The best in college basketball was on display Saturday in Raleigh as N.C. State used its abundance of talent to prevail over a beat-up Duke squad 84-76. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown played well, but it was Richard Howell’s 16 points and 18 rebounds that made the difference. Howell was unstoppable.
With Wyoming, Arizona and Michigan also losing last week, there are no more undefeated teams – and don’t forget I told you this was possible in last week’s blog. But please take note: it is no disgrace losing on the road to a ranked team, and it is important that teams and coaches don’t allow one loss to lead to another (are you listening, Illinois?). Duke still has N.C. State at Cameron Indoor Stadium (February 7th) and if they meet a 3rd time, it won’t be in Raleigh.
With all those first Ls from coast to coast, Louisville’s the new #1 in the AP Poll. But to me, Duke’s resume with victories over Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, Ohio State, Kentucky and Minnesota keeps them tops in my poll. And remember, Kelly and Curry will likely be 100% soon. Before Tuesday’s loss to Wisconsin, you could’ve made a case for Indiana as the top team, and Louisville and Michigan are also deserving of the spot. Whatever order you put them in, the Blue Devils, Cardinals, Wolverines and Hoosiers are my four elite teams at this time.
The Big Ten remains the dominant conference with Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota all worthy of top-10 consideration – and you can’t count out Bo Ryan’s squad either. That win at Assembly Hall last night was Wisconsin’s fifth straight in Bloomington and 11th straight win over the Hoosiers overall. Ryan has guided the Badgers to 11 straight NCAA Tournaments and six Sweet Sixteen appearances. But here is the most amazing note on the streak over IU: eight of the wins have come when the Hoosiers were ranked. Ryan is 17-3 against Indiana overall. If you go 17-3 against anyone, that’s impressive. To do it against a program like Indiana’s is something special.
Checking up on the freshman class:
It’s mid-January, which means it is time to start taking freshmen seriously. Many start strong, but usually you can count on a whole lot of them to fall off. These guys haven’t.
Let’s start with UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. He is 6-8 and hits tough shots, like he did against Air Force this past weekend in a grinder of an overtime win. Bennett finished with 22 points and 16 boards. Keep an eye on him tonight in a tough road game at San Diego State and then Saturday at Colorado State. How about Ben McLemore at Kansas? 33 points and a game-tying three-pointer to force overtime against Iowa State, and since it wasn’t in Tucson, the shot counted. McLemore is averaging over 16 and five boards and can handle the rock.
My all-freshman team needs a point guard and man is this guy good. Jahii Carson picked Arizona State because he saw a chance to make a difference in his hometown. Right now, at 17.1 points per game and 5.2 assists, he could be the first freshman to average 17 points and five assists since Shaheen Holloway did it for Seton Hall way back in 1996-97. Carson is averaging more than 36 minutes per game. One more statistic for you… Jahii scored 20 points at both Oregon and Oregon State last weekend. The last time a Sun Devil freshman scored 20 in both games of a back-to-back set in Pac-12 play was 1984, before I was even at ASU. I’m really happy for Herb Sendek, who is 14-3 and doing a great job at a place where I spent eight years. Coach Sendek turns 50 this year, but he’s already been a head coach for 20 years. He has a lot of good years in front of him with a lot of experience behind him.
Oklahoma State has Marcus Smart and although he and the team have hit a wall, his numbers are still solid: 14.0 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals. Smart is 6-4 and a solid 225. The Cowboys have several tough games coming up in the always rugged Big 12, so I’m curious to see how he does over the next month.
UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad is quietly averaging 18.2 points and 4.9 rebounds and has the Bruins back in the top 25. Muhammad averaged over 23 in a five-game stretch before UCLA hit the road last weekend. The Bruins got a pair of wins, but Shabazz only averaged only 10 points in the two games. Of course, as you all know, the only statistic that matters is Ws. And UCLA got them.
Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ve noticed that I’m running a three-guard set and going small with my all-frosh team. Better add some size in case we need to switch it up. Baylor big man Isaiah Austin has been a double-double machine lately and has been consistent in adding scoring for the Bears. He’s also a legacy for my team: I coached his dad and uncle at Arizona State! I feel older and older every day… Finally, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel went for 15 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, seven blocks and four steals against Texas A&M. Could he get a quadruple-double someday? A quintuple-double? Seeing as the 6-11 center is probably a one-and-done guy, someday will have to be this year, but why not?
Tonight: UNLV @ San Diego State, 10 PM ET – Two teams that could make some noise in March.
Tomorrow: Michigan @ Minnesota, 7 PM ET – How does Michigan respond to its first loss?
Saturday: Kansas @ Texas, 2 PM ET (also on Dial Global Sports at 1:45 PM ET) – Texas is 0-3 in the Big 12, but two of those losses were in OT and Austin is never an easy place to play.
Also Saturday: Syracuse @ Louisville, 4 PM ET on ESPN – Can Syracuse get back in the #1 talk by beating #1 on the road?
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Dial Global’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.