After five consecutive weeks of teams moving up to the No. 1 spot one week and then back down the next as if there was a revolving door for the top spot, Indiana has held on to the No. 1 rank for the past three weeks. Miami (FL) has continued its ascent up in the polls from No. 25, No. 14, No. 8, and No. 3 to No. 2 and 23 first place votes behind the Hoosiers.
The Big East leads all conferences with six ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten with five and Big 12 with three.
With three weeks left of regular season conference play, here is my college basketball stock report:
Michigan State Spartans-(22-4, 11-2)-Ever since losing by five on the road to No. 7 Indiana, the Spartans have rattled off five wins in a row, including a 23-point drubbing of No. 4 Michigan. Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten with the opportunity to have sole possession of first place with a game against No. 1 Indiana tonight in East Lansing, Mich.
Georgetown Hoyas-(19-4, 9-3)-The Hoyas have taken advantage of Syracuse’s three losses in the Orange’s last six games; Georgetown has won seven straight games, including three against ranked Big East opponents, and is in a three-way tie for first place.
Gonzaga Bulldogs-(25-2, 12-0)-Gonzaga has won 16 of its last 17 games and the Bulldogs’ only loss in the new year was a one-point defeat at the hands of Roosevelt Jones and the Butler Bulldogs on the road. Gonzaga played and defeated the four teams remaining on its schedule by an average of nearly 13 points this season. It would be no surprise if the Bulldogs do not lose until the NCAA Tournament.
Butler Bulldogs-(21-5, 8-3)-Butler has proven that its best is very good after the Bulldogs defeated No. 1 Indiana in December. However, Butler has lost three of its past eight games. Even though the Bulldogs play in an improved A-10, they have gradually fallen from their top 10 ranking.
Michigan Wolverines-(22-4, 9-4)-There is no doubt that the Wolverines have a roster that has the ability to play in Atlanta for the Final Four but Michigan has slipped up several times lately. The Wolverines lost three of their past five games. All four of Michigan’s losses this season have come on the road and the No. 7 team in the country will have to be able to play away from Ann Arbor, Mich. in order to go deep in the tournament.
Cincinnati Bearcats-(19-7, 7-6)-Cincinnati has been ranked for most of the season but fell out of the top 25 this week after losing three of their past four games and four of seven. All of the Bearcats’ losses have been by ten points or fewer, with four of them being by less than five points, UC has struggled to emerge as one of the best teams in the Big East. Cincinnati is tied for ninth in the conference with games against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville remaining on its schedule. The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 3 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projected NCAA Tournament but they are falling quickly.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish-(21-6, 9-5)-In the past two weeks, Notre Dame defeated No. 11 Louisville in five overtimes and No. 20 Pittsburgh on the road. However, the Fighting Irish also lost to No. 9 Syracuse by 16 and unranked Providence by 17. Notre Dame has a lot of potential but the team has been too inconsistent.
Marquette Golden Eagles-(18-6, 9-3)-With the exception of a loss at Green Bay in December, Marquette does not have any horrible losses this season. The Golden Eagles were routed by Florida and Louisville, two teams that have been at the top of the polls for most of the season, but they have faired well in their conference schedule. Marquette hasn’t proven that it’s a great team but has exceeded expectations in one of college basketball’s toughest conferences. With four road games and two matchups against ranked opponents remaining on their schedule, the Golden Eagles have a challenging home stretch before the Big East Tournament.
Christmas break in college is the ultimate vacation. There is no school work for which one is responsible and there are few responsibilities or expectations. My family spent the day before Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, which meant that I was given the choice between sleeping on a couch in the family room and the floor of a bedroom. Naturally, I took the couch but that meant that I had to listen to the incessant drone on my grandpa listening to Storage Wars. The sound of the auctioneer rattling off steadily increasing prices and featured buyer Dave Hester’s constant shouts of “YUPPP” had virtually the same effect as Chinese water torture and falling asleep while the TV was on quickly became out of the question.
I checked my phone one last time before bed to see if the Seattle Seahawks managed to drop fifty points on the San Francisco 49’ers and saw that there was one featured game on ESPN’s ScoreCenter mobile app that hadn’t started: No. 4 Arizona v. Miami (FL) in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. I grabbed my Skullcandy noise-cancelling headphones, an early Christmas present that I had received just hours earlier, and said goodbye to the obnoxious catch phrases of Storage Wars and hello to late night hoops on WatchESPN that carried me into the early hours of Christmas Eve.
It has been a lot of fun watching the Arizona Wildcats play this season because of thier coach, Sean Miller, and senior point guard Mark Lyons. Miller and Lyons are one of my favorite coaches and players, respectively, in college basketball after following them for years at Xavier University. Miller was at Xavier from 2004 until 2009 and took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. Lyons was on two Sweet Sixteen teams in 2010 and 2012.
The Miami Hurricanes entered the matchup against Arizona with an 8-1 record. It was the ‘Canes’ second game in a 24-hour period after defeating Hawaii, the host school, in a matchup that tipped off at 12:30 A.M. ET on Sunday. Miami’s starting point guard is Shane Larkin, son of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and lifelong Cincinnati Reds shortstop (Class of 2012) Barry Larkin. The younger Larkin is the Hurricanes’ second leading scorer with an average of 14.4 points per game in addition to being the team’s leader in assists and steals.
Miami was voted fifth in the ACC in the preseason and earned more respect from the rest of the conference by defeating No. 13 Michigan State. While the Hurricanes were upset-minded entering the matchup, Arizona proved to have too much talent and depth for Miami to overcome.
While Arizona pulled away in the second half, the Mark Lyons-Shane Larkin matchup was very exciting to watch as both point guards were on the floor for the majority of the game and facilitated their teams’ offenses.
Senior-6’1″ 200 lbs.
Throughout the game, Mark Lyons showed his versatility at the guard position. At Xavier, Lyons typically played off the ball as the shooting guard because Tu Holloway was a better fit at point guard. Since transferring to the University of Arizona, Sean Miller has converted the senior to a point guard but the Wildcats’ offense allows Lyons to be the team’s leading scorer.
Lyons led the Wildcats with 19 points and got off to a hot start early in the game. Two minutes into the first half, the Xavier transfer dribbled down the court in transition, beat Larkin at the top of the key and drove to the rim for an easy layup before Miami’s defense was set. On Arizona’s next possession, he made a spot-up NBA three-pointer to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
Lyons did not score again in the first half until there was 4:49 remaining on the clock when he pulled up a few feet behind the three-point line a knocked down a shot in Larkin’s face. On Arizona’s next possession, their point guard used a screen set by Angelo Chol to drive to the basket, where he was fouled and made both free throws.
Mark Lyons’ first points in the second half came at the 17:59 mark after Miami made a layup. Lyons received the inbounds pass and jogged towards the other end of the floor. Then he sped up, crossed over Shane Larkin at the three-point line and scored an uncontested layup. The Hurricanes were still running back on defense and weren’t fast enough to contain him after he blew past Larkin.
Lyons hit his third three-pointer of the game halfway through the second half to give Arizona a 56-37 lead, which was the team’s largest up to that point in the game. It was actually his second three-point attempt in the possession–his first rimmed out but the Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to him for a straightaway three.
With six minutes left in the game, Mark Lyons went into takeover mode. He drove down the court after Larkin forced a three-point shot, completed a beautiful spin move in the lane to get by three Hurricanes defenders and laid the ball off the glass for two points. The next time down the court for Arizona, the Wildcats made three passes as Mark Lyons rotated down to the block before receiving the ball near the half-court line. He split two Miami defenders, attacked the lane, used a ball fake and head fake to get them leaning and finally scored on a finger roll after going through all five Hurricanes players. He stared down the camera before Miller replaced him with Nick Johnson, ending his night with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Three of his assists were to a teammate on three-point field goals and the fourth was good look to an open Kaleb Tarczewski for a dunk.
Sophomore-5’11” 176 lbs.
Larkin’s athleticism and quickness showed that he won the lottery of the gene pool by having a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer as a father. The University of Miami point guard needed to have an excellent game if the Hurricanes were to have any chance of winning because they were without Reggie Johnson, a 6’10” 292 lb. forward who is the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, due to a thumb injury.
The weight on Larkin’s shoulders got a little bit heavier when starter Durand Scott injured his ankle early in the game. Scott remained in the game and managed to score 15 points but he was visibly not at full strength as he was often limping or hobbling on the court.
Miami’s offense typically consisted of four players around the three-point line and one player, usually forward-center Kenny Kadji, in the interior. Larkin was at his best when he penetrated Arizona’s defense and fed the ball to Kadji. Kadji, a 6’11” senior who transferred from the University of Florida after two seasons, was the only Miami player who was having a good shooting night. He was 9-15 from the field and the rest of the Hurricanes were collectively 10-37. Shane Larkin assisted two of Kadji’s nine field goals–an open three followed by a dunk after a slashing dribble drive from Larkin.
Shane Larkin finished with 10 points on 4-9 shooting to go along with his 3 assists and 6 steals. Where Mark Lyons stepped up for Arizona on offense to give them momentum in the game, Larkin came up just short or was countered by the Wildcats.
In the first half, Kevin Parrom made a three-pointer for Arizona to take a 12-11 lead. Immediately after surrendering the lead, Larkin tried to cross over Lyons but lost the ball, Parrom came up with it and went coast to coast for the layup, which shifted the momentum in favor of Arizona. The Wildcats then jumped ahead 17-11.
With seven minutes left in the first half, injured guard Durand Scott was running point with Shane Larkin in the corner. Arizona’s Parrom pressured Scott, forced the turnover and assisted his teammate Nick Johnson on a highlight reel worthy dunk. Larkin should have recognized the danger of having a limping Durand Scott running point and taken control of the offense.
With 1:21 remaining in the first half, Shane Larkin drove to the basket and tried to kick the ball out to a wide open Kenny Kadji for three but sailed the ball over Kadji’s head. Miami was down 37-25 at the time of the turnover and that shot could have cut Arizona’s lead to single digits heading into halftime. With less than one minute on the clock, Larkin missed an open spot-up three-point attempt.
In the second half, Parrom knocked down a three-pointer to extend Arizona’s lead to 16 points. On Miami’s next possession, Larkin missed a three and a jump shot in the span of seconds, which were critical shots in keeping the game from getting out of hand.
By no means did Shane Larkin have a bad game. However, he failed to make the shots to keep Miami in the game and his two first half turnovers came at points in the game when Arizona was going on runs. Miami took advantage of turnover-prone Arizona by stealing the ball 14 times, led by Larkin with 6 steals, but the Hurricanes could not turn forced turnovers into points. Miami shot poorly in every phase of the game with a shooting percentage of 36.5, three-point percentage of 26.3 and a lowly 50 percent completion rate from the free throw line.
Miami was going to need to have a historic shooting performance in order to beat No. 4 Arizona. The Miami Hurricanes were not at full strength and they played one of the best teams in the country in the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats have premier talent at every position and Sean Miller’s squad goes nine players deep. The absence of Reggie Johnson took the life out of the Hurricanes in terms of their rebounding, especially since they were playing against a 7-footer in Kaleb Tarczewski. Arizona had 44 rebounds to Miami’s 19. Kenny Kadji had 19 points and gave Miami an inside scoring option but he only grabbed four rebounds. Miami was playing with only three and a half starters since Durand Scott was operating on a bad ankle.
Mark Lyons outplayed Shane Larkin in Sunday night’s matchup in Hawaii. Even though Lyons plays point guard, he has three years of experience as a shooting guard and has a killer mentality with which Larkin could not compete. Lyons is an incredibly versatile player. He can knock down three-pointers from NBA range, drive to the basket, run his defender into screens and has a repertoire of lethal dribbling moves that makes him capable to score 20 points on any given night. Lyons also benefitted from having great shooters around him–a luxury that Larkin was largely lacking against Arizona. Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom and Kaleb Tarczewski shoot at least 51 percent from the field and average 6.5 or more points per game. Shane Larkin could not stay in front of Lyons and was embarrassed several times on defense when his opponent decided to take over on offense for Arizona.
I have no doubt that Miami can be a threat in the ACC this season when the team is completely healthy. They can wreak havoc on defense but need Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott to be at full strength in order to competitive on the boards and on offense. Plus, Shane Larkin’s best games are still in front of him. He is only a sophomore and has two years to improve at the most important position in basketball.
The Arizona Wildcats are no longer a secret as they are off to their best start in almost two decades at 11-0. They are playing like the best team out west and have Final Four potential thanks to the addition of Mark Lyons in the offseason.
As a freshman at Indiana University, my allegiance is to the Hoosiers, who currently sit atop the college basketball rankings. Indiana has a 7-0 record and is coming off of a 24-point victory over No. 14 North Carolina. The team’s other statement win came in the Legends Classic championship game against Georgetown. While I would pick IU to win a matchup against any team in the country, I’m going to assume the role of the devil’s advocate and argue that Duke deserves to be ranked number one.
There may not be a team in the history of college basketball that has compiled a more impressive resumé through the first seven games of the season. The Blue Devils have three wins over top five teams to their name. Duke has already knocked off No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Louisville, and No. 4 Ohio State. Add in a victory against Minnesota, who is currently No. 21 in the country, and one of the best mid-major programs over the past two seasons, VCU. And their non-conference schedule is not quite over; Duke will play Temple and Davidson, two respectable opponents, before ACC play begins. At this pace, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has virtually guaranteed itself a No. 1 seed in March.
IU would be ranked second at no fault of its own. Duke has simply scheduled some of the best competition in college basketball and passed every test with flying colors. Down the road, however, Indiana’s schedule is much tougher than that of Duke. The Hoosiers have ten Big Ten games against teams that are currently ranked and that number could increase if Wisconsin can find its way back into the top 25. The Blue Devils have two games against both North Carolina and North Carolina State but no other team is ranked. Florida State is the next closest team from the ACC to being ranked and the Seminoles are the 37th team in the AP poll.
Without question, Indiana and Duke have proven themselves to be the two best teams in the country. One can only hope that they meet in Atlanta next spring in the Final Four or the national championship game. Coach K vs. Tom Crean. Mason Plumlee vs. Cody Zeller. Seth Curry vs. Yogi Ferrell. Those matchups have March Madness written all over them. In the mean time, the two college basketball powerhouses can only compete in the polls, where they will likely be separated by the smallest of margins.
It is November 12. Some college basketball teams haven’t even had their season opener yet but it’s never too early for the man with the greatest job in the world, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, to hypothesize about what next spring’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will look like. Last Tuesday, he made his second bracket prediction of the year.
Immediately, the strength of the Midwest Region stood out to me. The number one overall seeded Indiana Hoosiers are the best ranked team in the region. Florida is a No. 2 seed, North Carolina State is the No. 3 seed, followed by No. 4 Arizona, No. 5 Creighton, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 8 Marquette, and No. 9 Saint Louis. Indiana and North Carolina State are national championship contenders, which is why it’s surprising that Lunardi has the Wolfpack as a No. 3 seed when they are currently No. 6 in the country. From top to bottom, the region is filled with dangerous teams that could knock off a lower seeded opponent. Florida will compete with Kentucky to be the best team in the SEC this year. Arizona will be at worst a Sweet Sixteen team but has Final Four potential if it the Wildcats get the right matchups. Creighton has preseason All-American forward Doug McDermott. Even the Cincinnati Bearcats can shock the nation thanks to its pair of high-scoring guards, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Five of the teams in the Midwest Region are currently ranked in the top sixteen teams in the AP Top 25.
The weakest region projection is by far the West Region. Ohio State is the No. 1 seed but the quality of the teams goes down in a hurry. Duke is the region’s No. 2 seed and has two future NBA Draft picks in Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. UCLA is not nearly as intimidating now that freshman Shabazz Muhammad has been ruled ineligible for the entire season by the NCAA. UNLV and Gonzaga are not in one of the power six conferences, which means they won’t be tested nearly as much and they may not deserve their rankings.
College basketball is going to pick up this week, with Kentucky and Duke playing Tuesday night. Until the next bracketology update, enjoy the start of college basketball season and stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.