By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. JOEL EMBIID WILL BE THE TOP PICK IN THE 2014 NBA DRAFT
There’s one word to describe the 7-footer — dominant. While many people debated whether Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle would be college basketball’s elite freshman this season, Embiid is leaving all of those guys behind in the dust. In Kansas’ two wins last week over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, Embiid averaged 14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.5 blocks per game. One word. Dominant.
2. KENTUCKY NEEDS TO GET WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN TO GET BACK ON TRACK
For the Wildcats to be the team they hope to be in March, Cauley-Stein has to be a major contributor on a regular basis and he wasn’t in Kentucky’s two games this past week. Against Arkansas and Tennessee, Cauley-Stein combined for two points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. That’s unacceptable. The 7-footer has to get more immediately more productive if John Calipari’s team is going to win the SEC and earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
3. VIRGINIA IS A TOP-TIER ACC TEAM
The Cavaliers aren’t great, but have several capable players that all understand their roles and defend. Tony Bennett’s team has dominated four of its five ACC games and only lost when it played Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia may not have major star power other than Joe Harris, but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten about. This team is rock solid at all five spots on the floor.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK
1. CREIGHTON’S BATTLE WITH VILLANOVA ON MONDAY NIGHT IN PHILADELPHIA
This game may have lost a bit of its luster after the Bluejays lost to Providence on Saturday night in Rhode Island, but it still has the feel of a big-time matchup. The Wildcats have been far and away the best team in the Big East this season and Creighton boasts the conference’s best player in Doug McDermott. This should be great fun Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
2. INDIANA’S TRIP TO MICHIGAN STATE ON TUESDAY
The Hoosiers showed they couldn’t handle prosperity after they lost to Northwestern at home on Saturday after beating previously undefeated Wisconsin just days before at Assembly Hall. How will they respond to that type of disappointment? We’ll find out on Tuesday. East Lansing is not the place you want to go if you’re attempting to get back on track, but for Indiana to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to have to win a few games it’s not supposed to win. That starts with Tuesday night against the Spartans.
3. VCU’S CLASH WITH DAYTON ON WEDNESDAY
The Rams were dealt a tough hand in the Atlantic 10 and have to play the majority of their key games away from the Siegel Center. Can VCU get its vintage “HAVOC” style regularly going away from home? Time will tell. The Rams were able to actively pressure George Washington last Tuesday but still wound up losing to the Colonials by 10. The Atlantic 10 seems to prove its depth on a regular basis and this game will further illustrate just how good two of the better teams in the league are when VCU locks horns with the Flyers in what should be a high-level environment. Tip off is Wednesday night at 7 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
THIS AND THAT:
– Pitt’s zone offense against Syracuse on Saturday was the best I’ve seen in terms of attacking the Orange’s vintage 2-3. The Panthers didn’t force long three-point shots and regularly got touches right near the rim. Syracuse might have escaped with a narrow victory but Pitt proved they’re mighty good. Jamie Dixon’s team is 16-2 and 4-1 in the ACC heading into Tuesday night’s game against Clemson.
– Cal looks like the second best team in the Pac-12 and the conference’s top challenger to Arizona. The Bears have been banged up to start the season, but have weathered the storm and should get 6-6 wing Ricky Kreklow back this week from a wrist injury. Mike Montgomery’s team is 14-4 overall and 5-0 in league play.
– Canisius guard Billy Baron is good enough to play anywhere in the country. The 6-2 senior is built like a blacksmith and has the ability to drill shots from deep as soon as he takes a step over half court. Baron is averaging 23.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 44% from three-point range.
– An interesting stat regarding St. John’s. The Red Storm’s assist to turnover ratio on the season is just 13 to 10.
– Saint Louis has held its opponents to 60 points or less in every game since December 18th. The Billikens aren’t flashy, but they win. Jim Crews‘ team is 17-2 and undefeated in the Atlantic 10.
– Not enough people nationally are recognizing Providence’s Bryce Cotton. The senior guard has played every minute of the Friars’ last three games and scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and dished out eight assists in Providence’s double-overtime victory over St. John’s last week. Cotton is averaging 20.3 PPG.
– George Washington is a tournament team. Mike Lonergan’s squad is 15-3 overall and 3-1 in the Atlantic 10 after Saturday’s win at St. Bonaventure. The Colonials aren’t overwhelmingly talented, but have two BCS level bigs in Kevin Larsen and Isaiah Armwood along with a deep threat from the outside in Indiana transfer Maurice Creek. With each week that passes, it looks more and more like this team could very well compete for a conference title.
– Penn State has endured some of the most difficult losses I’ve seen a team endure during a three or four game stretch. The Nittany Lions are 0-6 in Big Ten play and have lost three of their last four games by a single possession. That’s brutal.
– La Salle is slowly resembling the team many thought they’d be at the start of the season. The Explorers seem to have figured out their rotation and have now won five games in a row heading into Wednesday night’s game at St. Bonaventure. Tip off is at 7 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
– Our thoughts and prayers go out to Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Pac-12 won’t be the same without you kid!
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: CREIGHTON AT VILLANOVA, BAYLOR AT KANSAS,
TUESDAY: INDIANA AT MICHIGAN STATE, TEXAS A & M AT KENTUCKY, KANSAS STATE AT TEXAS, BOISE STATE AT NEW MEXICO
WEDNESDAY: WISCONSIN AT MINNESOTA, IOWA AT MICHIGAN, VCU AT DAYTON
THURSDAY: COLORADO AT ARIZONA, STANFORD AT UCLA
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