Rush the Court is the independent voice of college basketball. Find us @rushthecourt on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, or visit us at RTC for the most comprehensive coverage of NCAA hoops anywhere.
The Round Mound of Rebound… Sir Charles… Chuck… No matter the nickname you prefer, Charles Barkley’s playing and television career has spawned dozens of great quotes, commentary, and hilarious moments. To honor one of the greatest power forwards of all-time and look forward to his coverage of March Madness, we will pay homage to several of Barkley’s best catch phrases in What Would Charles Say?, a weekly installment reviewing some of the top anecdotes and stories from around the game of college basketball.
Pulling Their Weight… Faced with a late-season stretch that included games against three elite teams that could make or break its season — Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor — Kansas State shored up its defense and managed to win two of the three. As a result, Frank Martin’s team went from an NCAA bubble team to an NCAA lock in the span of about 96 hours (the amount of time it took to win road games at Baylor and Missouri). Under Martin, K-State has been known for its consistent defensive prowess, but it was star guard Rodney McGruder’s offense — 24 points against Mizzou, 15 versus Baylor — that allowed the Wildcats to outlast those teams. Kansas State has three games remaining against Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State with a great chance to win all three, ultimately meaning that a team that was lightly regarded at the start of the season after the loss of Jacob Pullen will be in a position to finish in the top tier of the Big 12 and again make some noise in March.
That’s Turrible… Illinois head coach Bruce Weber has a Final Four appearance (2005) and two Big Ten championships (2004 & 2005) under his belt, but the natives in Champaign have become restless with his recent performances. At 16-12, 5-10 in Big Ten play, he is unlikely to survive another mediocre season. Even in the worst of times, a head coach worth his salt shouldn’t blame his players for lacking toughness and for not knowing how to win close games if he hasn’t himself instilled those skills into their games. Still, after last week’s home loss versus Purdue — the Illini’s seventh defeat in eight games — Weber pointed fingers at his players in what sounded to many observers like a political concession speech. How did his team respond? By laying down against league doormat Nebraska on Saturday, allowing a pitiful 36-4 run that blew the game open and led to an embarrassing 80-57 defeat in Lincoln. Illinois followed that up with another loss against Ohio State on Wednesday night, making it all but certain that the head coaching spot at Illinois will be available to applicants within a month. Coaches should start dusting off their resumes now.
I Am Not a Role Model… New Mexico’s Drew Gordon has been called many things over his four-year career spanning from UCLA to New Mexico. But perhaps the one thing he hasn’t been called is dominant, a somewhat surprising paradox given that he was a consensus blue-chipper coming out of San Jose, California, in 2008. In two games last week against Mountain West rivals UNLV and San Diego State, Gordon played like the star everyone once thought he was, going for 17 points and 17 rebounds in a 10-point win at SDSU and 27 points and 20 rebounds in a blowout home victory versus the Runnin’ Rebels. His performance against UNLV not only catapulted his team into first place with a bullet in the MW, but also represented only the fifth 20/20 game by a player against a ranked team in the last decade of collegiate action. Between Gordon, UNLV’s Mike Moser and Chace Stanbeck, and BYU’s Matt Carlino, it’s becoming clear that transferring away from UCLA might be a net positive for a player’s career. Two years ago Gordon left Westwood carrying a shroud of discontent along with him; now in Albuquerque, he’s finally found the dominance that was always expected, and as such, he’s this week’s role model.
I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It… Michigan will win a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Here’s how it’s going to happen. After Wednesday night’s games, Michigan State remains one game ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten standings. The Wolverines have three games left against Purdue (home), Illinois (away), and Penn State (away). They should win all three of those games to finish with a conference record of 14-4. Michigan State, currently at 12-3, still has to play Nebraska (home), Indiana (away), and Ohio State (home). The Spartans will walk into a hornet’s nest next Tuesday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, and even if they rally to win the big rematch game against OSU the following weekend, a 2-1 record down the stretch will open the door for Michigan to tie the Spartans for first place. The last time that the Maize and Blue won a Big Ten title was 1986, a year so long ago on the calendar that the Fab Five at the time was still bouncing around in middle school.
Check back next Thursday for another edition of Rush the Court’s What Would Charles Say?