Previewing the week that was and the week to come in college basketball:
Best game: Kansas 87, Missouri 86 (OT). Not only was this the best game of the week, it might have been the best game of the season considering what was on the line. The Jayhawks trailed by 19 points early in the second half but rallied behind Thomas Robinson’s magnificent 28-point, 12-rebound effort. Not only did the victory put Kansas on track to claim its eighth consecutive Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it also gave Jayhawks fans permanent bragging rights over their arch rivals. With Missouri headed to the SEC next season, this might be the last game these two ever play against each other — though if we’re lucky, they could stage a rubber match in the Big 12 tournament.
Biggest win: Iowa State 65, Kansas State 61. The Cyclones have been teetering on the bubble for several weeks, but despite their 10-5 record in the Big 12 they still lacked a signature road win. They got one in Little Manhattan, thanks to 29 points (on 5-for-5 3-point shooting) from senior guard Scott Christopherson. Since Iowa State ends the regular season at Missouri and then at home against Baylor, it won’t even have the opportunity to suffer a loss that could significantly harm its tournament hopes.
Player of the week: Anthony Davis, Kentucky. The Wildcats’ 6-foot-10 freshman phenom could win this award most every week. He cemented his status as frontrunner for national player of the year by putting up 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in UK’s 83-74 win over Vanderbilt. Davis also contributed 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks as Kentucky erased a 13-point halftime deficit at Mississippi State to win by nine.
Rising: Drexel. Bruiser Flint’s Dragons have won a remarkable 17 straight games to move to a one-game lead for first place in the CAA standings. That stretch includes a 20-point win at Cleveland State, which should cement this team’s resume for an at-large bid should it fail to win the conference tournament. Drexel plays slow-it-down, slug-it-out basketball with a Philadelphia flavor. It’s led by point guard Frantz Massenat, who leads the CAA in three-point percentage (46.1) and ranks third in assists (4.4 average).
Falling: West Virginia. The Mountaineers suffered a devastating loss in Morgantown on Friday night. Playing against a Marquette team that was without three starters for the entire first half (they were suspended by coach Buzz Williams for violating team rules), Bob Huggins’ crew frittered away a 15-point lead and ended up losing by one. That was their seventh loss in nine games and dropped them two games under .500 in the Big East. If the Mountaineers don’t win their final two games against DePaul (home) and South Florida (away), they will probably miss out on the NCAA tournament.
Games to watch this week:
Xavier at Saint Louis, Tuesday, 9 p.m. Rick Majerus’ Billikens looked like they were cruising toward an NCAA tournament bid, until they got tripped up at lowly Rhode Island by two points on Saturday. That means it is imperative that they win at home against a Xavier team that also suffered a tough loss last week at UMass. Musketeers senior guard Tu Holloway was just 2-for-11 from the field in that loss. This team has badly missed his production and leadership the last two months. My guess is that one of these teams will make the NCAA tournament but not both. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this an elimination game, but it certainly feels like one.
Michigan State at Indiana, Tuesday, 7 p.m. This is the pupil (Tom Crean) against the teacher (Tom Izzo). The Spartans won the first meeting by 15 points in East Lansing behind Keith Appling’s 25 points, handing the Hoosiers their first loss of the season. Michigan State is much improved since then, but Indiana has regressed. Hoosiers freshman center Cody Zeller has had a solid season, but Michigan State has a lot of big bodies it can throw at him. Assembly Hall magic is going to have to be in full force for the Hoosiers to pull off the upset.
Ohio State at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m. Northwestern is running out of chances to claim its first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats blew a golden opportunity last week by losing in overtime at home to Michigan, and they were very fortunate to edge Penn State on the road last weekend by a single point. Still, in senior forward John Shurna they have a potent offensive weapon who can score inside and out. Playing at home with so much on the line, they should be primed to give the Buckeyes all they can handle.
Oklahoma at Texas, 9 p.m., Wednesday. The fact that the Longhorns are even in the bubble discussion right now is pretty amazing. However, they are 8-8 in the Big 12 and have a solid nonconference win over Temple. This game against the Sooners is an absolute must-win because Texas finishes its regular season at Kansas next weekend. The key to the Longhorns’ play of late has been the improvement of freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, which has taken a lot of pressure off his backcourtmate, J’Covan Brown, who is the Big 12’s leading scorer at 19.7 per game.
North Carolina at Duke, Saturday, 7 p.m. If this game is half as exciting as the first meeting between these teams, it will truly be must-see TV. Neither team has lost since then, though the Blue Devils were very fortunate to squeeze by Virginia Tech at home in overtime last Saturday. That game came two days after Duke’s most impressive game of the season, a 74-66 road win at Florida State in which the Blue Devils showed more defensive toughness than at any time this season. The irony is that Duke has been more vulnerable at home this season than on the road. No doubt North Carolina will be itching for some payback, but the Tar Heels will have to bring their A game to get it.