By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. KENTUCKY COULD LOSE ITS FIRST NCAA GAME OR MAKE THE FINAL FOUR
The Wildcats have elite talent and can beat anyone in the country, but they’re also susceptible to a potential early upset in the NCAA Tournament. This squad is very similar to the 2011 Kentucky team that made the Final Four behind the core of Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones. That unit was a four-seed in the field of 68 that beat Princeton by 2 points in the Round of 64 and then found a way to win three more games and advance to the Final Four.
2. VCU’S ARDUOUS ATLANTIC 10 ROAD SCHEDULE WILL MAKE THEM BETTER IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
If it feels like the Rams are always playing tough games on the road in conference play, it’s because they are. VCU has already traveled to La Salle, Dayton, Saint Louis, UMass, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s while a date with rival Richmond looms on March 6. The Rams may be 20-7 overall and 8-4 in the Atlantic 10, but they may be better than their record indicates because they’ve had to deal with a bit of a gauntlet in terms of their schedule. Don’t be surprised if this team hits its stride at the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
3. LIKE USUAL, LOUISVILLE IS TRENDING UPWARDS IN FEBRUARY
History has proven that all of Rick Pitino’s teams get better as the season progresses and this group of Cards is no different. Louisville has now won six straight games after Saturday’s epic 58-57 win at Cincinnati and is clearly playing its best basketball at the right time. The Cards are 23-4 overall and 12-2 in conference play but close out the regular season with road games at Memphis and SMU along with a home tilt against UConn.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. SYRACUSE’S APPEARANCE IN COLLEGE PARK ON MONDAY
Maryland is due for a big win and the Orange are coming off an emotional loss on Saturday against Duke. The Terps haven’t had the type of season that many including myself expected them to have, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of beating Syracuse. This is the second game of a brutal stretch for Jim Boeheim’s team, who travels to Virginia on Saturday. I don’t think the Orange will look past Maryland, but I do think it’s going to take an incredibly well played game for Syracuse to leave College Park with a win.
2. OKLAHOMA’S TRIP TO KANSAS ON MONDAY
The Jayhawks are starting to look like the team with the highest ceiling in college basketball. Kansas dominated Texas from tip to buzzer on Saturday and was mightily impressive against the Longhorns. Oklahoma meanwhile, has the look for a sneaky good NCAA team, but I’m not sure if the Sooners have the ability the beat teams on Kansas’ level. It will be real interesting to see how Jordan Woodard, Buddy Hield, and company perform at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
3. ST. JOHN’S AND XAVIER TUESDAY NIGHT AT MSG
Both these teams need this game for their NCAA resumes and both will be very desperate when they take the floor at the World’s Most Famous Arena. The Musketeers won the first meeting between these two teams and have a win on their resume over Cincinnati, but Xavier still has to travel to Seton Hall and host both Villanova and Creighton before the Big East Tournament. St. John’s meanwhile has been terrific the past few weeks but doesn’t own any marquee wins on its resume except for a home victory against Creighton. This game will illustrate what life on the bubble is all about.
THIS AND THAT:
– Virginia freshman London Perrantes has played 91 minutes in the Cavaliers’ last three games and hasn’t committed a single turnover. The first-year floor general has been the missing piece for Tony Bennett’s team and is a big reason why Virginia is 23-5 overall and 14-1 in the ACC. The 6-2 Perrantes has 100 assists and just 28 turnovers on the season.
– A mid-major name to remember for March — Buffalo’s Javon McCrea. The 6-7 forward had 31 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ win over Kent State on Saturday and is good enough to lead Bobby Hurley’s squad to the MAC Tournament title. McCrea is averaging 18.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season.
– Mark Fox has rallied Georgia. The Bulldogs are 9-5 in conference play and currently sit in third place in the SEC standings behind Florida and Kentucky. Georgia likely won’t have enough on its resume to play its way into the NCAA Tournament, but Fox’s ability to X and O with just about anyone has the Bulldogs again overachieving.
– Kenny Chery has played at an All-Big 12 level for Baylor over the last 10 days. The 5-11 JUCO transfer is averaging 14.3 points, 7.7 assists, and 6.0 rebounds over the Bears’ last three games. Baylor is 19-9 overall and 6-8 in Big 12 play after Saturday’s impressive 88-75 win at West Virginia.
– DeVon Walker is quietly carving out a role in Florida’s rotation. The 6-6 sophomore has scored 19 points in the Gators’ last four games and has made 6-12 three-point shots during that span. Think a collegiate version of Bruce Bowen.
– Tennessee is officially one of the more disappointing teams in the country. The Vols looked like the consensus third best team in the SEC behind Florida and Kentucky, but Cuonzo Martin’s squad has never gotten into a rhythm this season. Tennessee is currently 16-11 overall and 7-7 in the SEC.
– Joining Conference USA hasn’t slowed down Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders are currently 21-7 overall and 11-2 in league play. Middle Tennessee is getting a heck of a year out of 6-foot-8 senior Shawn Jones, who’s averaging 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
– There is a big time game between two bubble teams on Tuesday night in Philadelphia when Dayton visits Saint Joseph’s at Hagan Arena. The Flyers are 19-8 overall and 7-5 in league play while the Hawks are 19-7 overall and 9-3 in league play. Tip off is at 7 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
– Don’t be shocked if Quinnipiac wins the MAAC and winds up in the NCAA Tournament. Why? No one rebounds like the Bobcats. Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame combined for 52 points and 31 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Niagara and are an absolute nuisance to keep off the glass. Tom Moore’s team is 14-4 and could wind up with the two seed in the MAAC Tournament.
– A note to college basketball fans. Teams on the bubble need quality wins to stand out. What is a quality win? A victory over a team that’s going to be in the NCAA Tournament. Anything else doesn’t count!
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: SYRACUSE AT MARYLAND, OKLAHOMA AT KANSAS
TUESDAY: IOWA AT MINNESOTA, DAYTON AT SAINT JOSEPH’S, XAVIER AT ST. JOHN’S
WEDNESDAY: CAL AT ARIZONA, WEST VIRGINIA AT IOWA STATE, BAYLOR AT TEXAS, STANFORD AT ARIZONA STATE
THURSDAY: ARKANSAS AT KENTUCKY, OREGON AT UCLA
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