If you waited until the end of football to tune into this college basketball season, or if you have yet to pay attention, shame on you. Secondly, boy have you missed a lot. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected more than ever up until this point in this season.
Being an SEC guy through and through, it kills me to say this, but the Big Ten is the cream of the crop in college basketball this year. The SEC has Florida. The ACC– Duke and Miami. The Big 12– Kansas and Kansas State. The Big East has the best argument outside of the Big Ten with six teams quietly (due to the obsession with the Big 10 this year) in the top 25, but up until this point in the season the ceiling of potential success for the Big 10 (with Indiana, OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Mich. State) looks to be higher.
With that said, it looks as though there’s not an elite team that’s above the rest like, say, a Kentucky last year. Maybe it’s simply parody. Maybe it’s due to the one-and-done rule that’s being revisited with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel’s recent ACL injury. Maybe the level of play is lower than in years past, including more teams in the fun, but whatever the reason, it’s just that… fun. And lots of it. Oh, and the best part is, it’s only February.
In case you’re just tuning in or just want some reminders, here are a few lists that will hopefully spark some interest in the rest of the college basketball season for you… or not, whichever you choose, but that’ll be your own fault.
Top games thus far this season: (in no particular order)
#3 Michigan 62 vs. Wisconsin 65– Tied late in regulation, Wisconsin elects not to use an extra foul on Tim Hardaway Jr., and he promptly steps up and drills a three with under 4 seconds left to put the Wolverines up by 3. Game over right? Wrong. Wisconsin inbounds the ball and Ben Brust races up the floor and heaves a 40-footer, and, you guessed it, nails it to send it into overtime. Brust later hit the game winning 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime.
#25 Notre Dame 104 vs. #11 Louisville 101– The 5-overtime game. Not the most well-played game and definitely not the prettiest, but the most entertaining up until this point. As the game progressed, it became almost laughable as it seemed Louisville would ultimately find a way to win countless times, but somehow Notre Dame hung around and extended the game… again, again, again, and again. Louisville’s sideline was tense and enduring Pitino’s tirades in between overtime, and even catching his clipboard he’d launched, while the Irish sideline and Coach Mike Brey were all smiles and having fun as he said afterward. This is probably due to in large part that Louisville, namely Russ Smith, had a shot to win the first four overtimes and a chance to tie the last one, and he obviously failed on all such attempts.
Illinois 74 vs. #1 Indiana 72– Indiana dominated the game for the first 35 minutes or so of game action, and then seemingly on the verge of becoming the elite team of college basketball, they began to crumble. The great Illini comeback was capped off by an incredible backdoor cut on an inbounds play, leading to a wide-open, game-winning layup as time expired.
Both Michigan vs. Ohio State games– In the first meeting on January 13th, Trey Burke’s stepback jumper to tie the game with 17 seconds left went down, then came out, leaving Michigan on the wrong side of the 56-53 decision at the hands of then #15 OSU. Then on February 5th, Michigan got the upper hand 76-74, as guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. caught fire in the second half. The game ended somewhat controversially as OSU point guard Aaron Craft drove the basket for what would have been a tying basket, but it was rejected by Tim Hardaway Jr. amidst some contact.
A few players to keep an eye on:
Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)– Most likely the favorite at this point in the Player of the Year race, the Sophomore is averaging 18.2 points per contest and 7 assists per game. He’s the leader of one of the best teams, explosive with the ball in his hands, and just has a knack for getting the ball through the net.
Victor Oladipo (G, Indiana)– Probably my new favorite player in the game. A highlight dunk waiting to happen. A former 3-star recruit coming out of high school, this freakishly athletic guard has transformed himself into one of the premier explosive players in the college game. Most importantly, he’s been at his best in big games for the Hoosiers averaging 20 PPG when his team has played a ranked opponent.
Doug McDermott (F, Creighton)– This guy is no stranger to the avid college basketball fan, but could unfortunately go under the radar to the casual fan because of the lack of media exposure. He averages over 23 points and 7 boards per game and has an outside shot at Player of the Year honors. Look for McDermott to become more of a household name in March.
Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)– Finally, this Senior has played himself into Player of the Year talk by putting up gaudy numbers (18 points and almost 11 boards a game).
Other Notes of Interest:
The “U” is for real. And yes, we’re still talking about basketball. Miami is ranked 2nd in the AP Poll this week–the highest ranking in school history. If beating the then top-ranked Duke Blue Devils by 27 doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will. Also, like any historically good Miami team, this team has swagger. Lots of it. They play hard-nosed, floor-slapping defense, and they’re shoes can be louder than the fans at times. Heck, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade even sat courtside at a recent game. Some thought after his cinderella run at George Mason that Jim Laranega took the Miami job to cruise into retirement, but he’s done a marvelous job with this team and they mean business. It’ll be exciting to see what they can do come tourney time. And keep on eye on Shane Larkin (Yes, Barry Larkin’s son).
Nerlens Noel out for the season. Unfortunately, the worst fear of Big Blue Nation were confirmed this week as explosive shot-blocker Nerlins Noel received news that he tore his ACL Tuesday while blocking a shot against Florida. You hate to see this happen to any player, especially one of his caliber and potential–one who could undoubtedly be playing for a salary this year if it wasn’t for the NBA age limit rule.
Curse of #1 and March Madness coming early. As alluded to earlier, each of the past five weeks, the top ranked team in the nation has gone down. This makes for excitement, as no team is head and shoulders above the rest. This should make March all the more interesting, as the NCAA Tournament generally depends on which team is hot at the right time, but it looks like the field is much more wide open this year. Florida’s Billy Donovan says 30 teams have a shot to make the Final Four. Butler’s Brad Stevens says everyone that gets in has a shot this year. Should be fun.
In conclusion, if you’ve yet to dive into this college basketball season physically and emotionally, yes you’ve missed a lot, but it’s not too late. I’m not sure how the games and story-lines can get much better, but I know they will. March Madness doesn’t disappoint.
**Feel free to agree, disagree, or comment other input as you please. I’m sure I left some top news, info, etc. out.
By: Philip Matthews