Fast Break: Butler soars, McDermott's stock continues to rise, more
A Bluejay without enough buzz. A pack of Bulldogs with bite. A pair of teams heading in separate directions through the Arizona desert. A visit with the lead Bearcat, and an old-but-new number one team on my AP Top 25 ballot.
Run the floor with me, Hoopheads. All that and more are filling it up in this week's Fast Break.
Player of the Week: Doug McDermott, 6-foot-8 junior forward, Creighton
McDermott hasn't generated much Jimmerific buzz yet, but just you wait. It looks like he is headed for one of those seasons. With other national player of the year candidates falling by the wayside (we mean you, Cody Zeller), The Dougie has quietly been the most dominant offensive player in the country. He was an absolute force Sunday night during the Bluejays' impressive road win at Cal, finishing with 34 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the foul line and 4-for-7 from three-point range. He also had nine rebounds. That followed a 30-point, six-rebound, four-assist performance in a home win over Akron last Sunday. McDermott is now 21-for-31 from three-point range over his last five games, and on the season he is making 87 percent of his free throws while averaging nearly seven rebounds per game.
Team of the Week: Butler
On Dec. 22, 2009, the Butler Bulldogs were 8-4. On Dec. 9, 2010, they were 5-4. Both of those seasons ended with Butler playing on the final Monday night of the season. I'm not saying that will happen again this season -- but I'm not saying it won't. We should be long past doubting Brad Stevens' program, as evidenced yet again by the Bulldogs' thrilling overtime win over Indiana on Saturday. Remember, this team is playing without its incumbent point guard, Chrishawn Hopkins, who was dismissed in October for repeated violations of team rules. Somehow, Stevens keeps adding quality players, whether it's Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, who made five three-pointers and scored 19 points against the Hoosiers, or Alex Barlow, the now-legendary walk-on guard who fluttered home the deciding bucket with 2.4 seconds remaining in overtime. Only at Butler does stuff like that happen. By now, we should all expect it to keep happening.
Glue Guy of the Week: Roosevelt Jones, Butler
In the future, I will try to avoid using doubling up my categories, but Jones' performance against the Hoosiers was too sublime to pass up. The 6-4 sophomore from O'Fallon, Ill., is not usually looked upon to score. But if Clarke is this team's Mr. Outside and 6-11 senior Andrew Smith is Mr. Inside, then Jones is Mr. Everything In Between. He leads Butler in assists and is essentially tied with Smith for the team lead in rebounds. Against Indiana, Jones had 12 rebounds and six assists -- both career highs -- and scored 16 points before fouling out with 2:03 left in regulation. Usually, the Glue Guy does a little of everything. On Saturday, Jones did a lot of everything.
Freshman of the Week: Chris Obekpa, St. John's
I realize the Johnnies weren't exactly facing a powerhouse team in St. Francis, but I still have to give Obekpa, a 6-9 native of Nigeria, the nod for his nine-block, seven-rebound, five-assist performance in the 77-60 win. That was two blocks shy of tying the single-game record Obekpa set seven days earlier against Fordham. Obekpa is locked in a tight race with Kansas center Jeff Withey to be the nation's shot-blocking king. Withey has a slight lead at the moment -- he averages 5.6 blocks to Obekpa's 5.3 -- but keep in mind that Withey is a fifth-year senior on a national powerhouse. Obepka is a first-year freshman on a rebuilding team. Yet, he's staging his own, one-man block party.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Devyn Marble, 6-6 junior swingman, Iowa
We don't normally think of a player from a power conference school as being under the radar, but since Marble has yet to play in the NCAA tournament, most fans are unaware of just how good he is. The son of former Hawkeye great Roy Marble, who is still the school's alltime leading scorer, Devyn had a season-high 30 points (on 14-for-19 shooting from the free throw line) to lift the Hawkeyes to a resume-building win over Northern Iowa last week.
Best Win (Non-Butler Division): Arizona 65, Florida 64
The Gators were in control of this one from the opening tip, building an 11-point lead with 10 minutes to play and six points with one minute to play. The comeback from there was a total team effort as five different Wildcats scored, ending with Mark Lyons' driving layup with seven seconds remaining to put Arizona in the lead for the first time since the opening minutes. We can talk about Florida's turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch, or Solomon Hill's sterling 18-point, three-assist, two-steal performance. In the end, though, Arizona prevailed because it never stopped fighting. That's a great attribute to take into conference play.
Worst Loss: DePaul 78, Arizona State 61
DePaul is a much-improved team, so there's no shame in losing to them. But to lose by this much at home indicates that the Sun Devils may not be primed for the resurgent season that many of us anticipated. Arizona is 8-2 but it has just one win over a team ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. DePaul, by the way, is 119th.
Worst Loss (Runner-Up): Louisville 87, Memphis 78
I mention this not because of the fact that the Tigers lost to Louisville but because of the
Flavor of the Week: Miami (6-1)
The Hurricanes had one hiccup at Florida-Gulf Coast in their second game, but they were playing without Durand Scott, the 6-5 senior guard who ranks second on the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Scott missed the season's first three games because of an NCAA suspension for extra benefits that dates to the end of last season. With Scott back in the lineup, the Hurricanes have beaten four good teams, including an eight-point win over Michigan State and a 21-point drubbing of previously undefeated Charlotte on Friday night at home. Given the struggles that North Carolina and N.C. State have had in the early going, it's quite possible that Miami could end up being Duke's biggest threat in the ACC.
X-factor of the Week: Greg Whittington, Georgetown
The Hoyas have really struggled offensively the last two weeks, and Whittington, a 6-8 sophomore, was a major reason why. Over his previous four games, Whittington averaged 8.0 points while making 31 percent of his shots and just 2 of his 17 three-point attempts. But he broke through in major fashion against Western Carolina on Saturday, scoring a career-high 25 points (on 3-for-5 shooting from three) to go along with 11 rebounds and two assists in an 81-68 win.
Best Event: Loyola 59, Mississippi State 51
This game was played to commemorate the meeting between these two schools in the 1963 NCAA tournament's mideast regional semifinal, otherwise known as the "Game of Change." The governor of Mississippi was prepared to issue an injunction forbidding the Bulldogs to play against an integrated team, so they had to literally sneak out of the state before it was served. The game was played in Michigan State's Jenison Fieldhouse, and Loyola won, 61-51, en route to capturing the national title. In another gesture of recognition of that historic event, Michigan State returned on Saturday night to Jenison, where it defeated Division II Tuskegee, 92-56. That school produced some of the first African-American aviators in the United States military. Some of the famed Tuskegee Airmen were honored during the first time out.
Not A Typo: USC beat UC Riverside Saturday night, 70-26
That's right, Riverside had 26 points. It was the second time this season the Highlanders set a school record for fewest points in the shot clock era. They only scored 30 in a loss to Fresno State in November.
Five Games I'm Psyched To See This Week
A Few Minutes With ... Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin
This Week's AP Ballot
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Duke (2)
2. Louisville (3)
3. Michigan (4)
4. Ohio State (5)
5. Syracuse (6)
6. Arizona (7)
7. Florida (9)
8. Indiana (1)
9. Kansas (8)
10. Cincinnati (10)
11. Illinois (11)
12. Missouri (12)
13. Gonzaga (13)
14. Michigan State (14)
15. San Diego State (15)
16. Butler (NR)
17. Pittsburgh (16)
18. Oregon (17)
19. UNLV (18)
20. Minnesota (19)
21. Notre Dame (20)
22. Georgetown (21)
23. N.C. State (22)
24. Creighton (23)
25. New Mexico (25)
Dropped out: Wichita State (24)
There were very few games last week because of final exams, but there was one very big shakeup at the top of the ballot. The decision to move Duke to No. 1 was easy following Indiana's loss to Butler. The trickier call was figuring out how far to drop the Hoosiers. It seemed pretty obvious that they belong in a one-loss trio with Kansas and Florida. Given that Kansas' loss came on a neutral court and Indiana's was on a home-neutral court, I figured Florida should be ranked the highest of those three because its lone defeat came in a true road game on the final possession against another top-10 team. Thus, even though the Gators lost over the weekend, they moved up two spots on my ballot.
I consider my ballot to be an amalgam of the previous week's results as well as the teams' overall body of work. So it didn't make sense to rank Butler ahead of Indiana simply because the Bulldogs won head to head. You have to take Butler's two losses (to Xavier and Illinois) into account. So I took the middle road and stuck 'em at 16. Since it was imperative that I rank Butler, and since Wichita State was the only other team on my ballot that lost last week, I didn't have to make any other decisions as to whom I should rank. Nor do I see a clear top tier of unranked teams ready to move up when vacancies arise. Teams like Kentucky, Wyoming, Maryland, Miami and Illinois-Chicago are on my radar, but as I've written before, the best way to make my ballot is to beat a team that's on it. The schedule will continue to be quiet the next few weeks, so the real fireworks won't start popping until early January.