Bob Asmussen's Hoop It Up: Arkansas finds its groove

Bob Asmussen's Hoop It Up: Arkansas finds its groove

Each week, Bob Asmussen offers his views on the game Dan Dakich and Dick Vitale love to shout about:

Team of the Week
Arkansas

Great to see the Razorbacks in the headlines again. Seems like the first time since Nolan Richardson was in charge. Mike Anderson’s guys went to No. 21 South Carolina on Wednesday and slipped out of Columbia with an 83-76 win. With the victory, Arkansas improved to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the SEC. Jaylen Barford scored 23 points and Dusty Hannahs added 20 for the visitors. Arkansas survived a 27-point game by South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell. And it held off a Gamecocks’ rally that saw the hosts cut a double-digit deficit to one. Arkansas aims at win No. 20 early Saturday evening, hosting Mississippi.

Team of the Weak
Baylor

What is H.I.U. going to do with the Bears? One week, they are winning games and making you believe they are Final Four contenders. The next week, they are losing at so-so Texas Tech. That’s what happened Monday when the Red Raiders beat Baylor 84-78. That pretty much ended any thoughts of the Bears running down Kansas in the Big 12 standings. Texas Tech jumped to an 11-0 lead at the start of the game. The Red Raiders gave away the lead, but went on another 11-0 run to complete the upset. Keenan Evans scored 23 points for Texas Tech and Niem Stevenson added 21. Baylor won’t have much time to sulk. Big 12 leader Kansas visits Waco on Saturday morning. The Jayhawks should be feeling pretty good about their game after a classic rally against West Virginia on Monday night.
 
Final Four
If the tournament started today, these would be the best bets to be playing the final weekend:

1. Gonzaga (PREVIOUS: 1)
Sorry ahead of time if the Bulldogs lost their late game Thursday night against San Francisco. Playing against the Dons at home, H.I.U. guesses Gonzaga won by 27. Mark Few’s team got past its final major test of the regular season last Saturday, winning by 12 at Saint Mary’s. The Gaels figure to be on the other side of the West Coast title game but haven’t shown the ability to beat their rivals this season. Pacific, which visits Saturday, is one of the worst teams in the WCC.

2. Kansas (2)
Though H.I.U. is a big Bill Self supporter, he was ready to yank the Jayhawks out of the F.F. with 4 minutes left in the West Virginia game. Playing at home, where they are supposed to roll, the Jayhawks were trailing by 14 points late in the game. Fans bolted out of the arena, ignoring pleas by Dick Vitale to stay in their seats. As always, Vitale was correct. Kansas made an Illinois-against-Arizona-type comeback. Frank Mason III tied the game with a pair of free throws in the final seconds and Kansas took control in overtime. The Jayhawks travel to wounded Baylor on Saturday with a chance to move closer to another Big 12 title. The schedule eases up in the final two weeks with three of the four games against the bottom half of the conference.

3. Villanova (4)
The defending national champions won their 25th game Monday, beating host DePaul by 13. Workmanlike, which is the way the Wildcats roll. It isn’t always a lot of fun to watch, but the victory is all that matters. That makes six wins in a row since the loss at Marquette. All but one of the games were no-doubters, and three were on the road. Villanova should have no trouble Saturday morning at Seton Hall. But next week could be a challenge with Butler and Creighton visiting Philly. Or not.

4. UCLA (—)
Welcome back to Steve Alford and the Bruins, who have won four in a row since an upset loss at rival Southern Cal. The nation’s top scoring team just swept the Oregon schools after putting up 107 at Washington. UCLA averages 92 ppg and, no surprise, leads the nation in assists, too. T.J. Leaf tops the team in scoring and is hitting a team-best 63 percent of his shots. Alford has the team playing great right now. Hope he can keep it going in March. The Bruins figure to get revenge Saturday night against the Trojans.

Flunking Four
If Santa has a naughty list for college basketball, these teams are certainly on it:

351. Alabama A&M (351)
The Bulldogs are getting closer to a second win. Last time out, against Alabama State, they scored 89 points and went to three overtimes. Problem was they gave up 97 and were outscored 17-9 in the final five minutes. A&M led by 10 early in the second half, then went on a five-minute scoring drought to allow Alabama State to get back into the game. A&M is the anti-UCLA, scoring just 61 ppg.

350. North Carolina A&T (—)
Apparently, if you have an ampersand in your name, you are not very good at basketball. The Aggies are just 2-24 overall, barely ahead of the Alabama Ampersands. A&T lost 72-65 Monday against South Carolina State. At 0-11 in the conference, the Aggies are probably going to finish last in the MEAC. But they have a chance Saturday at Howard.

349. Tulane (350)
As expected, the Highways lost to Top 25 SMU. But they kept it close, dropping an 80-75 decision. That was good for a one-place drop in the F.F. Does coach Mike Dunleavy miss working in the NBA? Why isn’t he on a beach counting his money? H.I.U. predicts a mini-upset Saturday with Tulane beating South Florida at home.
 
348. Dartmouth (—)
The bad news: The Big Green ranks among the worst teams in the country. The good news: The Ivy Leaguers will someday be rich and won’t care what someone in C-U wrote about them when they were in college. Jimmy Fitzgerald’s school includes three players from Illinois. That isn’t helping. Coming off a win at Brown, Dartmouth plays Andy Bernard’s alma mater in Cornell on Friday.

Conference call
Ranking the best leagues in the land:

LEAGUE    PREV.
1. Pac-12    7
2. ACC    1
3. Big 12    5
4. West Coast    3
5. Big Ten    4
6. Big East    2
7. SEC    8
8. Missouri Valley    9
9. American    6
10. Atlantic 10    10

Wooden watch
1. Frank Mason III, Kansas — He missed 10 of 13 shots from the field against West Virginia, but hit 16 free throws to help his team rally for an overtime victory. He was at his best late in the game, scoring more than half of the Kansas points during the comeback.

2. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga — The Washington transfer is doing a bit of everything for the nation’s lone undefeated team. After a double-double against Loyola Marymount, he scored 14 points in a big win at Saint Mary’s. He is making 51 percent of his shots from the field and 89 percent of his free throws. Clutch.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA — The Bruins needed every one of his 15 points and 11 rebounds in a comeback win against Oregon.

Random thoughts
Now what?

Mark Gottfried is out at N.C. State, done in partly by his own early success at the school. He raised expectations, which usually means trouble for coaches not named Rick Pitino or John Calipari. The Wolfpack will try to make a big hire, in an effort to try to catch their neighbors in Durham and Chapel Hill. Possibilities include Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Archie Miller and Butler’s Chris Holtmann. Good luck with that.

Same old, same old?
A story in The Coloradoan detailed the results of an investigation into Colorado State basketball coach Larry Eustachy. The guy who was forced out at Iowa State after drinking at a college party reportedly created a hostile atmosphere for players with the Rams. After his time at Iowa State, the coach sought treatment and got a chance at Southern Miss. According to the story, the former Colorado State athletic director recommended the school fire the coach. It didn’t happen. And probably won’t now that the Rams are leading the Mountain West. Tick, tick, tick.

Beware of Catamounts
Vermont leads the America East with a 14-0 league record and is 24-5 overall after Wednesday’s 21-point win at UMass-Lowell. The Catamounts are coached by John Becker, who took over in 2011 after serving as an assistant. He led the team to the NCAA tournament his first year and is looking for a return trip. Vermont has five players averaging at least 8.6 ppg. The Catamounts play sticky defense and pass the ball well. The kind of team a top seed doesn’t want to see in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

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