By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. IT’S GOING TO TAKE A REALLY GOOD TEAM TO BEAT VIRGINIA IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
And that’s because the Cavaliers certainly aren’t going to beat themselves. Virginia displayed great patience in Saturday’s win against Syracuse and simply isn’t going to put itself in a position where they make enough mistakes to lose a game. Against the Orange, Tony Bennett’s team dished out 19 assists and only committed six turnovers. The Cavaliers have been able to win ACC regular season title by playing unselfish, cohesive basketball and expect that trend to continue in the postseason. In a year that’s been regularly defined by the individual, Virginia epitomizes the team concept.
2. KENTUCKY IS TANGIBLE PROOF THAT PEOPLE SHOULD PUT LESS STOCK IN RECRUITING RANKINGS WHEN THEY MAKE PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
Most of us were guilty of it. I know I was. The Wildcats had supposedly assembled arguably the best recruiting class college basketball had ever seen and were supposed to give John Calipari the type of roster he needed to bounce back from last year’s appearance in the NIT. Neither of which have happened. Kentucky won’t play in the NIT this season, but how deep it’s able to go in the NCAA Tournament is still very much in question after Saturday’s ugly loss at South Carolina. Moving forward, let’s all cool on the hype before these guys actually produce in a college game.
3. SYRACUSE CAN’T ADVANCE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT WITHOUT A HEALTHY JERAMI GRANT
And they didn’t have that in their last two games at Maryland and Virginia. Grant only played a combined 23 minutes against the Terps and Cavaliers due to a lingering back issue, and the Orange don’t have the depth to absorb that kind of loss. The 6-8 forward didn’t play in the second half of Saturday’s loss in Charlottesville, and he will have to get healthy if Syracuse is to close out the regular season strong and earn a one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. LOUISVILLE’S TRIP TO SMU WEDNESDAY
Moody Coliseum has quickly become a hidden gem. The Mustangs’ home court advantage has been terrific already this season for games against Memphis, UConn, and Cincinnati and it’s hard not to think things will get to another level when SMU hosts the defending national champions. Louisville has the ability to go to a third consecutive Final Four, but Rick Pitino’s team lacked killer instinct in the final minutes of Saturday’s loss at Memphis. Larry Brown’s squad has the depth and size to wear down the Cardinals, and are an impressive 23-6 overall heading into this game. Tip off is Wednesday at 7 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
2. DAYTON’S GAME AT SAINT LOUIS WEDNESDAY
The Atlantic 10 still has a chance to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament after the Flyers beat UMass at home on Saturday and Archie Miller’s team can take another step towards the field of 68 with a win against the Billikens. Saint Louis has lost two consecutive games after being 25-2 and has to finish its regular season in Amherst against UMass on Sunday. This is a battle between one team trying to get into the NCAA Tournament against another trying to end a two-game losing streak. Tip off is Wednesday at 9 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
3. SEEING HOW MICHIGAN STATE PLAYS AT HOME ON THURSDAY WITH IOWA
The Spartans fascinate me. Many including myself believed that once Sparty got everyone back healthy, they’d be clearly the best team in college basketball. Well, Tom Izzo’s team got everyone back healthy on Saturday against Illinois and what happened? His team lost at home by seven. Michigan State needs time to blend its pieces together and Iowa needs to start getting better defensively. The Hawkeyes have to start stopping people if they’re going to have a chance to win in the NCAA Tournament.
THIS AND THAT:
– Oklahoma is the type of six or seven seed that could beat a two or three seed in the Round of 32 and advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners have very good guards in Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, and Buddy Hield along with an elite coach in Lon Kruger.
– There’s something to be said for winning the games that you’re supposed to win. Pitt has let opportunities slip away against Syracuse, North Carolina, and Virginia but the Panthers are still 22-7 and will clearly play in another NCAA Tournament. Jamie Dixon’s team lost a lottery pick after last season in 7-footer Steven Adams along with a veteran point guard in Tray Woodall and they still are going to be back in the field of 68. The Panthers have also had to play the majority of the ACC slate without their top perimeter shooter Durand Johnson, who tore his ACL in early January. A lot of programs would love to trade positions with Pitt right now. Trust me.
– Boston University is a perfect example of a school that won during realignment. The Terriers didn’t chase money or fame and instead went to a league that fit their profile instead of trying to push a boulder up a hill in the Atlantic 10. The initial result? Joe Jones’ team won the Patriot League regular season title and will have home court advantage during the conference tournament.
– UNLV’s Deville Smith is playing like the point guard the Runnin Rebels’ thought they were going to have at the beginning of the season. Smith is averaging 16.3 points and 4.0 assists over his last three contests as UNLV has now won two straight heading into Wednesday night’s game in Las Vegas against San Diego State. Dave Rice’s team is 19-10 and trending upward. You won’t want to play this team in the Mountain West Tournament.
– Another reason to love Florida? In the Gators’ win over LSU on Saturday, none of their starters took more than eight shots. Two of them took seven and two others took eight. Think this team knows what it’s like to sacrifice a bit? Billy Donovan’s team has won 21 straight games.
– Harvard senior Laurent Rivard has had one heck of a career with the Crimson. The 6-5 wing has made 60 or more three-point shots in four consecutive seasons and has an excellent chance to be a part of a three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Tommy Amaker’s team can clinch the Ivy League title with a win at Yale on Friday. Rivard is averaging 9.8 PPG this season and is shooting an impressive 42.5% from three-point range.
– Xavier freshman Jalen Reynolds had himself a week. The 6-9 power forward had a combined 23 points and 25 rebounds in wins over Creighton and St. John’s. The Musketeers aren’t just a team that’s going to make the NCAA Tournament. They can win in the NCAA Tournament.
– Think Delaware missed Jarvis Threatt? In his two games back from suspension, the 6-2 guard is averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 steals. The Blue Hens won the CAA regular season title and will be the top seed in the conference tournament. Look for this league to be decided between Delaware and Towson.
– Illinois freshman Kendrick Nunn is getting better right before our eyes. The 6-4 lefty has played 30 or more minutes in his last six games and is averaging 12.1 PPG during that span. John Groce’s team looked like they were an afterthought in the Big Ten. And then they beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday. The Illini are 17-12 overall and 6-10 in Big Ten play.
– I’m starting to think that this season’s NCAA Tournament might wind up like 2011 when UConn played Butler in the national title game. The Huskies were 9-9 in the Big East that year before winning 11 straight games in March while the Bulldogs were an eight seed out of the Horizon League. Going to be one heck of a March — as usual.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: KANSAS STATE AT OKLAHOMA STATE, NC STATE AT PITT
TUESDAY: CREIGHTON AT GEORGETOWN, IOWA STATE AT BAYLOR, ARIZONA STATE AT OREGON, MARQUETTE AT PROVIDENCE
WEDNESDAY: LOUISVILLE AT SMU, DAYTON AT SAINT LOUIS, SAN DIEGO STATE AT UNLV, NEBRASKA AT INDIANA, WEST VIRGINIA AT OKLAHOMA
THURSDAY: VILLANOVA AT XAVIER, MEMPHIS AT CINCINNATI, VCU AT RICHMOND, IOWA AT MICHIGAN STATE
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