Previewing the week that was and the week to come in college basketball:
Best game: Creighton 81, Long Beach State 79. These are two teams – and two players – that no power conference team is going to want to face in the NCAA tournament. The Bluejays won on a buzzer-beating jumper by Antoine Young, but it was Doug McDermott, their brilliant 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, who really shined. McDermott had 36 points and 11 rebounds to re-establish his credenitals as a potential first team All-American. Meanwhile, Long Beach State’s senior point guard Casper Ware was his usual self, scoring 21 points in the loss.
Biggest win: Kansas State 57, Baylor 56. When you’re sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble and you have a chance to get a road win against a Top 10 team, you better take advantage. That’s exactly what the Wildcats did, getting 15 points and six assists from inconsistent freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez. That was Kansas State’s fourth win over a team ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, but it was the Wildcats’ first on the road against a team in the top 100. They have a tough finishing stretch, but as long as they don’t fall apart the next two weeks they should be in the tournament.
Player of the week: Drew Gordon, 6-9 senior forward, New Mexico. In the biggest week of the season for the Lobos’, their big man loomed especially large. Gordon, who transferred from UCLA two years ago, followed up his 17-point, 17-rebound effort in a road win at San Diego State by going for 27 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in a 20-point rout of UNLV at the Pit. Most of the Mountain West season has shaped up as a battle between those two teams, but New Mexico is the one with a two-game advantage heading into the final two weeks.
Rising: Marquette. Buzz Williams might be the best-kept secret in all of college basketball. His Golden Eagles, who already lost their best center to a torn ACL in early December, have been playing the last two weeks without their remaining top forward, Davante Gardner, who is nursing a sprained knee. Yet, they outclassed UConn in Hartford to notch their tenth win in their last 11 games. Marquette has two of the smartest and toughest guards in the country in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. They are going to be one tough out in the NCAA tournament.
Falling: Illinois. It is painful to watch Bruce Weber unravel in what is clearly going to be his final season in Champaign. The Illini were obliterated by 23 points at Nebraska to suffer their fifth straight loss and their eighth in the last nine games. With Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin still to come, it will take a miracle for them to avoid missing out on the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last five years.
Games to watch this week:
North Carolina at North Carolina State, 8 p.m. Tuesday. The Wolfpack had a demoralizing week. They blew a 20-point lead at Duke and then lost at home to Florida State. They are running out of chances to clinch an NCAA tournament, but beating the Heels would do the trick.
Murray State at Tennessee State, 8 p.m. Thursday. This is the Racers’ chance to avenge their only loss of the season, but it won’t be easy. The Tigers have won nine games in a row and they have a talented, versatile power forward in Robert Covington, who had 17 points and eight rebounds in that game.
BYU at Gonzaga, 11 p.m. Thursday. Just as Gonzaga was in position to keep its streak of West Coast Conference championships alive, the Bulldogs lost by one point at San Francisco. The Zags looked very impressive two weeks ago when they routed Saint Mary’s by 14 points, but they were just as unimpressive back on Feb. 2 when they lost by 10 points at BYU. Gonzaga should have an easier time in Spokane, but this team needs more consistent play from its freshman backcourt tandem of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell.
Missouri at Kansas, 4 p.m. Saturday. This rivalry sure is going out with a bang. These teams have been ranked in the top five for several weeks now, and they played a humdinger in Columbia back on Feb. 4. Missouri scored the game’s final 11 points to win by three, but the Jayhawks did not get a single point from their 7-foot junior center, Jeff Withey. Withey has been on an absolute tear ever since, and with the game being moved back to Allen Fieldhouse, you’ve got to believe the Jayhawks will prevail.
Wisconsin at Ohio State, 4 p.m. Sunday. The bloom is off the Buckeyes’ rose now that they have lost two of their last three games. If they’re going to have a chance at getting a No. 1 seed, this game is a must. Wisconsin has had an even harder time than usual scoring points this year (Jordan Taylor has had a disappointing senior season), but the Buckeyes are also not getting enough perimeter shooting to take the heat off of Jared Sullinger inside. The guy who really needs to get hot is William Buford, the lone senior who shot a combined 4 for 24 in recent losses to Michigan State and Michigan.