By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. ED COOLEY HAS RALLIED PROVIDENCE
The Friars are now legitimately in the NCAA picture after five consecutive victories including wins over Creighton and Xavier. Providence lost three of its expected rotation players from the start of the season — Kris Dunn (injury), Brandon Austin (transfer), Rodney Bullock (suspension) — for various reasons, but have managed to right its ship thanks to Cooley and a proud cast of veterans led by senior guard Bryce Cotton. The 6-1 guard is averaging 20.3 PPG in an astronomical 39.4 MPG.
2. THE ENTIRE LANDSCAPE OF THE PAC-12 HAS CHANGED SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON
This conference looked like a legitimate six or seven bid conference at the start of the season but several different factors have changed the scope of things. Colorado losing Spencer Dinwiddie for the season to a torn ACL has drastically altered the Buffaloes’ outlook and Oregon’s recent slide has taken the Ducks from being a potential power to a virtual unknown. The Pac-12 is a bit of a mystery after Arizona, UCLA, and Cal.
3. JOHN BEILEIN IS THE ELITE OF THE ELITE
Michigan lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitch McGary from last year’s team that lost to Louisville in the national title game and the Wolverines are still perfect in Big Ten play. Beilein has proven at every stop he’s been at during his career that he’s an elite coach, but he’s outdoing himself this year. Michigan has several new rotation players despite its record, and has managed to get off to a miraculous start despite McGary’s injured back and sporadic point guard play. This is one of Beilein’s best coaching jobs by far.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. DUKE’S FIRST-EVER TRIP TO PITT
People in the Steel City have been waiting a long time for this. The Panthers program has had incredible success over the past decade under Jamie Dixon, but hosting a national opponent like the Blue Devils for the first-time ever adds an entirely different dimension. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Pitt was a top-five team nationally after the Panthers (18-2) beat the Terps Saturday in College Park. A win over Duke on Monday will only add serious credence to that statement.
2. IOWA STATE’S REMATCH WITH KANSAS
Let’s make this simple. The Cyclones aren’t going to shoot as poorly as they did the first time these two times met a few weeks ago at Hilton Coliseum. In the first meeting between these two teams, Iowa State shot 4-of-25 from three-point range and never seriously challenged the Jayhawks down the stretch. That’s not likely to happen a second time. Winning a game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse isn’t an easy thing to achieve, but the Cyclones are due to eventually beat Kansas.
3. MICHIGAN STATE’S TRIP TO IOWA TUESDAY
The Big Ten has a legitimate chance to send two teams to the Final Four this season and both these teams are part of that conversation. The Spartans have been banged up for the past few weeks but are still one of the toughest outs in college basketball while the Hawkeyes may be the deepest team in the sport. Iowa legitimately has 11 capable players and has been the exact same team in every game this season. There are no peaks and valleys with Fran McCaffery’s squad. Michigan State will find that out on Tuesday night.
THIS AND THAT:
– The most impressive part of Syracuse being 19-0? The Orange don’t have a returning starter in the back court. That’s a rarity in college basketball.
– Creighton’s Austin Chatman deserves more recognition as a point guard. In wins this past week over Villanova and Georgetown, the speedy floor general dished out 17 assists and only committed three turnovers. Chatman is a big reason why the Bluejays are in sole possession of first place in the Big East.
– Pitt’s Lamar Patterson is a legitimate candidate for ACC Player of the Year. The 6-5 fifth-year senior is averaging 17.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game and is shooting 44.3% from three-point range. There may be players in the ACC with more cache, but I’m not sure if those players mean as much to their respective teams as what Patterson means to the Panthers.
– Seton Hall has the DNA to be a dangerous team down the stretch in Big East play. The Pirates are finally healthy, and have a trio of capable of scorers in Sterling Gibbs, Fuquan Edwin, and Brian Oliver. Don’t be shocked to see the Pirates win a few games you don’t expect them to.
– Miami has a serious building block in freshman Davon Reed. Reed scored 16 points in 25 minutes in Saturday’s loss vs. Syracuse and has the makings of a very good ACC player down the road. The 6-6 Reed had 19 points when the Hurricanes beat Arizona State earlier in the season and will join a Miami perimeter next season that features transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) along with red shirt freshman Deandre Burnett.
– Cedrick Lindsay is quietly having a terrific senior year for Richmond. The 6-1 guard is averaging 18.6 PPG after just tallying 12.0 PPG last season as a junior. The Spiders are 14-6 overall and 4-1 in Atlantic 10 play.
– UNLV likely won’t have an NCAA resume on Selection Sunday but that doesn’t mean the Runnin Rebels aren’t talented enough to win the Mountain West Tournament on their home floor. Things to keep in mind for March!
– The early favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year is Rick Barnes. Despite losing its top four scorers from last season, Texas is 5-2 in Big 12 play and looks like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. Less is more? That’s definitely the story right now in Austin.
– A first-year head coach doing an unbelievable job? American’s Mike Brennan. The former Georgetown assistant has the entire Patriot League confused with his Princeton schemes on offense and has led the Eagles to an impressive 8-0 in conference play.
– If you’re in the New York area and love college basketball, do yourself a favor and attend Friday night’s Manhattan/Iona game in New Rochelle. A word to the wise — get there early. Tip off is slated for 9 PM ET.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: DUKE AT PITT, OKLAHOMA STATE AT OKLAHOMA
TUESDAY: MICHIGAN STATE AT IOWA, KENTUCKY AT LSU, VIRGINIA AT NOTRE DAME
WEDNESDAY: ARIZONA AT STANFORD, IOWA STATE AT KANSAS, RICHMOND AT SAINT LOUIS,
THURSDAY: CINCINNATI AT LOUISVILLE, PURDUE AT MICHIGAN
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