As we enter the second half of convention play within the faculty basketball season, there are many intriguing storylines to regulate all through the nation, together with a Large Ten title race that’s heating up.
Zach Edey and No. 2-ranked Purdue presently maintain a 1.5-game lead over No. 10 Illinois within the convention standings. The Boilermakers, sitting at 21-2 general and 10-2 in Large Ten motion, have an upcoming matchup towards in-state rival Indiana at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX. In the meantime, Illinois hits the highway for a Saturday afternoon showdown in East Lansing towards Michigan State.
Within the ACC, Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers have quietly gained seven in a row and are climbing up the convention standings, trailing No. 3-ranked North Carolina by just one sport. Might the Cavaliers be a sneaky choose to make a late-season run and wreak havoc within the NCAA Match?
With a fun-filled month forward, FOX Sports activities faculty basketball consultants John Fanta and Michael Cohen are right here to interrupt all of it down and provide their ideas on the Large Ten and ACC title races, in addition to reply some big-picture questions as we enter the house stretch.
Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin are neck and neck within the Large Ten standings, with the Boilermakers holding a 1.5-game lead over the Illini and a two-game lead over the Badgers. Who finally wins this convention and why?
Michael Cohen: That is Purdue’s race to lose. By knocking off Wisconsin on the highway final weekend, the Boilermakers proved but once more that they are the category of the Large Ten and have an inside monitor towards a No. 1 seed in each the convention event and the NCAA Match. Starting with Saturday evening’s sport towards an Indiana workforce that has misplaced 4 of its final 5 video games, Purdue has an opportunity to reel off 5 straight wins towards the league’s unpleasant underbelly — Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan — with out breaking a lot of a sweat. If these video games go in line with plan, head coach Matt Painter’s workforce can be 26-2 general and 15-2 within the Large Ten forward of a difficult three-game closing stretch towards Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin, the primary and third of that are at house. There’s an opportunity Purdue may have the common season title secured by then if both the Badgers or Illini stumble throughout the subsequent few weeks.
The largest menace to the Boilermakers is perhaps Illinois given the reinstatement of star guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who was charged with rape following an alleged incident in Kansas last year. With Shannon’s subsequent court docket date getting delayed till Might, there is a robust likelihood he can be obtainable for the rest of the season for a workforce that is perhaps peaking on the proper time. Illinois has gained 5 of its final six video games and seems to have one of many extra balanced and versatile rosters within the nation. Head coach Brad Underwood has 4 gamers averaging at the very least 11 factors per sport and a beginning lineup by which all 5 gamers measure between 6-foot-6 and 6-10. With an offense and protection each ranked among the many high 30 nationally in effectivity, the Illini are well-positioned to make a postseason run, no matter whether or not they catch Purdue within the Large Ten standings.
John Fanta: The Boilermakers are profitable the Large Ten as a result of they’ve gotten by way of the difficult highway parts of their convention schedule, and Matt Painter’s workforce has misplaced twice all 12 months to start with. I’d be downright shocked if Purdue did not win the league. To Michael’s level, have a look at the workforce’s subsequent 5 video games: the Boilers solely play one workforce, a house sport towards Minnesota, which presently sits within the high half of the standings. Whereas the Badgers are having a robust season, they misplaced their likelihood at profitable the league this previous week with the losses to Nebraska and Purdue. Plus, 4 of the subsequent six video games for Greg Gard’s workforce are on the highway. The Illini have gained three in a row, however a highway take a look at at Michigan State this Saturday may result in a hiccup and Brad Underwood’s workforce performs three of their subsequent 4 on the highway, together with a sport at Maryland that has gotten more difficult. I agree with Michael on Illinois being the most important menace, however they’re already dealing with a deficit within the convention race, and so they’ve obtained a frightening two-game swing to tip off March after they go to Wisconsin after which host the first-place Boilers.
The actual fact is, the Large Ten regular-season title is only one snapshot in Purdue’s grand imaginative and prescient. Getting the No. 1 general seed within the NCAA Match is what this workforce is considering and discovering redemption in March. Might the Boilers lose within the convention event? Positive, however this workforce is not shedding its high spot within the league in my view, particularly coupled with the truth that the Boilers are a mixed 2-0 towards the Illini and Badgers already. The upcoming schedule ought to permit them to maintain coasting in a Large Ten that is shorter in depth than it has been the final couple of years. Regardless that the ultimate stretch of Michigan State, at Illinois and Wisconsin is difficult to shut the season, I am not going to start out doubting the 21-2 Boilermakers and their means to win at Mackey Area, the place they’re 11-0 this season.
We’ve reached the halfway level of convention play. Who makes up your first-team All-America squad as we get set to enter the house stretch of the season?
I truly really feel considerably unhealthy for the primary participant left off the first-team All-America roster this season as a result of the highest slot on this workforce was handed out final summer time when Edey introduced he can be coming again to Purdue for his senior season. To common 23.1 factors and 11.7 rebounds on 63% from the ground is generational productiveness on the middle place. If there is a pet peeve I’ve in faculty basketball this season, it is those that attempt to downplay Edey’s greatness due to his dimension.
Whereas it is fairly apparent that Edey has the unfinished enterprise of taking the Boilermakers on an NCAA Match run this 12 months, there’s zero denying that he is essentially the most dominant participant in faculty basketball. As for the rest of the checklist, the 6-6 Knecht is essentially the most stunning revelation within the sport this season. Sure, we knew he would affect the Volunteers, however for a Northern Colorado switch to enter the SEC and turn out to be nearly as good of a bucket-getter as any in faculty basketball? No person may have predicted that. Knecht has surpassed 30 factors in 4 of his final seven outings, and he has executed all of this whereas taking pictures 48% from the sector and 39% from 3-point vary. That is exceptional effectivity for a man scoring it in addition to he has. With the extent that Knecht can rating, mixed with the gear that Rick Barnes-led groups can hit defensively, it is on the desk for the Vols to succeed in the Elite Eight for simply the second time in class historical past and first time since 2010. Previously, I’ve had belief points with Tennessee’s offense. Knecht alleviates that along with his means to take over a sport, and 5 gamers past him averaging at the very least 7.2 factors per sport.
I am going with Davis and Newton as a result of, sure, they’re each having sensational seasons, however I am additionally huge on the concept that workforce success breeds particular person honors. Let’s start with Davis, who leads the ACC and is eleventh nationally in scoring, averaging 21.3 factors per sport. He has raised his 3-point proportion from simply round 36% to over 41% this season, to not point out he is high 10 within the nation at 92% from the free throw line. Davis accounts for roughly a 3rd of the workforce’s offense per sport all by himself between his scoring and passing. For this workforce to have a one-game lead within the ACC and the No. 3 rating within the nation, it is actually particular to see what they have been in a position to do, and Davis has authored it for Hubert Davis.
As for the reigning nationwide champions, after I sat down with Dan Hurley forward of the season and requested him what it might take to repeat as nationwide champions, this was his response:
Nicely, the sixth-year head coach was proper. Newton has been spectacular in main the Huskies to a 21-2 begin to the season, averaging 15.6 factors, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per sport. Charging the No. 1 workforce within the nation, he’s the one energetic NCAA participant who has eclipsed the profession milestones of 1,700 factors, 600 rebounds and 600 assists, and his three triple-doubles are essentially the most amongst all energetic gamers. What stands out about Newton is simply how balanced his whole ability set is, and he understands when he must take over within the scoring column, one thing he is been doing these days, as Michael notes under. He is obtained a silent murderer nature about him, not identified for being vocal however with a relaxed demeanor that blends properly with the extraordinary Hurley and his employees. One in every of his best acts this 12 months truly got here in one of many Huskies’ losses. On an evening when Connecticut was out of types offensively, Newton saved them within the sport at Kansas, scoring 31 factors within the Dec. 1 loss. I believe that efficiency notched the senior on the nationwide radar, and he is solely risen on it ever since, presently coming in at No. 4 in KenPom’s Nationwide Participant of the 12 months rankings.
To cap off my checklist, I’m going with Holmes of Dayton, who’s an actual NBA Draft prospect with upside due to his 6-10 body, paired along with his shotmaking and rim safety talents. He has led the 19-3 Flyers to a top-20 rating by averaging 20 factors, 7.6 rebounds and a couple of.5 assists per sport, to not point out all the good issues that he does on protection. He presently leads the A-10 in blocks, averaging 2.3 per sport. His efficiency on Friday evening in a win at St. Bonaventure was distinctive – 34 factors, seven rebounds and 4 blocks whereas taking pictures 10-of-15 from the ground. In the event you took Holmes off Anthony Grant’s workforce, this workforce would nonetheless be one of many higher squads within the A-10, however wouldn’t be within the at-large bid image. Holmes places them firmly in that place, hovering across the 6 and 7-lines.
John is appropriate in that Edey’s choice to return for his senior season sucked the life from a number of the awards and honors that may inevitably go his approach following one other unimaginable 12 months by which he is averaging 23.1 factors and 11.7 rebounds per sport. The one factor that might have prevented Edey from claiming the highest spot on almost each All-American checklist and incomes his second consecutive Naismith Males’s School Participant of the 12 months trophy — which most folk agree he’ll declare in just a few quick weeks — was some form of damage. He is so good and so dominant at full well being that his place atop the school basketball panorama goes largely unquestioned after every thing he is achieved the final two seasons. All that is lacking from Edey’s résumé is a deep postseason run.
The subsequent two picks, Knecht and Newton, each have robust claims to be thought-about the most effective guard within the nation this season. In Knecht’s case, it is tough to discover a extra impactful switch than what the previous zero-star recruit has dropped at Tennessee after starting his profession at Northeastern Junior School (two years) and Northern Colorado (two seasons). The 6-6, 204-pound Knecht already has 5 30-point outings, together with a stretch of 4 such outbursts in 5 video games throughout the second half of January. He is averaging 19.9 factors per sport for a workforce ranked sixth within the newest AP Prime 25 Ballot. In Newton’s case, he is main Connecticut in scoring (15.6 factors per sport), rebounding (6.7 per sport) and assists (5.6 per sport), whereas tied for second in steals (1.2 per sport). Over the past six video games — all wins — Newton took his scoring to a different degree by averaging 17.7 factors per sport towards Creighton, Villanova, Xavier, Providence, St. John’s and Butler.
Holmes and Broome, in the meantime, are wonderful huge males in their very own proper, although Edey nonetheless dwarfs them bodily. The previous is averaging 20 factors and seven.6 rebounds per sport for a Dayton workforce ranked 18th within the newest AP Ballot. The Flyers are 19-3 general with notable non-conference wins over St. John’s (21 factors for Holmes) and Cincinnati (28 factors for Holmes), and ought to be a preferred darkish horse on this 12 months’s NCAA Match. Auburn’s Broome has developed into some of the full gamers within the nation, a 6-10, 240-pound junior who influences video games on each ends of the ground. He is averaging 15.7 factors and eight.8 rebounds per sport — together with 2.5 offensive boards per sport — to guide the Tigers in each classes. Broome’s defensive prowess may be measured by his 2.3 blocks per sport, which ranks seventh amongst gamers from the facility conferences. He additionally ranks No. 9 in general defensive worth by EvanMiya.com.
Kentucky hosts Gonzaga this weekend in a uncommon February non-conference showdown. The Wildcats have misplaced three of their final 5, whereas the Bulldogs sit at 17-6 and haven’t got many extra alternatives to get a résumé-boosting win. Which workforce wants a win extra on this sport?
Michael: From the standpoint of constructing an NCAA Match résumé, Gonzaga wants this sport rather more than Kentucky. The relative weak spot of a West Coast Convention dominated by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s has rendered the league a one- or two-bid outfit most years, although a robust San Francisco workforce may give the choice committee extra to consider this season. However as of Tuesday afternoon, the Zags had been nonetheless with no Quad 1 win within the NCAA Internet Rankings, having misplaced their first 5 makes an attempt towards such opponents. And as their schedule presently stands, the one remaining probabilities to attain a Quad 1 win can be in forthcoming highway video games towards Kentucky (No. 27 NET), Saint Mary’s (No. 21 NET) and San Francisco (No. 63 NET) previous to the convention event. Non-conference losses to Purdue and UConn present Gonzaga was keen to schedule the most effective of the most effective, however failing to beat both workforce leaves head coach Mark Few nonetheless looking for a signature win. And whereas victories over USC, UCLA and Syracuse can be dynamite outcomes most years, none of these packages are on monitor to make the NCAA Match this season.
Although Kentucky has dropped three of its final 5 video games to South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, two of these three defeats got here towards high quality groups within the Gamecocks and Volunteers, each of that are ranked among the many high 15 within the newest AP ballot. Head coach John Calipari’s bunch have already scored noteworthy non-conference wins over Miami (95-73) and North Carolina (87-83), which confirmed how harmful the Wildcats may be at their greatest. Remaining video games towards Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee ought to give Kentucky a number of probabilities to enhance its résumé by beating higher-caliber opponents than what Gonzaga will face the remainder of the best way.
John: Gonzaga is presently in Mike Decourcy’s “Subsequent 4 Out” in his bracket forecast, so when it comes to want, there is no such thing as a query that the Bulldogs are the extra determined workforce coming into this sport. That being mentioned, I am going to play the contrarian right here and let you know why Kentucky may actually use this sport. This workforce reached as excessive as No. 6 within the nation two weeks in the past and was sitting within the top-five of my weekly FOX Sports activities rankings. I thought-about them a workforce that was a official nationwide championship contender, possessing essentially the most upside in America with their loaded freshman class.
However a part of life with having youth in faculty hoops is which you could undergo the spell they’ve gone by way of not too long ago. The opposite a part of being younger is that your protection can endure, and proper now in Lexington, it is simply plain poor.
The Wildcats aren’t even within the high 100 in KenPom adjusted defensive effectivity.
To surrender 94 factors in a loss to bubbly Florida at house, then permit 103 to Tennessee, additionally in Lexington, displays the place John Calipari’s workforce is on that finish of the ground.
I really like Rob Dillingham’s talents, as he has mixed for 75 factors within the final three video games, together with a 35-point exhibiting towards Tennessee, and Reed Sheppard has posted a stellar freshman 12 months as effectively. Moreover, I do not suppose we speak sufficient about Antonio Reeves and the 12 months the fifth-year senior is having. After being the Sixth Man of the 12 months within the SEC final season, it was murky whether or not he would return this 12 months on a workforce stacked with five-star perimeter expertise. Reeves has averaged over 19 factors per sport whereas taking pictures 44% from past the arc, a top-20 mark within the nation.
However Kentucky does not want to fret about scoring. They’ve a top-10 offense in America. For Dalton Knecht to shoot 5-for-14 in a sport and solely hit one 3, and for the Vols to hit the century mark within the scoring column in the identical sport, is an enormous eyebrow-raiser for Large Blue Nation.
Gonzaga shouldn’t be an awesome perimeter-shooting workforce, presently at 33% from deep this season. 5 gamers are averaging in double-figures and massive man switch Graham Ike has performed higher within the WCC, however the identical offensive points doomed the Zags of their 64-62 loss at house to Saint Mary’s over the weekend. This workforce is so reliant on Ryan Nembhard and Anton Watson to make them go. If UK can comprise Nembhard, the Creighton switch, the Wildcats ought to win this sport. Gonzaga would possibly want it extra, however Kentucky has to point out it ought to nonetheless be thought-about within the higher tier of groups, or else a chilly spell this time of 12 months may find yourself dooming them when March Insanity rolls round. One different storyline to observe is the well being of DJ Wagner and massive man Tre Mitchell, who missed Tuesday’s sport towards Vanderbilt with an ankle and again damage, respectively. You don’t want to face the elite and have main holes defensively. That is a method to exit within the first weekend of the event.
Purdue is ready to host in-state rival Indiana in a Large Ten matchup Saturday evening. What should the Hoosiers do in an effort to pull off an upset?
John: This sport is not being performed in Utah in 1997, the place a food-poisoning pizza flu may alter Zach Edey, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer’s probabilities to play, proper? I am solely kidding. Look, the very first thing that it’s good to do in an effort to be aggressive with the Boilermakers is take away the 3-point line. That is much more important for Indiana, whose weak spot this season has been perimeter taking pictures. The Hoosiers, who enter Saturday’s matchup towards Purdue having dropped 4 of their final six contests, rank lifeless final within the Large Ten at simply 5.1 made triples per contest whereas taking pictures 33% from past the arc. Edey goes to get his, having posted 33 factors and 14 rebounds in Purdue’s 87-66 win at Meeting Corridor on Jan. 16. And whereas Indiana locked up Smith, holding him to 2-for-14 from the sector and 0-for-6 from downtown, Southern Illinois switch Lance Jones crammed the void properly with 17 factors on 7-of-12 in that sport. Loyer scored 19 factors on 5-of-6 from the ground, together with 4-of-4 from 3-point territory in that first assembly.
As a result of groups can pack it in towards the Hoosiers, it places the large males in a troublesome spot, particularly towards the elite packages in America. If there’s one thing that has to flip for Indiana on this second assembly between the Hoosiers and Boilermakers, it is Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware packing extra of a punch of their manufacturing degree. The frontcourt duo, which mixes to common over 31 factors per sport, was restricted to simply 13 mixed factors within the first assembly with the Boilers. They should discover a solution to do extra on this second assembly.
My X-factor for Mike Woodson’s workforce is 6-8 freshman wing Mackenzie Mgbako, who’s averaging greater than 13 factors per sport over his final eight video games and has settled into a greater place offensively because the 12 months has gone on. Mgbako has hit a number of 3s in six of the final eight contests, so maybe that might be one thing that makes this a extra aggressive sport, which Purdue can be a double-digit favourite in.
Indiana’s Mackenzie Mgbako throws an inbounds cross off an Iowa participant’s again, picks it up and scores
Michael: The sentiment of John’s joke doubtless displays how most individuals really feel forward of Saturday’s sport. What is generally a fiery and fiercely contested in-state rivalry carries far much less “oomph” this time round given the Hoosiers’ vital regression after shedding stars Trayce Jackson-Davis (Spherical 2, Choose 57) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (Spherical 1, Choose 17) to the NBA Draft. A workforce that ranked twenty eighth in offensive effectivity and forty fifth in defensive effectivity en path to incomes a No. 4 seed in final 12 months’s NCAA Match had sunk to a hundred and first and one hundredth, respectively, forward of Tuesday’s sport towards Ohio State. Indiana is spiraling regardless of the way you slice it: The Hoosiers are a hundred and first in efficient discipline aim proportion (52.3%), 332nd in free-throw proportion (66.5%), 214th in 3-point discipline aim proportion (32.9%), three hundredth in proportion of turnovers compelled (15.4% of possessions), 228th in proportion of offensive rebounds allowed (30.3% of photographs) and 211th in 3-point discipline aim protection (34.1%).
So, what’s the important thing for Indiana to doubtlessly pull off an upset? It must be 3-point protection, simply as John famous, for the straightforward cause that the Hoosiers are ill-equipped to maintain tempo in a taking pictures contest. The place the Boilermakers have 4 gamers with at the very least 30 made 3s this season — Lance Jones (51), Fletcher Loyer (42), Braden Smith (32) and Mason Gillis (30) — the Hoosiers have only one in Mgbako (30). The one different Hoosier to have eclipsed 13 made 3s is Trey Galloway with 21. To have an opportunity, Indiana should make Saturday’s sport right into a 2-point contest as an alternative of a 3-point contest.
Which workforce presently sitting exterior the AP Prime 25 may you see making a run down the stretch and incomes a top-five seed within the NCAA Match?
Michael: One workforce to look at right here is Virginia. The Cavaliers completed six spots exterior the Prime 25 within the newest AP Ballot, however they’re 18-5 general, 9-3 within the ACC and convey a seven-game win streak into their date with Florida State later this week. Head coach Tony Bennett’s workforce vanished from the nationwide dialogue throughout a tough patch that started with a loss to Memphis on Dec. 19 and continued by way of a lopsided loss to Wake Forest on Jan. 13, a stretch by which the Cavaliers misplaced 4 of six video games. The defeat to then-No. 23 Memphis value Virginia an opportunity to safe a top quality non-conference win after getting blown out by Wisconsin (65-41) earlier this season, whereas ACC losses to Notre Dame, North Carolina State and Wake Forest dropped them to 2-3 in a league that is not significantly deep.
Since then, nevertheless, Virginia has gained seven consecutive video games on the power of a protection ranked eighth nationally in effectivity, in line with KenPom. The Cavaliers have held opponents to a mean of 54.9 factors per sport throughout their profitable streak, headlined by a 60-38 stomping of Miami on Monday evening. The Hurricanes shot 28.6% from the sector and made simply two of 20 makes an attempt from past the arc in that sport. The character of Virginia’s schedule provides the Cavaliers, who’re 2-2 towards Quad 1 opponents and 4-2 towards Quad 2 opponents, an opportunity to make a major climb as February provides solution to March. Bennett’s workforce nonetheless has remaining video games towards No. 3 North Carolina (house, Feb. 24) and No. 9 Duke (away, March 2) that might propel them towards a top-five seed within the NCAA Match. It would not be stunning to see the Cavaliers sitting comfortably within the Prime 25 coming into postseason play.
John: The primary three groups exterior of the AP Prime 25 are Saint Mary’s, TCU and Indiana State. The Gaels haven’t got sufficient within the West Coast Convention to stand up to the 5-line in my view, and would nonetheless doubtless be in an 8-9 sport if the season ended immediately, if not in a 7-10 contest. Whereas I just like the Horned Frogs, three of their subsequent 4 video games are on the highway and towards Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas Tech. There are alternatives to maneuver up within the Large 12, however TCU is not profitable all of these video games. And Indiana State is a terrific story led by head coach Josh Schertz, however the Sycamores haven’t got the résumé to get that top.
So, who may make the transfer?
Let’s go to the convention that is among the greatest tales in faculty basketball this season, and a workforce with a fifth-year senior who has stayed the course at his house faculty, has not left and now may make them historical past.
I am speaking about Isaiah Stevens and Colorado State. The Rams are presently a 6-seed in Mike Decourcy’s newest bracket forecast and are 18-5 on the season. Niko Medved’s workforce can rating at such a excessive clip, presently holding the nation’s No. 21 offense, in line with KenPom. Stevens, the 6-foot guard, goes to notch All-American honors, presently averaging 16.6 factors and seven.1 assists per sport. His newest efficiency: 16 factors and 11 assists in a 75-62 win over an NCAA Match Boise State workforce on Tuesday. And this is the factor: The Mountain West is presently projected to get 5 groups to the Large Dance, so there is a window for CSU to maintain constructing its profile.
I actually suppose this workforce has second-weekend potential and imagine of their means to maintain rising up the ladder.
John Fanta is a nationwide faculty basketball broadcaster and author for FOX Sports activities. He covers the game in a wide range of capacities, from calling video games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Community to offering commentary on The Area of 68 Media Community. Observe him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
Michael Cohen covers faculty soccer and basketball for FOX Sports activities with an emphasis on the Large Ten. Observe him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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