Reviewing the week that was and previewing the week to come in college basketball:
Best game: Duke 85, North Carolina 84. Was there even a question? The Tar Heels led by 10 points with two-and-a-half minutes remaining before squandering things away. Austin Rivers’ dramatic three-point game-winner masked the glaring deficiencies that Duke evinced for the first 37-and-a-half minutes. If the Blue Devils don’t shore up their defense, they’re going to have a hard time advancing deep into the NCAA tournament.
Biggest win: Michigan State over Ohio State. The Spartans were not ranked in the preseason in either national poll, but they moved into a tie with Ohio State for first place in the Big Ten with that impressive 58-48 win that ended the Buckeyes’ 39-game home win streak. The Spartans flustered and frustrated Jared Sullinger into an unconventional triple double: 17 points, 16 rebounds, 10 turnovers.
Player of the week: Jeff Withey, 7-foot junior center, Kansas. Withey bounced back in dramatic fashion from his zero-point performance in the Jayhawks’ loss at Missouri last weekend. He scored a career-high 25 points in Wednesday night’s win at Baylor, and then he followed it up with 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in a 15-point win over Oklahoma. When Withey is that aggressive and engaged, the Jayhawks are nearly impossible to beat.
Rising: VCU. Is VCU this year’s VCU? Shaka Smart’s Rams won at Old Dominion on Saturday for their 11th straight victory. That allowed them to stay in a three-way tie for first in the CAA with Drexel and George Mason. VCU plays at George Mason on Tuesday night. That’s called appointment viewing.
Falling: Creighton. The Bluejays were embarrassed on their home court by 21 points in a loss to Wichita State. That was their third consecutive loss, which dropped them out of the rankings and left them two games behind the Shockers in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. Creighton knows how to put points on the board, but if it’s going to turn things around it needs to apply that same dedication to defense.
Games to watch this week:
Ohio State at Minnesota, 9 p.m., Tuesday night. Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers are probably on the outside of the NCAA tournament bubble right now. A win over the Buckeyes would give them a huge jolt, but Ohio State is not going to be in a good mood coming off that loss to the Spartans.
North Carolina at Miami, 9 p.m., Wednesday. The Hurricanes, who knocked off Duke in overtime at Cameron last week, need another marquee win to bolster their at-large hopes. They have won five of their last seven games, and in senior center Reggie Johnson the Canes have one of the few big men in the ACC who can test the Tar Heels’ vaunted front line.
West Virginia at Pittsburgh, 9 p.m., Thursday. The Mountaineers have been on a perilous slide of late, dropping five of their last six games. They have to travel to Notre Dame to play their next game, so this is as close to a must-win as a team can have at this point in the season. That won’t come easy against a Panthers team that badly needs a win of its own after having lost its last two games to drop to 4-9 in the Big East.
UNLV at New Mexico, Saturday, 1 p.m. These are two of the three teams who are tied for first place atop the Mountain West Conference, but the home team has a lot less margin for error when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. Steve Alford’s Lobos are ranked 33rd in the RPI, but they only have two wins over teams ranked in the top 50. The Lobos also play at San Diego State on Wednesday, so if they go 0-2 this week that could put them on the outside looking in – for now, anyway.
Saint Mary’s at Murray State, Saturday, 6 p.m. This the marquee matchup in ESPN’s annual Bracket Buster series, which pits prominent midmajor schools against each other just three weeks before selection weekend. This game is going to feature two of the country’s most exciting scoring guards in Matthew Dellavadova of Saint Mary’s and Murray State’s junior point guard Isaiah Canaan.