This week's men's college basketball Stock Report looks at a pair of ACC powers currently coming off wildly different weeks, plus Rutgers' official arrival, a Big 12 coach who's seat is heating up and more.
The Cardinals were a hefty eight-point underdog heading into their clash with Duke at Cameron Indoor on Saturday, but walked away with a six-point win that will resonate through March. Louisville had its elite status questioned after losses to Texas Tech, Florida State and Kentucky, but the win over the Blue Devils brings a much-needed boost to its reputation and résumé. Chris Mack's team has now won three straight on the road, and sees its schedule open up for a bit as it sits tied atop the ACC with the Seminoles. In a down year for the ACC, the conference's top tier won't get as many chances to impress the selection committee as normal, and it was imperative Louisville added a win like the one in Durham.
Most encouraging for the Cards, though, may have been the performance of point guard David Johnson, a well-regarded freshman who has been working his way back to full health after summer shoulder surgery. Johnson had 19 points, seven assists and three steals against Duke in his best game yet, and is apparently O.K. after a late-game scare. Two things Louisville has been missing is consistent point guard play and dependable scoring around star Jordan Nwora, and the dynamic 6'5" Johnson has the capability to fill both roles if he stays healthy. If he does, that could be a major difference-maker for the Cardinals.
The Marquette senior guard is comfortably leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points per game, and he may not even win Player of the Year for his own conference. That honor will be a battle with Seton Hall senior star Myles Powell, but don't let the special season Powell and the Pirates are having obscure the year Howard is putting together. After a week in which he scored a combined 77 points across two games, Howard has now scored at least 26 points in eight straight contests, and has eight 30-point games, three 40-point games and one 50-point game to date this season.
The senior is attempting nearly 10 three-pointers per game and making them at a 43.1% clip, his highest percentage from behind the arc since he shot 54.7% as a freshman (and that's despite the three-point line having been moved back this season). Howard takes 42.4% of the Golden Eagles' shots when on the floor—a usage that leads the country, per KenPom—and draws more fouls per 40 minutes than all but one player (Prairie View A&M's Darius Williams). College basketball only has precious time left with its most explosive scorer, who offers a compelling reason to make Marquette games appointment television.
The Scarlet Knights are ranked in the men's AP poll for the first time since the final poll of the 1978-79 college basketball season. Their 14 wins equal their win total of last season, and with two more, they'll have more wins than they've had in any season since 2005-06. Their stock has quite literally not been this high in years. Rutgers is 5–2 in the Big Ten, sits at No. 24 on KenPom and No. 18 on the NET rankings and likely just needs to avoid imploding over regular season's final month and a half to break a 29-year NCAA tournament drought. That's right—the Scarlet Knights could be dancing this March, ending the longest skid among power conference schools.
Steve Pikiell's team uses a tough defense and a balanced scoring effort on offense (seven different Knights average between 6.9 and 11.8 points, led by guards Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker) to win games, and it's now won seven of eight against D-I opponents after a bit of a bumpy opening to the season. The Big Ten is a gauntlet this year, but Rutgers very much looks like the real deal.
The heat around Shaka Smart is growing after a disastrous trip to Morgantown on Monday night. Texas was down 45-20 at halftime and trailed by as many as 43 in an ugly 97-59 loss to West Virginia, after which Smart said his team "didn't have the level of fight we needed to have for a lot of things on both ends of the floor." It was the fifth-worst defeat in program history and the worst under Smart, and comes in the middle of a critical year for the fifth-year coach. The 12-6 Longhorns have a thin résumé outside of a road win over Purdue, aren't currently projected to be an NCAA tournament team and seem to lack the offensive firepower needed to change that. Smart entered this year on the hot seat, and his time in Austin could come to a swift close if things don't improve in the season's final two months.
After cruising through the first two months of the season (sans one very big upset), the Blue Devils finally ran into some trouble again last week. Duke lost back-to-back games for the first time since February 2018, first falling on the road at Clemson before getting beat on its home floor by Louisville. Against the Tigers, the Blue Devils struggled with Clemson's four-guard attack, with the Tigers shooting 8 for 19 from three to open things up for Aamir Simms and Tevin Mack, who exploited Duke's frontcourt to combine for 47 points.
Power forward Matthew Hurt was limited to 16 minutes and two points in the Clemson loss, a concern as the team continues to be without versatile defender Wendell Moore. Moore isn't likely to return from his broken wrist until February, but this team will be better off when he can resume his critical "glue guy" role.
The Aggies were expected to be a mid-major darling and the class of the Mountain West this season, but inconsistency and injuries to star big man Neemias Queta have changed the narrative. Utah State has limped out to a 3-4 start in conference play and has six losses on the season, putting it currently outside the NCAA tournament field despite non-conference wins over LSU and Florida.
The Aggies have lost three of their last four despite having Queta in the fold, the worst of which came on the road at Boise State over the weekend. Up 66-48 with 3:40 left, Utah State somehow blew its 18-point lead on the Broncos. Boise's RayJ Dennis—who had been scoreless on the night and averages just 4 points per game—exploded for 19 points in the final 3:27, a truly improbable effort to will his team to overtime. On the flip side, it was a full-on meltdown by the Aggies, who had seven turnovers in the final four-and-a-half minutes to help seal their fate.