It’s hard to believe the season has already reached the last week of February. This past week was not as eventful as many we have experienced this season, but the main plot lines are settling into place in advance of the NCAA tournament. Here are the notables and noteworthies from the college basketball week that was:
Game of the week: Indiana 72, Michigan State 68. If there was any doubt that the Hoosiers are the best team in the country, they erased it by completing a sweep of the Spartans. The game was most memorable for the acrobatics of Hoosiers junior guard Victor Oladipo, who had 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals. Indiana also benefited from yet another solid performance from sophomore center Cody Zeller (17 points, five rebounds, two blocks), who is dealt way too much criticism for his passivity. Zeller is a tough competitor who is able to get his numbers within a team concept. The leadership that freshman Yogi Ferrell is providing at the point has also been a critical factor in the Hoosiers’ ascension to the top. The bottom line is that when the NCAA tournament gets underway, Indiana will be the team to beat. We didn’t need to see the Hoosiers win this game to know that, but it did give us a higher degree of certitude.
Player of the week: Otto Porter, 6-8 sophomore forward, Georgetown. It was impressive that Porter scored a career-high 33 points to lead the Hoyas to an 11-point win at Syracuse. It’s even more astounding that he did it in a game where his team only scored 57 points. Porter was as efficient as he was versatile in the win. He needed just 19 shots to score those points (he was 5 for 10 from three-point range), and he added eight rebounds, five steals and two assists. Besides giving Georgetown sole possession of first place in the Big East, it also gave the Hoyas lifetime bragging rights, because it was the final Big East regular season game that will ever be played between these two teams. With this performance, Porter injected himself into the national player of the year conversation alongside Oladipo, Michigan point guard Trey Burke, and Duke center Mason Plumlee.
Upset of the week: Wake Forest 80, Miami 65. The Hurricanes had climbed into the top five, were undefeated in the ACC, and were in perfect position for a number one seed. So of course, they were due for a loss. Miami had been playing with fire the last week, winning by just two points at Clemson and escaping Virginia by four points at home last Sunday. Miami had no energy on defense, allowing the Demon Deacons to shoot 54 percent from the floor and 58 percent from three-point range, but give Wake Forest credit for playing a good game. C.J. Harris led the Deacs with 23 points. Miami can still capture a number one seed if it can win at Duke this Saturday.
Saint Louis. The Billikens beat VCU (home) and Butler (road) to take over first place in the Atlantic 10. Though they stumbled early on, that was because they had to start the season without injured point guard Kwamain Mitchell. Now that he is healthy and in rhythm, the Billikens have won nine straight to put themselves in very good position to make the NCAA tournament.
Wichita State. The Shockers hit a rough patch which saw them drop three straight, but they are doing a much better job on offense, which his why they have now won five straight games to retake first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. Last week, Wichita State got 19 points from Cleanthony Early to give them a road win over Indiana State, and they followed that up by easily dispatching a very good Detroit team in Bracketbusters weekend.
California. This team got much attention last Sunday because of the way coach Mike Montgomery shoved his best player, junior guard Allan Crabbe. But the attention should really be paid on how well the Bears have been playing. Last week they won two road swings at Oregon and Oregon State to extend their win streak to five (and seven out of eight) and move just one game behind first place in the loss column in the Pac 12.
N.C. State. This is easily the most frustrating team to watch in the entire country. The Wolfpack had high expectations coming into the season following last year’s mad dash to the Sweet Sixteen, but their deep aversion to playing defense is costing them dearly during the dog days of conference play. On Saturday, N.C. State lost on the road to a struggling North Carolina team, 76-65, to drop to fifth place in the ACC with an 8-6 record (19-8 overall). The Pack has now dropped four of its last seven games, and while it is probably safe to make the NCAA tournament, this hardly looks like a team ready to make another deep run.
Cincinnati. Is it possible that the Bearcats might actually miss out on the NCAA tournament? That is a real possibility after they dropped their third straight game – and fifth out of the last six games – on Sunday at Notre Dame. The problem with this team is simple: It just can’t score. After averaging nearly 80 points per game during the first month of the season, the Bearcats have now played nine straight games without reaching the 70-point mark. The road ahead doesn’t get easier, either. Cincy has to play at home against UConn and on the road at Louisville before finishing up at home against South Florida. It’s hard to imagine this team going to the NCAA tournament if it is below .500 in its own conference.
Creighton. The Bluejays still boast one of the top pure scorers in the country in junior forward Doug McDermott, but the Dougie is not getting enough help from his friends. On Friday night at Saint Mary’s, McDermott scored 22 points on 7 for 18 shooting, but Creighton still lost for the fourth time in their last six games. As long as the Bluejays ignore defense and rebounding and try to win simply by outscoring people, they will be vulnerable to an off shooting night – which everyone suffers at least once during the NCAA tournament.