Villanova, La Salle break out; Self gives high praise to McLemore
How do you know Valentine's Day is around the corner? Because the Fast Break is giving out mid-major love, brotherly love, and one triple-double dose of love. We've also got a pair of Grizzlies, a Rebel without a brain, and a Self-aware Jayhawk. By this time next week, it will be February, which means the most glorious month of all is right behind. So lace 'em up and run the floor with me. If we run hard, maybe March will get here more quickly.
I normally don't honor players based solely on scoring numbers, but Bader's were too eye-popping to pass up. During an 18-point win over IUPUI last Thursday, Bader made 11 of his 18 three-point attempts en route to scoring 47 points, the highest single-game total in Division I this season. He followed that by scoring 26 points in a 67-60 win over Western Illinois on Saturday. That one gave Golden Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe his 500th career win -- yet another number worth honoring. Kampe and Bader make for a good team. After Bader missed his final 10 three-point attempts during a loss South Dakota last Saturday, Kampe was asked if he told Bader to stop shooting. The coach replied that he only got angry at Bader for passing up more open shots. That's what I call a green light.
The Fast Break is feeling the brotherly love. Both these teams have had their struggles this season, yet each of them knocked off a pair ranked squads last week. In La Salle's case, that was even more impressive because it included a road victory at then-No. 19 VCU behind 31 points from senior guard Ramon Galloway. That win came just three days after the Explorers beat Butler at home by a point. It was the first time La Salle notched consecutive wins over ranked teams in more than 60 years. Meanwhile, the same Villanova team that lost at home to Columbia in November, and by 15 points at home to Pitt just two weeks ago, defeated two top-five teams in Louisville and Syracuse. (Both of those were at home.) Such inconsistency is expected from a team that starts a freshman point guard, but Ryan Arciadacono looks like he's all growns up. He combined for 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals in the two wins, and his three-pointer from the left corner at the end of regulation sent the game into overtime against Syracuse. Before last week, Villanova wasn't even mentioned as a bubble team. Now it looks like an NCAA tournament team. That's what I call a good week.
It's hard to define exactly what makes a player a "Glue Guy," but one of my rules of thumb is that he should not be among his team's top two scorers. Kazemi, a transfer from Rice, is Oregon's sixth-leading scorer at 8.9 points per game, so he fits that bill. In every other way, however, he is this team's most dominant player, and he is making a credible case to be the Pac-12's Player of the Year. Last week, Kazemi was his typical Gluey self: 16 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two assists in a win over Washington State; and 11 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and one steal in a win over Washington. Overall, Kazemi is ranked third in the Pac-12 in rebounding (9.6 per game) and second in steals (2.2).
Brenton also fits the Glue Guy mold -- he is the reigning America East Defensive Player of the Year as well as his school's alltime leading rebounder -- but on Saturday he was a shining star. During a 79-69 win over Maine, Brenton posted Stony Brook's first-ever triple-double by going for 15 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. The win extended the Seawolves' best start in school history, pushing them to a 15-5 overall record and a 6-1 record in the America East Conference.
It's hard to imagine a more psychologically significant win. It wasn't just that N.C. State snapped a 13-game losing streak to the Tar Heels. Or that the Pack has now defeated Duke and North Carolina in the same season for the first time in 10 years. What made this important is the way this team bounced back from that embarrassing two-point loss at Wake Forest last Tuesday, its second loss in three games. N.C. State needed a dominant performance, and it got it by building a 28-point lead over the Tar Heels before allowing them to make the score respectable. N.C. State is as talented as any team in the country, and we know the Wolfpack can get themselves up for big games. Now, this team needs to show the toughness and maturity to win the less important games away from home. If they learn to do that, it could be lights out.
This is why coaches should fear success more than failure. Texas A&M has been a disaster since it scored that head-turning upset at Kentucky on Jan. 12. The Aggies have lost four in a row, including this one at home to a Georgia team that came in with a 1-4 record in the SEC (7-11 overall). In those four losses, Elston Turner, who had that ridonkulous 40-point performance in Rupp Arena (earning him the Fast Break's Player of the Week award), has shot a combined 13 for 44 from the floor. Unless this team turns things around, it can kiss its slender NCAA tournament hopes goodbye.
There were two other freshmen with stellar performances on Saturday. Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon scored 25 points in a win over Maryland, and Oklahoma State's Phil Forte had 26 in a win over West Virginia. However, unlike those two, Dunham was terrific twice last week. Having been temporarily promoted to the starting lineup in place of the injured Rotnei Clarke, Dunham had 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in Wednesday's loss at LaSalle. On Saturday against Temple, Dunham moved back to his customary role off the bench, and he had 17 points, four rebounds and one assist in the win. On the week, Dunham shot a combined 8 for 10 from three-point range.
The Grizzlies got their biggest win of the season on Saturday when they knocked off Weber State, 76-74, at home, in a battle of the top two teams in the Big Sky Conference. The win improved Montana's league record to 10-0 (14-4 overall). The Grizzlies got 28 points from 6-1 senior guard Will Cherry and shot 30 for 33 from the foul line. The two teams will meet again on Feb. 14 in Ogden. If Montana is still undefeated in conference play by then, that will really be one to watch.
It would have been a dominant offensive performance if it were a hockey game. Alas, this was basketball. The Huskies managed just four first-half points in their 42-25 loss, the fewest points in a half since the introduction of the shot clock. Northern Illinois' overall 13.1 field goal percentage was also the worst single-game percentage in Division I history. Given that the Huskies also scored five points in the first half of a 60-43 loss to Dayton in December, maybe they ought to consider not coming out to play these games until halftime.
I realize Henderson is an emotional player, and he's having a heck of a season for the resurgent Rebels. But that does not excuse him for running over to the Auburn student section to taunt the fans after he sank the game-winning free throws in Saturday's 63-61 victory. It's not like Henderson had a stellar game, either. He needed 13 shots to score 15 points, and as a team the Rebs shot just 4 for 17 from the foul line. I have no doubt that Henderson has many more winning moments in his future. Here's hoping that when they arrive, he chooses to act like a winner.
Pittsburgh at Louisville, Monday, 7 p.m.
It's hard to imagine the Cardinals losing four in a row. Then again, it was hard to imagine them losing three in a row. Can somebody put an APB out on Peyton Siva?
Kentucky at Ole Miss, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
This an enormous game for both teams. Kentucky needs a win to bolster -- or should I say, start making -- its case for an at-large bid. Ole Miss needs to beat a decent team to prove its bona fides.
Dayton at Xavier, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Full disclosure: I will be calling this game as a color analyst on the CBS Sports Network, but I'd be psyched to watch it even if I weren't going to be there. This is one of the great rivalries in all of college basketball, but Dayton has not won at Xavier since 1981.
Michigan at Indiana, Saturday, 9 p.m.
This is the game that college basketball fans circled on their calendars back in October. Assembly Hall will be rocking for what could be a Final Four preview. I can't wait to watch Victor Oladipo try to guard Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Miami at N.C. State, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Given the way Duke has been playing without Ryan Kelly, these are arguably the two best teams in the ACC.
SI.com: Are you surprised by how good you guys are?
Bill Self: I'm not surprised at how good we are, but I am surprised about our record. I don't think we're as good as our record indicates. I would just say we picked the right games not to be at our best. We've had some individuals that have played really well, but I don't think we've played nearly as well as a team as we played in December, to be frank.
SI.com: So it's fair to say that you have a lot of room to get better?
Self: Oh, yeah. We can get better perimeter play and score the ball more consistently. And I think our bench is getting ready to get good. They're just young. (Perry) Ellis, (Jamari) Traylor and (Naadir) Tharpe have the potential to make a difference. I actually think we can be better offensively when we go to our bench.
SI.com: How would you describe Ben McLemore right now?
Self: Efficient. Getting more aggressive. Still not as aggressive as he should be. Picks his spots probably a little too much. But he's good. He's the most gifted athlete I've ever been around.
SI.com: Wow. That's high praise.
Self: He's just so poised. Lets the game come to him. He doesn't run, he floats. He doesn't squat to jump. He's quick twitch, and he wants to be good so bad. I've never been around anybody who can do the things he can do. He loves to shoot it, loves to be athletic. Most guys are too lazy to love to be athletic, but he tries to jump as high as he can on every practice jump shot. He's pretty immature when you talk about the amount of big-time ball he's played. He didn't play big-time AAU basketball. He didn't do a lot of those things that other kids did, so he's a little behind in that respect. But he's certainly not behind from a talent standpoint.
SI.com: You have four seniors on your team, including three fifth-year seniors. That's very unusual these days. Was that by design?
Self: No, it's not by design. Kids came in here when they were young. Jeff Withey used to be our sixth-best post guy behind guys like Thomas Robinson, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Mario Little. Elijah Johnson played behind Sherron Collins and Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar. Travis [Releford] played behind Xavier Henry and Morningstar and Tyrell and whoever else we've had here. They're just finally getting their opportunities to show that they've done the work and they've gotten a lot better.
SI.com: I want you to be honest here, not modest. What makes you a great coach? And don't say having great players.
Self: I don't know, except we haven't altered from what we believe is most important. We try to get easy baskets, and we try not to give 'em up. That's been our whole philosophy ever since I started. That goes for transition, angles on the post, loose ball/rebound type plays. I'd say our biggest strength is we probably get 'em to play hard and unselfishly.
SI.com: Which coach has influenced you the most?
Self: I would think Larry [Brown] from an X's and O's standpoint, but the thing I learned from Coach [Eddie] Sutton is that a lot of it isn't that you beat somebody. A lot of it is that you don't beat yourself. I do think there are a lot more games lost than won.
SI.com: Do you let your players on Twitter?
Self: Right now, they're all on it, I think. I don't know how much they use it. They've all been given the okay to use it as long as we don't read anything they wouldn't want their mother or grandmother to read, or something that would embarrass the program. As long as they do that, they have the freedom to stay on it.
SI.com: What about you? Are you on Twitter?
Self: I tweet maybe one time every four months.
SI.com: So how do you connect to the world?
Self: I'm connected primarily though my iPhone. I used to read all the papers and now I don't have to. I read 'em all on my phone, or sometimes in my office. But I don't follow anybody on Twitter. I don't do any of that stuff. If anybody's saying anything about anything, I'd have no clue what it is. I've never been on Facebook, period. I wouldn't know how to do Facebook.
SI.com: Your son, Tyler, is a freshman walk-on on your team. Have you enjoyed having him?
Self: I've probably enjoyed this year as much as any year, and having him around every day has a lot of do with that. It's definitely got my batteries charged.
SI.com: Do you get on him?
Self: Oh yeah, and I enjoy doing it. I think he does, too. He loves being a part of it.
SI.com: But isn't it awkward for him being the coach's son at times? What if he's in the locker room and the other guys start complaining about you?
Self: That's not awkward for him at all. He'd be the one to say, "Guys, don't look at me. I've had to live with the man for 18 years. I understand how you feel, trust me." I don't think he's in there saying, "You can't talk that way about my dad."
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Michigan (1)
2. Kansas (5)
3. Florida (7)
4. Indiana (10)
5. Michigan State (15)
6. Syracuse (2)
7. Butler (8)
8. Gonzaga (9)
9. Oregon (16)
10. Arizona (6)
11. Miami (NR)
12. Louisville (4)
13. Duke (3)
14. UCLA (25)
15. Wichita State (18)
16. Creighton (12)
17. Ohio State (22)
18. Wisconsin (21)
19. N.C. State (19)
20. Ole Miss (24)
21. Kansas State (13)
22. New Mexico (14)
23. UNLV (17)
24. San Diego State (23)
25. Georgetown (NR)
Dropped out: Minnesota (11), VCU (20)
There was a lot of blood spilled last week, so nearly every team on my ballot has a recent flaw. That includes the teams near the top. You'll notice the teams ranked Nos. 5, 6, and 7 all lost last week. So you can expect even more subjectivity in my explanations than usual, and therefore, even more inconsistencies. Deal with it.
Yes, Michigan State fell at Indiana, but if you watched the game, you saw two very evenly-matched teams. Also, keep in mind that the Spartans won last week at Wisconsin, who knocked off Indiana in Bloomington last week.
Yes, Syracuse lost at Villanova, but it was a road game in overtime, and Villanova is pretty good. (See their win at home against Louisville.) And yes, Butler also lost last week at La Salle, but the Bulldogs did not have Rotnei Clarke in that game. On Saturday, Clarke came back for the Temple game, and Butler won. So I gave 'em a mulligan.
I suspect that I probably dropped Duke farther than many of my fellow voters. Remember, I did not rank Duke No. 1 last week. I chose Michigan instead, which looks pretty smart in hindsight. It's not easy deciding where to rank Duke without Ryan Kelly. If we knew Kelly was coming back soon, I'd go easy on them. If we knew he wasn't coming back, I'd drop them even more. But since it appears he is coming back but not real soon, I leaned more towards being tough on the Blue Devils. Also, that wasn't just a loss at Miami, that was a pounding. At least when teams like Louisville, Syracuse and Minnesota lost, they were relatively close games.
I also gave UCLA a mulligan for its loss at Arizona State. There are very few teams that could go into the McKale Center and dominate Arizona the way the Bruins did, and even fewer who could pull that off and win another tough road game two days later. That task was even more difficult because UCLA had to play the Sun Devils without forward Travis Wear (concussion).
Speaking of injuries, at some point Oregon will pay a price for being without freshman guard Dominic Artis (foot). It looks like he could be out for a while, but I'm not going to ding the Ducks until they lose.
N.C. State was another tricky one. The Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest, and then they walloped a mediocre North Carolina team at home. So that was a wash.
If I had to guess, I'd probably say that Minnesota is one of the 25 best teams in the country, but the Golden Gophers sure aren't playing like it. When things are going south, and you can't win at Northwestern, you have problems. It was also an easy call to drop VCU out of the rankings after the Rams lost twice last week at Richmond and home to La Salle. You may think I'm crazy, but VCU is not the lock for an at-large bid that many people assume. As of now, this team's best win was on a neutral court over Memphis in November
I had a lot of really good choices for my final spot. Cincinnati didn't play last week, so at the very least, it didn't lose. But if I was going to rank the Bearcats, it would make more sense to rank Marquette, whom Cincy needed overtime to beat at home last week. La Salle and Villanova made strong cases, but it was hard to rank teams on the basis of one good week. I was also glad to hear that Laurence Bowers is getting close to coming back for Missouri, but until I see him on the court -- and effective -- I'm not giving the Tigers my vote.