and Richmond before heading to Philadelphia to play Temple on March 10th.
- A big reason for North Carolina’s three-game winning streak? The evolution of freshman point guard Marcus Paige. The southpaw has only had four turnovers in his last three games, and is finally balancing his distribution responsibilities with attacking the basket. Paige played his best game of the season on Saturday when the Tarheels beat NC State, finishing with 14 points, eight assists, and zero turnovers. Roy Williams’ team will be in the field of 68 — they’re getting better.
- After a promising three-game winning streak, Iowa took a real step backwards after their loss at Nebraska. The Hawkeyes looked like they were ready to be the eighth team from the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament, but losing to the Cornhuskers will make it extremely difficult for this squad to qualify for the field of 68. Fran McCaffery’s team finishes with three of their last four games at home, with the lone road tilt coming at Assembly Hall against Indiana. Unless Iowa wins that game or does major damage in the Big Ten Tournament, this team will likely be playing in the NIT.
- Jimmy Patsos still doesn’t get enough credit for the rebuilding job he’s done at Loyola. The Greyhounds have now won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history, and have a legitimate chance to win the MAAC for the second year in a row. This is all because of Patsos, who took over Loyola in 2004 after they won just one game in the season prior to his arrival.
- George Mason could be the team to watch in the CAA. Northeastern may have the best record in the conference, but only seven teams will be eligible to compete in the league tournament, and the Patriots have better personnel than any team they’ll play against. Sophomore center Erik Copes is finally healthy and has recently both scored and rebounded the ball at a high level. Paul Hewitt’s team has also gotten a lift from freshman guard Patrick Holloway, who had 15 points and made five three-point shots in Saturday’s win over William & Mary.
- The most underrated thing about Gonzaga? How well their guards take care of the ball. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell have a combined seven turnovers in their last five games and simply don’t beat themselves. The Bulldogs are currently 27-2, and look like they’re going to have a legitimate shot at a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- Binghamton may be 3-24 this season, but the Bearcats have a hidden gem in freshman Jordan Reed. The 6-4 Reed is averaging 16.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and already has had four games with 14 or more rebounds. Tommy Dempsey knew when he left Rider that rebuilding Binghamton would be a tall task, but the presence of Reed will help that accelerate that process.
- Penn State has not won a game yet in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions are getting better under Pat Chambers. This team has been shorthanded all season since they lost all-conference guard Tim Frazier to an achilles injury, but Chambers has gotten this group to buy in and compete. Penn State was extremely competitive in losses at Michigan and Illinois, and continue to get solid play from juniors Jermaine Marshall and Sasa Borovnjak. This team could make a jump next season when they get Frazier back and add Pitt transfer John Johnson.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: SYRACUSE AT MARQUETTE, KANSAS AT IOWA STATE
TUESDAY: INDIANA AT MINNESOTA, FLORIDA AT TENNESSEE, XAVIER AT MEMPHIS
WEDNESDAY: GEORGETOWN AT UCONN, SAN DIEGO STATE AT NEW MEXICO, SAINT JOSEPH’S AT SAINT LOUIS, ARIZONA STATE AT UCLA,
THURSDAY: DUKE AT VIRGINIA, GONZAGA AT BYU
Your thoughts around the CBB scene? Let Jon know in the comments!