By Jon Rothstein
» More Columns
THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. VIRGINIA IS A LEGITIMATE CONTENDER FOR THE ACC REGULAR-SEASON TITLE
The Cavaliers have lost one game in 2014 and it was a four-point defeat against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia plays terrific defense, shares the ball on offense, and has seven starters when you take into account how productive Justin Anderson (9.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Anthony Gill (7.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG) are as sixth and seventh men. This team is very much a threat to both Syracuse and Duke at the top of the ACC.
2. ARIZONA STATE LOOKS LIKE A TOURNAMENT TEAM
Teams that play in the field of 68 avoid bad losses and that’s just what the Sun Devils did last week. Arizona State won both its games against Oregon State and Oregon by a combined six points and got terrific play from 7-2 senior Jordan Bachynski, who had 26 points, nine rebounds, and nine blocks on Saturday against the Ducks. Herb Sendek’s team is currently 18-6 and 7-4 in Pac-12 play. Arizona State has a golden opportunity to enhance its resume on Friday night, when it hosts in-state rival Arizona.
3. OKLAHOMA STATE COULD MISS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The incident involving Marcus Smart and a fan at the Texas Tech game on Saturday night was a black eye for the sport, but the bigger issue here is the Cowboys could be in serious danger of missing the field of 68. After Saturday’s loss to the Red Raiders, Travis Ford’s team fell to 4-6 in Big 12 play and Oklahoma State still has to play at Texas, Iowa State and Baylor in addition to home games against Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. KANSAS’ TRIP TO THE OCTAGON OF DOOM
How good was Kansas State on Saturday against Texas? Really good. How good was Wildcats’ freshman Marcus Foster in the rout over the Longhorns? Better than good. Foster’s 34 points sparked a dominant performance over Texas and Bruce Weber’s team will need an even bigger effort against the Jayhawks. Bill Self’s team has all the requisites to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and is significantly more physically imposing than Kansas State. The Wildcats will need Foster and a host of others to upset Kansas, who more and more looks like one of the top three or four teams in the sport.
2. VCU’S REMATCH WITH GEORGE WASHINGTON
Mike Lonergan’s team was put on the map after its big win over the Rams in DC a few weeks ago and the rematch at the Siegel Center will be highly anticipated. George Washington has resembled an NCAA caliber team all season long but it’s yet to earn a quality road win against an opponent that’s bound for the field of 68. That would certainly change if the Colonials can complete a sweep of VCU, who’s coming off a tough loss at Saint Joseph’s.
3. ROUND ONE OF DUKE-NORTH CAROLINA ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT IN CHAPEL HILL
Do we need to say any more? College basketball’s best rivalry always takes center stage and this year will be no different. Duke seems to have turned the corner during the past few weeks while the Tar Heels have won five in a row against teams in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Elite competition has brought out the best in North Carolina this season. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues against Duke.
THIS AND THAT:
– What did SMU prove in its win over Cincinnati on Saturday night? The Mustangs aren’t just good enough to make the NCAA Tournament — they’re good enough to be a nuisance to play once they get there. Larry Brown’s team is terrific defensively, has legitimate depth, and shares the ball on offense. You won’t want to see SMU in your bracket on Selection Sunday. The Mustangs are 19-5 overall and 8-3 in AAC play.
– What has happened to Florida State? The Seminoles looked like a surefire NCAA team a few weeks ago but have since went into a major tailspin and lost four of their last five games. Leonard Hamilton’s team dropped to 5-6 in ACC play after Saturday’s loss at Maryland.
– The Ivy League got a whole lot more interesting after Yale’s win over Harvard in Cambridge on Saturday night. The Bulldogs and Crimson are now tied for first place at 5-1, but Tommy Amaker’s team still has to come to New Haven to play Yale on 3/7.
– Bobby Hurley has a gem in Buffalo’s Javon McCrea. The 6-7 forward had 25 points and 20 rebounds in the Bulls’ win at Central Michigan on Saturday and is averaging 17.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
– Pitt needs to get Lamar Patterson back on track. The Panthers’ star hasn’t shot the ball well in three of his last four games and has to score if Jamie Dixon’s team is to have a chance to win. Patterson (17.7 PPG) is just 14-51 from the field in his last four games.
– Tennessee is quietly getting good mileage out of freshman point guard Darius Thompson. In the Vols’ last four games, the 6-4 point guard has handed out 16 assists and only committed four turnovers. Getting a reliable floor general has been a season long issue for Cuonzo Martin’s team and Thompson’s emergence could be a story line to watch moving forward. Tennessee is 15-8 overall and 6-4 in SEC play.
– Xavier’s Semaj Christon (17.1 PPG) is one of the best scorers in the Big East but his defense was the key on Saturday against Providence. Christon’s length really bothered Friars’ guard Bryce Cotton, who was held to 11 points in the Musketeers’ 59-53 win. Cotton is currently leading the conference in scoring at 21.3 PPG.
– Saint Joseph’s forward Halil Kanacevic has become the Draymond Green of the Atlantic 10. The fifth-year senior had seven points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in the Hawks’ win over VCU on Saturday. The 6-8 Kanacevic is averaging 10.9 points, 4.4 assists, and 8.7 rebounds per game for Saint Joseph’s, who is 16-7 overall and 6-3 in the Atlantic 10.
– Findlay Prep’s Rashad Vaughn will announce his college decision on Tuesday and will commit to either UNLV or Iowa State. The 6-6 shooting guard is the top uncommitted prospect in the Class of 2014 and has Ben McLemore type ability. This will be an impact freshman to watch next season in college basketball.
– Prayers go out to former Butler star Andrew Smith, who was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma while playing professional basketball in Europe. Get well soon Andrew, we’re all thinking of you.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: KANSAS AT KANSAS STATE, IOWA STATE AT WEST VIRGINIA
TUESDAY: FLORIDA AT TENNESSEE, MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE, OKLAHOMA STATE AT TEXAS
WEDNESDAY: SYRACUSE AT PITT, GEORGE WASHINGTON AT VCU, DUKE AT NORTH CAROLINA
THURSDAY: NORTHWESTERN AT MICHIGAN STATE, COLORADO AT UCLA, ST. JOHN’S AT SETON HALL, MINNESOTA AT WISCONSIN