Bob Asmussen: Mountaineers on top — for a day
Team of the Week
Hate to disappoint the folks in Morgantown, but the big win last week wasn’t in football. For a day, the Mountaineers were as good as the best team in the Big 12, stunning Kansas despite 41 points by hotshot freshman Andrew Wiggins. West Virginia built a 25-point lead before the Jayhawks rallied. The Mountaineers are just 17-14 and need to win the Big 12 tournament to earn an NCAA bid. But fans are excited about a chance to play in the NIT, where the team could make a long run.
Team of the Weak
Want to get your embattled coach fired? Lose by 18 in the first round of the SEC tournament against a 13-19 South Carolina team that has little reason to care. That’s just what the Tigers did Wednesday in Atlanta. That sealed the fate of coach Tony Barbee. The Tigers went 3-7 down the stretch. Auburn has been good in the past. Football success doesn’t help Barbee’s job security, either.
SCHOOL LAST WEEK
1. Wichita State 1
Now they wait. For a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that is certain to come Sunday. Since finishing off Indiana State to win the Missouri Valley tournament, coach Gregg Marshall has made more appearances than a congressional candidate (don’t forget to vote). Marshall has talked about his team’s health (good) and resolve (better). Fred VanVleet, who some consider the third-best player on the team after Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker, was just named MVC Player of the Year. As long as the others aren’t jealous, that should be a good thing. There will be oodles of pressure on Wichita State going into the tournament, but it can’t be as great as the self-imposed pressure. Hoop It Up likes Wichita State’s chances to win it all, which is probably a bad sign for the Shockers. Sorry.
2. Florida 2
Though Wichita State has a better record, the hunch here is that the Gators enter the NCAA tournament as the overall No. 1 seed. How will you know? The talking heads at CBS will open the selection show with the announcement of the No. 1 seed. The Gators have done nothing since early December to warrant a move down. Not even a loss in the SEC tournament will cost Florida a No. 1 seed. It is that sturdy. The Gators didn’t give Kentucky a chance in the last game of the regular season, winning by 19. John Calipari does not want to see Florida again.
3. Arizona 3
Nice of the Wildcats to help Oregon make a late push for the NCAA tournament. The Ducks ended Arizona’s five-game winning streak with a weekend decision in Eugene. The good news for Arizona is that it did nothing to hurt its chances to earn the No. 1 seed in the West. Being close to home is important to Sean Miller’s Wildcats. Arizona is the only ranked team left in the Pac-12. The league is deep and talented, but there is a large gap between the Wildcats and everybody else.
4. Louisville 10
Big move up by the Cardinals this week thanks to overpowering wins against SMU and UConn. And it didn’t hurt that teams ahead of Louisville played like they needed some rest, which they will get soon enough. Led by Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell (a member of the awesome name club), the Cardinals look ready to defend. Don’t expect any help for Louisville from the selection committee. H.I.U. promises Louisville will be in the most challenging region. It will not be easy to repeat the title. But it is possible.
5. Villanova 4
There was plenty for the Wildcats to play for this week, including a return trip to New York for the East Regional, but Seton Hall had other ideas Thursday. Villanova might have lost its shot at the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were heavily tested outside the Big East, beating Kansas, Memphis and Iowa, so Villanova still might go far in the Big Dance.
6. Virginia 5
Who had the Cavs in their preseason ACC title pool? Nobody. Not even Tony Bennett. The coach’s kid willed them to first place without the benefit of a star player. Virginia lulls you to sleep, then smacks you over the head. By the time you are ready to play again, it is too late. Game over. It worked 25 times for Virginia this season. So far. The overtime loss to Maryland in the season finale will only make Virginia better. We like the Cavs to win the ACC tournament and earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA version.
7. Michigan —
The Big Ten champions didn’t exactly thump Indiana in the finale, but a win is a win is a win. Nobody outside the Top 5 is playing better entering the postseason. It wouldn’t be any kind of stunner to see Michigan return to the title game. It isn’t the same team as a year ago, but there are some similarities. The Mad Canadian, Nik Stauskas, has taken Trey Burke’s role. He is the star. He is the guy Michigan counts on to get it started and to keep it going. Caris LeVert is the unsung hero, though he is getting more attention as he piles up stats. He is one of those guys you don’t notice as the game is being played, then afterward you marvel that he scored 18 points.
8. Duke 7
Here’s hoping that Mike Krzyzewski’s health issues are behind him. It can’t be good to see your leader taking a knee during an important game. We will trust Duke to make sure he gets enough rest and takes care of himself. It serves as a reminder about how hard it is to coach at a high level. Sure, the pay is great, but the stress is even greater. The coach must have felt better when his Blue Devils stopped North Carolina by 12. Wins against the Tar Heels cure what ails you.
9. San Diego State 9
Steve Fisher’s guys got revenge against New Mexico with a three-point win over the Lobos. The Aztecs should have no troubles winning the thin Mountain West. Will that prepare them for the NCAA tournament? Great question, omniscient author. We will see. One of these years, Fisher is going to get back to the Final Four without the benefit of the Fab Five.
10. Syracuse 6
Remember when Syracuse was undefeated? Remember when the team looked like a cinch for a No. 1 seed? That seems like a long time ago. The NCAA tournament selection committee could have rewarded Syracuse by allowing it to play in the East Region, which winds up at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That reward isn’t as likely to happen. Syracuse should be a lock to play the early rounds at Buffalo but likely will need an appearance in the ACC final to be placed in the East. We will see. The selection committee often leave us shaking our heads. Maybe this time, too.
Five more to watch
1. Kansas — Sorry, Jayhawks, but when you lose to West Virginia, you aren’t going to make the Top 10. The bigger concern for Kansas is its health. The back injury to freshman Joel Embiid is a major concern. If he can’t play in the tournament, Kansas will have a difficult time advancing far.
2. Wisconsin — The Badgers were rolling along until the bad night in Lincoln. It happens to everybody. Bo Ryan’s guys had a chance to end Nebraska’s NCAA tournament dreams. Instead, they seemed to seal the deal. Nice guests. Until that game, Wisconsin had been playing better than anybody in the league. Let’s see if Wisconsin can take all that talent and last until the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. It is never a lock.
3. Cincinnati — Credit the Bearcats for not allowing a two-game slide to turn into a full-blown slump. They recovered with wins against Memphis and Rutgers, putting smiles on their faces going into the American tournament. Mick Cronin will have the defense dialed up and ready for the postseason. And the clutch play of Sean Kilpatrick gives Cincinnati a chance in any game.
4. Oklahoma — Congrats to nice-guy Lon Kruger, who has his Sooners rolling and just was named Big 12 Coach of the Year. Kruger is about to take his fifth different team to the NCAA tournament. That is pretty good work for a guy who gets very little credit for being one of the best coaches in college basketball.
5. Creighton — Congrats to nice-guy Greg McDermott, who led his team to a successful debut season in the Big East. The seats in the arena are full every night, and the folks in Omaha love him. Hopefully, they aren’t expecting a repeat in Year 1 A.D. (After Doug). While the younger McDermott is hitting shots in the NBA, Dad will desperately look for a replacement. Wonder if Jabari Parker might consider a transfer? Probably not.
Ranking the best leagues in the land:
LEAGUE LAST WEEK
1. Big Ten 3
2. Big 12 2
3. ACC 4
4. Pac-12 1
5. Big East 6
6. Atlantic 10 5
7. Missouri Valley 9
8. American 7
9. SEC 8
10. Mountain West 10
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton — The Big East Player of the Year ended his home career in style, scoring a career-best 45 points. That put him over 3,000 for his career. The nation’s leading scorer bumped his average to 26.5 points per game. After his final home appearance, McDermott spoke briefly to the sellout crowd.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke — In his final regular season game, the Chicago Simeon grad lit up hated rival North Carolina for 30 points. He also pulled down 11 rebounds. For the season, he is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds, while hitting 49 percent of his shots from the field. Impressive.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas — Can’t blame him for the loss to West Virginia. All the freshman did against the Mountaineers was score 41 and grab eight rebounds. His first NBA contract just got a lot bigger.
(Joe Lunardi edition)
Joe on Nebraska
The ESPN bracketologist, made available earlier this week on a teleconference, had a string of reporters hanging on his every word. Why? Because Lunardi knows the NCAA tournament like nobody else. Resurgent Nebraska was a hot topic. It went into the season picked last in the Big Ten and now is considered a likely NCAA tournament team.
“They haven’t been in the tournament since ‘98, and they have never won an NCAA tournament game,” Lunardi said. “I think an 11-7 Nebraska is going.”
Lunardi’s advice to Nebraska fans: Go to Indy and enjoy the experience, knowing the NCAA tournament is around the corner.
“They should feel like they are relevant in that league from a basketball standpoint for the first time,” Lunardi said.
Joe on New Mexico
The guru doesn’t think the bad stretch against San Diego State costs the Lobos much. “Ultimately, it has little or no impact on their seeding or how they will perform in the NCAA tournament,” Lunardi said. “In my experience, the players are at an age when they are a lot more resilient than the adults involved. The bigger thing is once they get in everybody reminding them of losing to a 14 seed last year. That’s the big psychological hurdle for New Mexico.”
Ahhhh, the wisdom of Joe.
Joe on Kentucky
What can the Wildcats do to improve their NCAA tournament stock? “Kentucky could probably best help itself by starting the season over,” Lunardi said. “And I don’t mean to be snarky. The last time I looked, they were 1-7 against the Top 50. They haven’t really shown the ability to compete with Florida.”
Lunardi has Kentucky in the 6- to 7-seed range. Not good for a team that went into the season at No. 1. The Wildcats will make the field but aren’t expected to stay long. Kentucky’s struggles have not surprised Lunardi, who took some heat from Wildcats fans for saying the team doesn’t have a strong resume. “This team is really ordinary,” Lunardi said.