Spartans take No. 1 spot
It’s Michigan State’s turn to hold down the top spot in college basketball
The Spartans have played near-perfect basketball this season – with the exception of an early-season loss to Duke – and they took over as the No. 1 team when Villanova suffered a 101-93 loss to Butler.
Head coach Tom Izzo is not often interested in regular-season accolades and honors, but wants to motivate his young team that includes sophomores Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston.
He let his team know that their 14-1 (2-0 start in the Big Ten) means that they have a big, bright target on the back of their their green and white uniforms.
“We haven’t been here with a team this young before. That was one of the other statements I made with my guys (Tuesday) morning. ‘Miles, you think you’ve done a lot because you could’ve gone pro – you’ve never been in this situation,” Izzo said. “You never had a chance to play for a Big Ten championship really. You never were ranked No. 1.
“These things, they’re advantages. But you gotta realize that somebody is putting a bull’s-eye on your back.”
The Spartans are always going to be a tough and hard-nosed team that focuses on fundamentals under Izzo. However, this team is special from an offensive perspective, having scored 100 points or more for a school record four straight times.
Earning the No. 1 spot was one of the team’s goals at the start of the season. The next is winning the Big Ten championship, and the regular-season competition will be a major challenge.
Final Four teams not the same this season
North Carolina capped a tremendous run last season by winning the national championship for head coach Roy Williams.
It doesn’t appear that the Tar Heels have anything close to the kind of team they had last year after dropping an 81-80 decision to Florida State and falling to 12-3 for the season.
North Carolina is not the only Final Four team that is struggling to play the elite-level basketball. South Carolina, Gonzaga and Oregon are all grindling to find their level.
South Carolina has fallen quite a bit after losing star Sindarius Thornwell to graduation. The Gamecocks have lost their first two SEC games and have fallen to 9-5 on the season. One of the indicators of their hard fall came in a December 9 home game against Coastal Carolina, when they pulled out a two-point win at home over the 7-8 Chanticleers of the Sun Belt Conference.
Gonzaga (12-3) will be good enough to battle Saint Mary’s for the West Coast Conference title again this year, but this team has lost Zach Collins and Przemek Kanowski. Both of those big men were huge factors in the paint, and the Bulldogs are getting pushed around to a degree without them.
Oregon (11-4) has lost four starters from the team that made it to the Final Four a year ago, and head coach Dana Altman knew the 2017-18 season would be tough. While the Ducks have a five-star freshman in Troy Brown (12.7 ppg) and a strong contributor in New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown (13.5 ppg), the team does not have decent firepower.
In the end, their offense will keep them from competing against high-level teams.
North Carolina and Gonzaga are good enough to make the tournament, but don’t expect either team to win more than one or two postseason games. South Carolina and Oregon will not be so lucky.
Brey climbing the ladder as ND faces adversity after losing Colson
Mike Brey has been getting the job done at Notre Dame in a classy and winning fashion since 2000. He is widely recognized as an excellent basketball coach who knows how to get the most out of his players and help them improve quite a bit over the course of a season.
He has been at it long enough that he is starting to build some strong career accomplishments. Brey picked up the 394th victory of his Notre Dame coaching career Wednesday night as the Irish whipped North Carolina State 88-58.
He now has one more win than former Irish leader Digger Phelps, who won 393 games at Notre Dame during a coaching career that began in the 1971-72 season and lasted through 1990-91. Phelps took the Fighting Irish to the NCAA tournament 14 times.
Brey has taken his team to the NCAA tournament 12 times, and the Irish have been to the Elite Eight twice in the past three seasons.
The achievement cam on the heels of the news that Notre Dame will be without star Bonzie Colson for eight weeks after fracturing his left foot. The senior forward was averaging 21.4 points and 10.4 rebounds this season, adding 2.4 blocks and 2.0 steals per game.
Brey tried to put his own achievement and the loss of Colson into perspective. “When I think back about the record-breaking game, I will think about losing Bonzie Colson the day before and losing [point guard] Matt Farrell (ankle) halfway through the game,” Brey said. “Our group just really responded. I couldn’t have been prouder.”
The Irish will clearly have to make an adjustment to the injuries, but they have the right coach to take them through this period.
Threes are wild
Keep your eye on Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils, who are up to No. 4 in the rankings with a 12-1 record. The Sun Devils are led by senior guard Tra Holder, who is averaging 22.0 points per game, while freshman forward Romello White is averaging 8.6 rebounds per night. Arizona State plays Colorado (8-6) on the road Thursday night, and the Sun Devils are the more impressive team. However, Arizona State has lost three straight games at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, and this could be a tricky game.
With their 101-93 upset of Villanova at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Butler Bulldogs have beaten the Wildcats three straight times. Senior guard Ria’N Holland of Mercer may not get a lot of ink, but the 6-0, 148-pounder can shoot the rock. He is leading the nation in three-point shooting percentage, having made 39 of 67 shots from beyond the arc. He is connecting on 58.2 percent of his three-pointers, slightly better than William & Mary senior guard Connor Burchfield, who has made 44 of 77 three-pointers for 57.1 percent accuracy.