By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. JERMAINE MARSHALL HAS BEEN ONE OF THE NATION’S BEST TRANSFERS
And because of that the Sun Devils are in position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. Marshall scored 29 points in Friday night’s double-overtime win over Arizona and has averaged 16.2 PPG this season. The 6-4 guard has already made 64 three-point shots and is shooting 44 percent from behind the arc in 2013-14. Marshall has scored 22 or more points in four of Arizona State’s last five games. Herb Sendek’s team is 19-6 overall and 8-4 in Pac-12 play.
2. MARCUS PAIGE IS QUIETLY HAVING A FIRST-TEAM ALL-ACC TYPE SEASON
The 6-1 sophomore makes timely shots whenever they’re needed and has been the Tar Heels’ alpha dog in every game they’ve played this season. Paige is averaging 17.0 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting just under 43 percent from the field. Last year as a freshman, Paige only averaged 8.2 PPG and has improved as much as any player in college basketball. North Carolina is currently 17-7 and has won six consecutive games.
3. THE BIG 12 IS BETTER THAN IT WAS A WEEK AGO
And that’s because of Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won three of their last four games and have made the best conference in college basketball even deeper. Tubby Smith’s squad has already beaten Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma in league play and took Iowa State to the wire on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. Ninety percent of this conference is a tough out. You can’t say that about most leagues in America.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. TEXAS AT IOWA STATE ON TUESDAY
The Big 12 is the gift that keeps on giving. Every other day it feels like there’s another terrific match up and this showdown between the Longhorns and Cyclones features the two main challengers to Kansas for the conference title. The biggest key in this game? Can Texas’ front court duo of Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley be versatile enough defensively to guard the shot making ability of Iowa State’s baseline tandem of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang? Whichever team gets more production in the front court will win the game.
2. KENTUCKY’S TRIP TO OXFORD ON TUESDAY TO FACE OLE MISS
How will the Wildcats respond after Saturday’s tough loss against Florida? And more importantly, will they be able to respond in a positive way on the road? The Rebels are at a crossroads. Ole Miss lost two games last week to Alabama and Georgia and will host Kentucky and then Florida in a span of a few days. If Andy Kennedy’s team has any aspirations of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, they need to cash in on these next few opportunities.
3. DUKE-NORTH CAROLINA ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN CHAPEL HILL
Inclement weather pushed this game back about eight days but it now begins what will be a memorable couple of days in the “triangle.” Duke travels to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels and then it will host Syracuse on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils narrowly escaped last Saturday against Maryland and got terrific play down the stretch from sophomore forward Amile Jefferson, who made several key plays in crunch time. They’ll need Jefferson to do more of the same on Thursday against North Carolina’s front court of James Michael-McAdoo, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks.
THIS AND THAT:
– Cincinnati’s freshmen trio of Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson, and Jermaine Lawrence has appeared to hit a bit of a wall. The triumvirate combined to score just two points in the Bearcats’ win over Houston on Saturday and needs to give this team a lift in reserve if Cincinnati is to be the team it hopes to be in March. Mick Cronin’s squad is currently 23-3 overall and 12-1 in AAC play.
– The Maryland team that played Duke down to the wire on Saturday was the same team I saw last July before the Terps went on their foreign tour to the Bahamas. Mark Turgeon’s squad battled the Blue Devils for 40 minutes and came up just short against one of the best teams in college basketball. Maryland has been inconsistent for most of the season but Saturday’s performance reiterated that this team has the capabilities to compete against anyone. The Terps are much more capable than their 14-12 record indicates.
– Saint Joseph’s continues to walk, talk, and perform like an NCAA Tournament team. The Hawks were extremely impressive in Saturday’s victory at La Salle and are now 17-7 overall and 7-3 in Atlantic 10 play. Phil Martelli’s squad has really improved since early December.
– The biggest thing I learned from watching Harvard in person this past weekend? Steve Moundou-Missi’s face up game has reached another level. The 6-7 junior is now a legitimate threat facing the basket and is making perimeter shots with regularity. Moundou-Missi made 11-of-17 shots from the field during the Crimson’s two games this past weekend at Columbia and Cornell. Tommy Amaker’s team is 20-4 overall and tied with Yale for first place in the Ivy League.
– Coaches have always said that it’s often harder to sustain success than to achieve it the first time and Indiana is a perfect example of just that. After reaching back-to-back Sweet 16’s, the Hoosiers are 14-11 overall and 4-8 in Big Ten play after Saturday’s 18-point loss at Purdue.
– What a difference a year makes for New Mexico. Last year at this time, the Lobos were being talked about as one of the hottest teams in college basketball and were a trendy pick to do major damage in the NCAA Tournament. These days no one is talking about this squad, and that may be a good thing. New Mexico has four starters back from last year’s team that lost to Harvard in the second round of the field of 68 and is flying completely under the radar nationally. Ask yourself this question. Would you want to face a team in March that has three proven seniors like Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk, and Cameron Bairstow?
– Every day I ask myself the same question. Who is the third team in the SEC that will make the NCAA Tournament other than Florida and Kentucky? Yep, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me too.
– One of the most improved players in the country that no one’s talking about is UCLA’s Norman Powell. The 6-4 guard is averaging 11.3 PPG as a junior after tallying just 6.1 PPG last season as a sophomore. Powell is also attacking the rim more and has gotten to the free throw line 73 times this year after only reaching the stripe 40 times a season ago.
– Buzz Williams has led Marquette back to respectability. The Golden Eagles are now 15-10 after Saturday’s win over Xavier and like most of Williams’ teams, have gotten progressively better as the season has gone along. Marquette may not make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Williams has been at the Milwaukee school, but it’s not going down without a fight. The Golden Eagles next host Creighton on Wednesday.
– Looking forward to being in Baltimore for tonight’s game between Delaware and Towson. The Blue Hens are a perfect 11-0 in CAA play and the Tigers have arguably the league’s best player in rugged forward Jerrelle Benimon, who had 21 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists in Saturday’s win over William & Mary.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: OKLAHOMA STATE AT BAYLOR, NORTH CAROLINA AT FLORIDA STATE
TUESDAY: KANSAS AT TEXAS TECH, TEXAS AT IOWA STATE, UTAH STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
WEDNESDAY: ARIZONA AT UTAH, CREIGHTON AT MARQUETTE, UCLA AT CAL, NEW MEXICO AT UNLV
THURSDAY: DUKE AT NORTH CAROLINA, MICHIGAN STATE AT PURDUE
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