Four-Point Play is One and One’s attempt to highlight the best team, player, game and GIF/video from the past seven days of college hoops. We reserve the right to tweak the formula on a weekly basis. Expect this column every Sunday.
No. 20 Iowa picks off No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus
The situation looked all too familiar.
No. 20 Iowa was closing in on a signature win against another top team, this time No. 3 Ohio State. The Hawkeyes had battled most of the game, traded baskets with and matched Ohio State’s intensity, but the Buckeyes’ offense was stagnating. This seemed like a good opportunity for Iowa to finally validate its gaudy efficiency numbers with a win of substance.
Which is right about when you expected Iowa to bow out, like it's done several times in close games over the past 12 months. The Hawkeyes instead closed on a 22-9 run to deal Ohio State an 84-74 loss.
"We've proven all year long that we're one of the top teams," Hawkeyes junior forward Aaron White, who scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds in the win, said afterward. "This finally puts it on our resume to signify that. We've been up on teams that are highly ranked, but we've lost those games down the stretch by not making key plays. I'm really happy, because that's all we've been stressing, the 40-minute game and playing to win."
Ohio State looked like it would survive after reserve guard Amedeo Della Valle hit a three for a 53-44 lead around the 13-minute mark. But the Hawkeyes stormed back to tie the game at 60 after Josh Oglesby drilled a trey, then pulled ahead by one when reserve Jared Uthoff converted a layup with just under five minutes to go.
The Buckeyes couldn’t get anything going on offense when they most needed to. Leading scorer LaQuinton Ross committed costly turnovers on consecutive possessions to set off an ugly five-minute closing stretch. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, continued to execute against Ohio State’s top-ranked defense. A free throw from Craft pulled Ohio State within five with 1 minute, 26 seconds to go, but a missed three-pointer from Shannon Scott on the next possession effectively ended the Buckeyes’ comeback hopes.
“This is the biggest one," Hawkeyes senior guard Roy Devyn Marble, who finished with a game-high 22 points, said of the win. "It's the most important one. Now, to have done this, this is the biggest one -- thus far."
Sunday marks the first time Iowa has beaten a top-five team since it won at No. 2 Missouri in December 2001. The Hawkeyes needed this win, if only to prove their impressive statistical profile – they rank No. 13 in Ken Pomeroy’s team rankings, No. 18 in offensive efficiency and No. 21 in defensive efficiency – was good for more than the “Iowa’s Sweet 16 good, I just know it” talk that’s been casually tossed around throughout the first two months of the season. Iowa is really good. Before Sunday, it didn’t have a win to prove as much.
The Hawkeyes' road does not get much easier from here. It should be able to win at least two of its next three games (against Minnesota on Jan. 19, at Michigan on Jan. 22 and at Northwestern on Jan. 25), before a huge showdown with no. 5 Michigan State at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 28.
The Hawkeyes have officially thrown their hat into the Big Ten title discussion. If they can continue to show that their length, athleticism, and measurable quality can net them wins against elite teams – as opposed to close losses that hint at their potential – the Hawkeyes have a shot to beat out top contenders Ohio State, Michigan State and No. 4 Wisconsin.
At the very least, their NCAA Tournament future seems all but guaranteed. Pegged as a six-seed in SI’s latest bracket watch, the Hawkeyes could well play themselves into position to earn a top-four seed in the field of 68.
Sunday’s loss showed that Ohio State, for all its defensive prowess, will need to improve offensively before it can compete for a conference and national championship. It scored roughly 0.98 points per trip against the Hawkeyes and got just eight combined points from backcourt starters Craft and Scott. If Ross isn’t knocking down shots, the Buckeyes’ offense devolves into a series of unthreatening passes and conservative actions, with no one else able to consistently create off the dribble.
The Buckeyes’ defense, which ranks no. 1 in points allowed per possession, will only get them so far against balanced two-way outfits like Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Ohio State has the benefit of playing a relatively soft schedule over the next couple of weeks. The Buckeyes face Minnesota (Jan. 16) and Nebraska (Jan. 20) on the road before hosting No. 23 Illinois (Jan. 23) and Penn State (Jan. 29) at Value City Arena. The competition ramps up once the calendar flips, as Ohio State embarks on consecutive road trips to Wisconsin (Feb. 1) and Iowa (Feb. 4).
"The biggest thing is getting our guys to understand, you can't let one mistake compound into another mistake," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "That's kind of what happened to us today."
Over the next two months, both these teams should remain in contention to finish atop the league Kenpom.com rates as the nation’s toughest. Whether either can actually win it is up for debate. If Iowa can close out close games against good teams, and Ohio State can manufacture a more balanced offensive attack, they certainly have a chance.
Wayne Selden steps up in Kansas’ two big conference wins
Over the first two months of the season, Wayne Selden Jr. did for Kansas what many highly-touted recruits do in their debut campaigns. He was a reliable contributor, playing at least 14 minutes every game and scoring in double digits four times. But because he was surrounded by two freshmen expected to be selected in the top 5 of the upcoming NBA Draft, Selden blended in. Center Joel Embiid and forward Andrew Wiggins were Kansas’ most recognizable first-year players. Selden was just sort of there, not distinguishing himself in a way that would resonate on a national scale, Kansas’ forgotten frosh.
It was a huge comedown from this past summer, when Selden was identified by coach Bill Self as one of Kansas’ most consistent performers in practice. His work ethic drew hyperbolic reviews. Expectations for the player ranked no. 12 by Rivals in the 2013 class rose accordingly.
Throughout November and December, those expectations might have seemed out of whack, because Selden wasn’t producing at the same level Embiid and Wiggins were. Selden may never be regarded in the same light as those two. But if he keeps playing as well as he has the past two games, Selden will no longer be left out of casual discussions about the nation’s top freshmen.
Since going 2-for-8 in Kansas’ non-conference-closing loss to No. 13 San Diego State last Sunday, Selden has shot 16-of-27 from the field for 44 points to help lead the Jayhawks to wins over Oklahoma and No. 25 Kansas State.
Was the beginning of conference play a turning point for Selden?
“I feel I wasn’t playing the best I could play, personally,” Selden said after scoring a career-high 24 points (and attempting a career-high 17 shots) in the Jayhawks win in Norman, OK. “I feel my teammates and coaches kept encouraging me. I wanted to start off the Big 12 season playing a little better.”
Said Self of Selden’s breakout game, “We need him to be more aggressive looking to score, to be a threat. He’s a starting two guard in our league that has played a lot of minutes in a lot of big games.”
Selden, who had made just 12 three-pointers during the non-conference season, has shot 8-of-15 from beyond the arc in the lat two games. Selden’s offensive ratings of 134 against Oklahoma and 126 against Kansas State were his two highest of the season among games in which he has logged at least 30 minutes. He has played like the physical, attacking, offensive force most expected him to be when he shone in Jayhawks practices over the summer.
On Saturday, his 20 points helped the Jayhawks pick up their 48th win in their last 51 meetings with the Wildcats, an impressive historical feat. Kansas will face a much tougher challenge Monday night at No. 9 Iowa State. The best shot the Jayhawks have of surviving Hilton Magic is if Selden plays the same way he has over the past two games.
“I told all our guys: ‘New stats, new season’,” Self said last week. “We won’t even talk about stats from the first season. Everything is fresh and new from this part forward.’ I think it gave them a bit of a new life so to speak.”
Wiggins and Embiid may continue to draw most of the attention, but Selden’s importance to Kansas should not be trivialized. Over the past week, he has shown what he is capable of – and that the hype that accompanied his standout practice efforts over the summer was not unfounded.
Now Selden needs to sustain that level of performance the rest of the season.
Is Cal a Pac-12 contender?
Admit it: you forgot about Cal. After the Golden Bears dropped two games at the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week, you figured they couldn’t compete for a Pac-12 championship. No. 1 Arizona, No. 17 Oregon and No. 15 Colorado seemed like the league’s best teams, bar none.
Losses at UC Santa Barbara and Creighton didn’t do Mike Montgomery’s team any favors. And when it began conference play, Cal seemed so far removed from the league title picture that even entertaining the idea the Golden Bears could hang with the Wildcats, Buffaloes and Ducks felt like a waste of time.
Two weeks and three games into their Pac-12 schedule, it’s time to re-evaluate the Golden Bears. Cal may not be able to beat out Arizona, Oregon or Colorado, but it doesn’t appear it will fade into obscurity the way it had since losing consecutive games at the end of November. Cal has begun conference play by doing something it hasn’t done in 75 years: post a 3-0 record by winning three road games.
That those three wins came at Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State is impressive in and of itself. What makes their feat even more promising is that the Bears are playing without two important contributors: talented scoring guard Jabari Bird (11.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and perimeter stopper Ricky Kreklow (6.4, 2.6).
Unlike Thursday night’s win at Oregon, Cal got off to a slow start Saturday against Oregon State. It also couldn’t count on Jordan Mathews, who scored a career-high 32 points against the Ducks, to shoulder the scoring load, as the freshman shot just 1-for-8 for two points. Reserve guard Jeff Powers picked up the slack, sinking four threes for 14 points after playing just two minutes two days earlier against the Ducks.
“Jeff Powers was fabulous,” Bears coach Mike Montgomery said Saturday. "Kind of took the place of Jordan (Mathews) in terms of a guy taking shots"
This is a better start to the conference season than most imagined the Golden Bears were capable of, and they have an excellent chance to keep it up. They play Washington, Washington State and at USC over their next three games before traveling to UCLA on January 26.
It doesn’t appear Bird will be back anytime soon, and Kreklow is unlikely to return for at least a couple more weeks. In the meantime, the Golden Bears will lean on players such as Mathews and guard Tyrone Wallace, who is averaging 17.25 points over his past four games, to complement leading scorers Justin Cobbs (15.1 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Richard Solomon (12.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg)
At 3-0, Cal is tied for first in the league standings with Arizona and Colorado, but can it stay in the conference championship hunt? That remains to be seen. The Bears have at least improved their chances of earning an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. But it’s hard to know whether Cal has any staying power at the top of the league. The respective returns of Bird and Kreklow should help them keep pace.
Even if it falls out of the running, Cal has, at least temporarily, risen to the top of the Pac-12 heap and accomplished something no Bears team has in three-quarters of a century.
If you dismissed Cal earlier in the season, it will be hard to do so any longer.
Mississippi State coach Rick Ray dances to celebrate win
Nine players have left Mississippi State since former coach Rick Stansbury announced his retirement in March 2012. The burden of keeping the Bulldogs afloat fell upon Rick Ray, who guided his team to a 10-22 record last season. The Bulldogs recorded their 11th victory of the season Saturday when they beat in-state rival Mississippi in Starkville.
Having exceeded last season’s win total, and with 16 games still left to play, you can see why Ray would be excited about what his team has accomplished. He’s excited, that’s for sure. Ray hopped in the middle of his players’ post-game locker room celebration and busted out some dance moves. Coaching a winning team is an exhilarating thing, apparently.