Burke has Wolverines rolling into March; more Snap Judgments
Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's slate of college hoops:
You may have heard of the likes of Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, as well as Duke's Austin Rivers and Cody Zeller of Indiana, right?
Well, guess what? There are a few decent first-year players who didn't make that 24-player McDonald's cut a year ago.
And none of them are better than the fellow who served up a victory for his Michigan Wolverines Saturday night in Ann Arbor against the team so many of us felt would be comfortably leading the Big Ten Conference -- and fortifying a top seed in the NCAA Tournament Field of 68 -- by now.
Oh, yeah ... and Trey Burke happens to be a graduate of Northland High in Columbus, where one of his former teammates was OSU All-American Jared Sullinger.
And where are all of those conference and national prognosticators who thought the Wolverines were going to go by the Big Ten -- and NCAA Tournament -- wayside when point guard Darius Morris unexpectedly departed last spring for what proved to be a spot at the end of the Lakers' bench?
Burke and his teammates have tossed those pundits aside, improving to 20-7 overall and 10-4 in conference.
That's the same mark as the Buckeyes, with both a half-game behind conference-leading Michigan State.
Burke had a team-high 17 points and five assists, right near his season's averages of 14.0 and 4.8.
Is he going to be the conference's Freshman of the Year?
Nah, Zeller probably has that wrapped up.
But there isn't a freshman point guard who has meant more to his team -- even if he wasn't a certain fast-food favorite last spring.
The Golden Eagles are likely to end up with a tourney seed in the five to eight range.
OK, and what of the defending national champions?
It's starting to get a bit dicey for the Huskies, who fell to 6-8 in conference and 16-10 overall.
A 3-1 close in conference puts them at 9-9 -- the mark they took into the Big East Tournament a year ago.
But, let's face it: Without Kemba Walker to work his magic, even getting into the Round of 68 is no longer a sure thing.
Steve Alford's Lobos have rearranged that debate in a big way.
A 20-point dismantling of the Rebels in Albuquerque -- three days after a 10-point victory in San Diego -- leaves the Lobs with a two-game advantage in the standings over each of those clubs.
There is no debating who the MWC Player of the Year is going to be.
Forward Drew Gordon went for 27 points and 20 rebounds Saturday after going for 17 and 17 against the Aztecs.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your National Player of the Week.
You may have starting asking yourselves "Florida State: ACC championship contender or pretender?"
If that was the case, you didn't have to wait two full days for the Seminoles to very succinctly answer that question.
Hamilton's deep, tall and gifted crew -- which used Snaer's first buzzer-beater to beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and beat the tar out of the UNC Tar Heels by 33 points in Tallahassee -- held onto its piece of the ACC lead Saturday by dispatching with the host Wolfpack in much-easier-than-anticipated fashion.
Remember, North Carolina State has a team that built a 20-point advantage midway though through the second half in Durham Thursday night before seeing that edge -- and then some -- evaporate in a barrage of Seth Curry and Austin Rivers jump shots.
The losses left the Wolfpack's at-large hopes being not quite so bubbly as they were a week ago.
As for the Seminoles, they'll going into a rematch with the Blue Devils Thursday night in Tallahassee without anyone doubting their ACC regular-season and tournament aspirations any longer.
But -- during a season when the conference's members' NCAA Tourney-worthiness have been widely discussed, and mocked -- coach Lorenzo Romar's team continued to look a squad that's going to be a part of the 68-member field on March 11.
After a splitting their first 10 games, they've won 14 of 17 -- the most impressive of those, naturally, being the pair of victories that they got over the Wildcats Saturday in Seattle and on Jan. 28 in Tucson.
If they can manage to win two of three of those road tilts (against Washington State, USC and UCLA) and win at least one conference tourney games in Los Angeles, that would give them 22 victories -- 15 of them against Pac-12 opposition.
No matter how much the conference has been the butt of bracket-projecting humor, there is no way the Huskies have to settle for an NIT bit via that resume
With no nonconference victories against teams likely to be in the NCAA tourney field, the Bearcats need every Big East win they can.
After the victory over the Pirates -- a squad most "bracketeers" felt has a better at-large resume than the Bearcats -- Cronin's team is 9-5 in conference and 19-8 overall.
The wins over Notre Dame, Connecticut, Georgetown and now Seton Hall are the ones that will carry the most heft with the Selection Committee.
But home games with Louisville (Thursday) and Marquette (March 3) can serve to bulk up that resume even more impressively.