College Basketball Express: Week 11 (Jan. 25-31)
By: Blaine Fentress
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Can we finally just say this: NOBODY IS NUMBER ONE THIS SEASON.
Hello and welcome to Week 11 of the College Basketball Express. Doing good? I know I am because I just came to this conclusion. There is so much parity in college basketball this season that there really isn’t that one college team that we can sit here and say they are the top dog. Not one team. Which is great because I think this is going to be one of the BEST NCAA Tournaments in a long time.
So, as we enter the last week of basketball in January, I have to wonder what upsets will we see this week. Can Oklahoma maintain the #1 ranking in the AP poll, despite how tough the competition has been in the Big 12? Can North Carolina maintain the #1 ranking in the coaches poll, with another matchup against Duke down the road? Is Texas A&M really the highest ranked SEC team in the polls? Is Iowa for real? Plenty to discuss this week. Think fast!
FAST BREAK YOUR TEAMS!!!!!! (All Games In Central)
Evansville (17-4, 6-2 MVC)
Games: Thur, Jan. 28 ….. @ Southern Illinois ….. 7 PM, ESPN 3
Sun, Jan. 31 ….. vs. #22 Wichita State …… 3 PM, ESPNU
Up and down week for Purple Aces. On Tuesday, Evansville went up a decent defensive effort from Loyola before defeating them, 74-66. Egidijus Mockevicius had another monster game, scoring 23 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. D.J. Balentine added 22 points, along with 7 assists. The Purple Aces held Loyola to just 44% shooting, including just 5 of 21 from the three-point line. Good game for Evansville
Then, they hit the road block in Terre Haute. Evansville never had the lead against Indiana State on Sunday, losing big 82-65. The Sycamores just took it to the Purple Aces early and often, with two starters scoring 24 points each. Balentine still got 20 and Mockevicius still had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. But, too many wasted possessions that Indiana State took the offensive flow out of Evansville and the Purple Aces had zero points to show. At one point, Evansville missed five FGs in a row. Tough to win a game when you just aren’t hitting your shots. Bad loss for Evansville before the road gets a little tougher.
This Week: The Purple Aces are now in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference and, this week, they face the two teams that are ahead of them. First up, a road trip to Carbondale to take on the now-second place Salukis. Southern Illinois has shocked the critics this season with a 18-3 record, 7-1 in conference play. Their one loss in conference play came at the hands of Wichita State. Does this sound familiar to Purple Aces fans. While Southern Illinois can’t boast about having the nation’s leading rebounder (Mockevicius), they do have a hot shooter in Anthony Beane. The guard averages 19.3 points per game, someone that Jaylon Brown will need to keep an eye on. After they take on Southern Illinois, it is rematch time for Evansville, at home, against Wichita State on Sunday. The Shockers still lead the conference and still look like a lock for at least an at-large bid into the Tournament. The Purple Aces know that they almost had them in Wichita a few weeks back. Nothing would be sweeter for Evansville then to wash the taste of losing to Indiana State out of their mouths by beating the Shockers on Sunday.
#20 Kentucky (15-4, 5-2 SEC)
Games: Wed, Jan. 27 ….. vs. Missouri ….. 8 PM, SEC Network
Sat, Jan. 30 ….. @ #4 Kansas ….. 6 PM, ESPN
Two easy wins for Kentucky last week, a sign of relief for head coach John Calipari, who has started to push these guys more into playing better basketball. First up, a 80-66 win over Arkansas. Guard Tyler Ulis led the way with 24 points, while guard Jamal Murray had 19. Forward Derek Willis continues to be more of a man in the frontcourt that Coach Cal can trust. Willis had 12 points and 7 rebounds in this game. And, even SKAL!!!!! looked like the freshman sensation that he was suppose to be off the bench, with 10 points. Pretty easy win for Kentucky.
They followed this up with a 76-57 win over Vanderbilt. Ulis had 21 points, shooting 9 of 13 from the field. Murray was right behind him with 18. This time, Alex Poythress picked up some of the slack he has been laying down in recent games, scoring 16 points in the win. While Kentucky enjoyed shooting 55% from the field, Vandy could only muster up 32%. And, remember before the season started that the Commodores were suppose to be one of the better teams in the SEC this season. Vanderbilt fell to 11-8 on the season, 3-4 in SEC play.
This Week: Kentucky hosts Missouri this week. Nothing much here for Kentucky to worry about as the Tigers are 8-11 this season. Wonder with Coach Cal will be messing with this starting five the rest of the season, as they have looked much better with Willis in the frontcourt alongside Poythress. Who would have predicted that Tyler Ulis would become the shooting choice for this team, as I thought he would have been the assists leader. But, it is not the Missouri game they should worried about.
The last home loss for Kansas was January 5, 2014 in front of 16,000 fans against San Diego State, 61-57. 32 home games later, the Jayhawks are ranked #4 and open the Allen Fieldhouse doors to Kentucky in what will be an historic matchup. Kentucky has only played at Kansas 11 times during the two program’s storied history. The last time was something Wildcats fans would choose to want to forget, a January 7, 2006 clubbing at Allen Fieldhouse, 73-46. I don’t think it will be that one-sided but, both teams bring in great talent. While Kentucky has had it’s ups and downs this season, Kansas has been mostly cruising with it’s big three of Frank Mason, Perry Ellis, and Wayne Selden. Will be interesting to see how they will guard in the frontcourt against Ellis, who is averaging 16.7 points per game. Should be a fun one on Saturday night.
#19 Indiana (17-3, 7-0 Big Ten)
Games: Tue, Jan. 26 ….. @ Wisconsin ….. 6 PM, ESPN
Sat, Jan. 30 ….. vs. Minnesota ….. 1 PM, Big Ten Network
Still undefeated in Big Ten play this season. Of course, that is easy when you only have Illinois and Northwestern to play this past week. First, congrats to Yogi Ferrell who passed former Hoosier Michael Lewis for the career mark in assists in the 103-69 rout of Illinois. Ferrell finished the historic game with 16 points and nine assists. Forward Troy Williams woke up from his nap the last few games, leading the Hoosiers with 21 points. Guard Robert Johnson also had 13 points in a big night for Indiana
They followed that up with another big win over Northwestern, 89-57. In that rout, Ferrell had 17 points, while forward Collin Hartman had the game of his career so far with 11 points. Indiana shot 52% from the field and forced 12 Wildcats turnovers. Max Bielfeldt came off the bench for Indiana with 13 points. Head coach Tom Crean is still looking for that consistent #2 scorer to replace the injured Blackmon.
This Week: The Wisconsin matchup probably use to fear Indiana a little bit, going up against a tough Bo Ryan defense. But, since the head coach retired midway through the season, Wisconsin hasn’t regained that success rate that they once had. Despite the 11-9 record, they do own a big win against Michigan State two games ago. So, there is still some magic left in system for the Badgers. Nigel Hayes leads the team with 16.3 points per game. After that, they have, what should be, a cupcake at home against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers sits at 6-14 this season, still winless in the Big Ten at 0-8. If they can get past Wisconsin, look for Indiana to remain undefeated in Big Ten play.
Illinois (10-10, 2-5 Big Ten)
Games: Thurs, Jan. 28 ….. vs. Ohio State ….. 8 PM, Big Ten Network
Sun, Jan. 31 ….. vs. Minnesota ….. 6:30 PM, Big Ten Network
The Fighting Illini splits the pair of games last week. They were clubbed by Indiana 103-69. 15 turnovers, poor defense, and NO ONE scoring outside of Malcolm Hill (20 points) and Kendrick Nunn (10 points.) The rest of the starters only scored 10 points TOTAL. Illinois shot 43% from the field in the loss. But, they bounced back well against a team worst than them…Minnesota. The Fighting Illini beat the Golden Gophers 76-71 in overtime. Hill led Illinois with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Nunn followed that up with 13 points. Despite holding Minnesota to 39% shooting, the Golden Gophers took them to overtime. But, Hill scored 9 points in the extra period to lead Illinois to victory.
This Week: Two home games this week. First, Ohio State comes to town, reeling after losing two out of the last three games. This includes losses to Maryland and Purdue. But, should be an easy Buckeyes win if the frontcourt for Illinois continues to do less and less. After that, Wisconsin will come into town after their game against Indiana. Hill and Nunn are great, but that’s about it for Illinois. They could beat one or both of these teams if those two can combine for 45-50 points. But, I doubt it will be happening.
#21 Purdue (17-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
Games: Wed, Jan. 27 ….. @ Minnesota ….. 8 PM, Big Ten Network
Sat, Jan. 30 ….. vs. Nebraska …… 3:30 PM, Big Ten Network
Despite shooting 39% from the field, including shooting 4 of 17 from the three point line, Purdue was able to get past the Buckeyes late in the game, 75-64. Guard P.J. Thompson scored 10 points in the last 7:16 of the game to push Purdue to the win. Center A.J. Hammons led the Boilermakers with 16 points and eight rebounds. Freshman big man Caleb Swanigan hit the double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. But, poor shooting from Rapheal Davis, who only had 4 points. Still, a gutsy win for the Boilermakers.
However, the good times would be short-lived as they would fall to the hottest team in the Big Ten right now, the Iowa Hawkeyes 83-71. Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff had a big game, scoring 22 points from 7 of 13 shooting. Purdue shot a little better, 42%, then the last game, but not enough to counter Uthoff and Iowa. Forward Vince Edwards led Purdue with 19 points, with Thompson coming off the bench with 16 points. Bad game for Swanigan, who was held to just 5 points in the loss.
This Week: Should have an easy time to dust themselves off and pick up two easy Big Ten wins this week with Minnesota and Nebraska. But, I think head coach Matt Painter should reward Thompson for the big play off the bench by starting him against Minnesota this week. Talk about low impact, high reward. Davis and Johnny Hill needs to step up in the starters roll. Davis is only averaging 8.6 PPG, which is better than Hill’s 5.6 PPG. If there was a set of games to make your improvements on, it would be these two games.
#16 Louisville (16-3, 5-1 ACC)
Games: Wed, Jan. 27 …… @ Virginia Tech ….. 7 PM, ESPN 3
Sat, Jan. 30 ….. vs. #11 Virginia ….. Noon, CBS
Cardinals were up and down last week, but still came away with two wins. First, they had no issue taking down Florida State 84-65. Guard Quentin Snider led the team with 20 points, while center Chinanu Onuaku had yet another double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Never much of a matchup, as the lead was as much as 29 points near the end of the game. The second game was a bit of a test, as they had to go back and forth in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets kept it close, with both teams exchanging the lead six times. The game came down to free throws at the end, with six of them in the final minute to stay ahead of GT once and for all. Guard Damion Lee led Louisville with 17 points. But, it was big man Anas Mahmoud coming off the bench that was huge for the Cardinals. Mahmoud had to check in early with Onuaku getting into foul trouble. Mahmoud had 15 points. On a night when Louisville was shooting only 44%, picking up a win was a huge deal.
This Week: For a team being 12-8 on the season, the Hokies are dangerous. They have defeated #4 Virginia earlier in the season and had three losses to Notre Dame and North Carolina by a combined 7 points. Forward Zach LeDay leads VT with 15.9 PPG, including leading the team with 17 points in their last game, a loss to the Tarheels. After that, big time matchup against #11 Virginia. The Cavs have three players averaging in double digits that I am sure will give Louisville fits: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and London Perrantes. While they are getting baskets, the defense is where the strength is for Virginia. The Cavs are ranked 6th in the nation allowing only 61.4 points per game. Good test for Lee and the Cards on where they stand in the ACC at this moment, a little over a month away from the conference tournament.
TOP FIVE THIS WEEK (All Game Times Centra)
5. #7 Xavier @ #10 Providence ….. Tues, Jan. 26 ….. 7:30 PM, Fox Sports
Could be a good week for Providence. The Friars are coming off a big win over Villanova and looking to pass by Xavier to take sole possession of second place in Big East. BTW, every time Providence wins, Evansville benefits. Won’t be easy against Trevon Bluiett and Xavier, who have only dropped two games this season.
4. #23 Oregon @ #18 Arizona ….. Thurs, Jan. 28 ….. 8 PM, ESPN
Pac-12 only has two ranked teams so far this season and they clash on Thursday. Wildcats forward Ryan Anderson leads the team with 14.9 PPG, taking on Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, who is averaging 16.2 PPG. Should be a fun one down in Arizona.
3. #3 Iowa @ #8 Maryland ….. Thurs, Jan. 28 ….. 6 PM, ESPN
The Hawkeyes are on a nine-game winning streak, still undefeated in the Big Ten. They are taking on a Terrapins squad that is coming off a tough loss to Michigan State. Will be fun to see what Maryland guard Melo Trimble will do in this game against a tough Iowa defense that is allowing only 67 points per game this season.
2. #14 Iowa State @ #5 Texas A&M ….. Sat, Jan. 30 ….. 1 PM, ESPN
Weird to say that this is a Big 12 vs SEC Challenge game. The Cyclones are not to be messed with this season. Iowa State owns a pair of tough wins against Iowa and just last week against Kansas. Forward Georges Niang averages 19.2 PPG for a Iowa State team that is 12th in the nation scoring 84.4 PPG. Want to guess who is 7-0 in the SEC and is not named Kentucky? The Aggies are on a 10-game winning streak, with wins over Baylor, Florida, and LSU. Guard Jalen Jones leads Texas A&M with 17.5 points per game. Should be a good matchup against two teams I believe will be Sweet 16 bound.
1. #20 Kentucky @ #4 Kansas ….. Sat, Jan. 30 ….. 6 PM, ESPN
Naturally, this was going to be the top game in the country this week. Two of the most historic programs of all time, locking horns, at a place where there is a 32-game home winning streak on the line. Probably one of the best non-conference matchups all season. Will it be Big Blue or Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk?
There it is. Should be another fun week for college basketball. Until next time, I am the Blaine Train, have a good one.