Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball, where crisis counselors are standing by in Louisville:
FIVE LANDING SPOTS FOR JOHN BEILEIN
News breaking out of NBA All-Star weekend Sunday night: the obviously troubled marriage between the Cleveland Cavaliers and coach John Beilein (1) may be reaching and end. Reaction in college hoops: athletic directors, prepare your offers.
A coach with more than 500 career wins and two Final Fours in the last decade would immediately become the most attractive option on the market. The only question is age—at 67 years old, does Beilein want to start over again? Would an AD be scared to hire someone that old?
Assuming he does want to keep coaching, some potential jobs of interest for Beilein:
An itchy Big Ten school (2). After earning nine NCAA tournament bids at Michigan, his track record within the conference is well established. Would Beilein’s availability be enough to push an AD who is on the fence about his current coach into making a move? Say, Indiana or Northwestern?
Archie Miller is in his third year with the Hoosiers and hasn’t yet gotten any traction. His record is 51-40 overall, 23-29 in the Big Ten, and he needs to win some games down the stretch to avoid a third straight season without a Big Dance bid. Chris Collins authored the Northwestern Miracle, earning the school its first-ever NCAA bid in 2017, but he’s also overseen a complete death spiral ever since—the Wildcats are 34-54 the past three seasons, just 11-41 in the conference.
Still, the chances of either Miller or Collins being fired seem remote. There is no indication that either athletic director is interested in making that move. Fred Glass is retiring at Indiana in May, and Jim Phillips has been solidly in Collins’ camp.
A school that has its hand forced by scandal (3). There is a chance that some prominent programs will have to make a decision on whether to keep a head coach who is hit with major NCAA sanctions in the fallout from the corruption scandal that ran through the sport. Bill Self is facing significant charges at Kansas, though the school is vigorously defending him. Bruce Pearl of Auburn, Sean Miller of Arizona and Will Wade of LSU all could be subject to charges if/when their schools receive Notices of Allegations from the NCAA.
Beilein doesn’t seem like the most natural of fits at an Auburn or LSU, but in the event of major sanctions would you blame either school for making a run at a guy with a pretty pristine reputation? Kansas and Arizona might be more likely, should the need arise.
The other problem here would be timing: if the schools hang on to their current coaches through the resolution of an infractions case, that could well be 2021 for everyone but Kansas. The Beilein market figures to be hot this spring.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (4). Fan dissatisfaction is high in a lot of locales, which makes sense when a 15-team league is looking at just three or four NCAA bids. John Currie opted to keep Danny Manning after arriving as AD at Wake Forest last year, but that is a tougher stance to maintain as the Demon Deacons toil toward a third straight losing season and fifth in his six years there. At Boston College, Jim Christian is in his sixth season with no NCAA bid in sight. Josh Pastner is trying to avoid a third straight losing season in his four years at Georgia Tech.
Vanderbilt (5). This is the SEC job that seems like the best fit for Beilein. If Jerry Stackhouse decides after one less-than-enjoyable season (9-16 overall, 1-11 in the league) that college coaching isn’t for him—especially after the AD who hand-picked him was pushed out—Beilein would be a steal of a replacement. It would be a thematically apt swapping of coaches who were out of their element—the pro guy in college and the college guy in the pros.
Texas (6). This could be the most likely Power-6 job to come open, and the most attractive. The Longhorns look like they’ll miss the NCAA tourney for the second straight season, something that last happened in 1987 and ’88. It would be the third time in Shaka Smart’s five-year tenure. If Texas brought in Beilein, he could retain his old defensive guru, Luke Yaklich, whom Smart hired from Michigan after Beilein left for the NBA.
TURNOVER AT THE TOP
A sign of the turbulent times: at four of the Power-6 conferences in college hoops, there is a very good chance of having a team win the regular season title for the first time ever. At a fifth, we could have a champ that hasn’t won its league since 1993. And at the sixth, well, not every league is being turned upside down.
It is increasingly likely that the Big Ten champion will be either Maryland (7) or Penn State (8). Either would be a first. The Terrapins are in just their sixth Big Ten season after being in the ACC (where they last won a league title in 2010). The Nittany Lions moved to the Big Ten in 1992 and only twice previously have even had a winning record in the league. Their last conference title of any kind: 1991, in the Atlantic-10.
At 11-3, Maryland has a one-game lead on 10-4 Penn State—and there is a two-game gap in the loss column to the huddled masses chasing them. But the Nittany Lions would own the tiebreaker for Big Ten tourney seeding purposes after winning the only regular-season meeting between the two. They also have the easier remaining schedule.
Minutes projection: Despite a rugged closing stretch, the pick is Maryland. By March we will all be talking about big man Jalen Smith, whose streak of eight straight double-doubles coincides with the Terps’ current winning streak.
The Big 12 leader is Baylor (9), which has never won that league and hasn’t won any league title since the old Southwest Conference in 1950. The Bears are a game up on perennial champion Kansas, and already have a road victory over the Jayhawks on the résumé. Nobody else in the conference is even close to those two.
Minutes projection: Baylor. Even if the Bears lose at home to Kansas Saturday (more about that game below), the Jayhawks still have to visit Texas Tech to close the regular season and that might provide the loss that clinches the league title for Baylor.
The Pac-12 co-leader is Colorado (10), which last won a league title in 1969 in the old Big Eight. (Coach of the Buffaloes then was Sox Walseth, and I think we can all agree that it would be nice to have another college basketball coach who goes by “Sox.”) The current Colorado squad is 9-4, tied with Oregon and leading Arizona and Arizona State by half a game.
Minutes projection: Arizona has fresh momentum after a sweep of the Bay Area schools on the road. Saturday's game in Tucson against Oregon will be key. The Buffs close with their last three on the road, and while they aren’t brutally difficult (Cal, Stanford, Utah), that seems like a trap that could prevent winning the title.
Florida State (11) and Louisville (12) will need some help now to catch Duke in the ACC. Both are a game behind in the loss column, and Louisville is reeling a bit after consecutive ugly losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson. The Seminoles haven’t won a conference title of any kind since the Metro in 1989, and the Cardinals last won their league when it was the American Athletic Conference in 2014. Louisville plays at Florida State on Feb. 24 in what could be an elimination game for the loser.
Minutes projection: Duke. And believe it or not, it’s been a while since the Blue Devils have won the ACC regular season title—2010 to be exact. Since then North Carolina has won it five times, Virginia four and Miami once (the Tar Heels and Cavaliers shared it last year). This time around, the Blue Devils close with six games in which Ken Pomeroy gives them 70-95% chances of winning.
In the Big East, Seton Hall (13) still has a one-game lead even after a bad week, losing to Creighton and Providence. The Bluejays are a game behind, and Villanova is a game and a half back. Last time the Pirates won the Big East was 1993, when current coach Kevin Willard was a college freshman playing for his dad, Ralph, at Western Kentucky.
Minutes projection: Creighton has been the league’s best team over the past month, winning seven of eight, including road victories over both Seton Hall and Villanova. The title could come down to the Pirates’ visit to Omaha to end the regular season. Creighton hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since 2013, when it was in the Missouri Valley.
And then there is the same-old, same-old of the Southeastern Conference. Perpetual kingpin Kentucky (14) has a one-game lead over 2019 champion LSU (15) and 2018 co-champ Auburn (16).
Minutes projection: Auburn. This projection hinges on freshman Isaac Okoro being able to return to full health after a hamstring injury kept him out of the Tigers’ loss at Missouri. Auburn should be able to win its next three without him—at Georgia, and home against Tennessee and suddenly dangerous Mississippi—but will need him for the Feb. 29 game at Kentucky.
One of the problems with the college basketball regular season is that the proliferation of games makes it hard to focus in on one truly big week. But a large one has arrived. No fewer than eight leagues have games that could decide who wins the regular-season title. The list in chronological order:
Kentucky at LSU (17), Tuesday. As noted above, the Wildcats have a one-game lead over LSU with six games to play. These two played a doozy of a game in Rupp Arena last year, with the Tigers winning on a buzzer-beating tip-in that should have been ruled an offensive goaltend. This LSU team is pretty terrible defensively, but it is a tough team to guard with scoring punch at all five positions. Kentucky’s rickety three-point shooting was at its worst Saturday, going 2-for-22 from outside the arc at home against Mississippi. A similar shooting performance would spell doom in Baton Rouge.
What to watch: Kentucky’s massively improved junior center, Nick Richards (14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds per game), against LSU freshman big man Trendon Watford (13.9 points, seven rebounds). Watford fouled out of LSU’s loss to Alabama Saturday, and the Tigers can’t have a repeat of that in this game because they don’t have any other quality size.
Tulsa at Houston (18), Wednesday. The Cougars are tied with Cincinnati for first in the AAC at 10-3, with the Golden Hurricane half a game behind. Tulsa won the first game 63-61 in a sizable upset, outscoring Houston 9-1 in the final five minutes. That game jump-started this surprising season for the Hurricane, but they’ll need more quality wins to secure an at-large NCAA tournament berth. Houston is rolling toward its third straight NCAA bid.
What to watch: Which Quentin Grimes shows up for the Cougars? The Kansas transfer is the bellwether player for Kelvin Sampson—he’s averaging 14.5 points in victories and just five in defeats. That includes a three-point, no-rebound, no-assist, five-turnover, five-foul performance in a loss to SMU Saturday. In the first game against Tulsa he had five points and missed seven of eight shots from the field.
Furman at East Tennessee State (19), Wednesday. They’re tied atop the Southern Conference at 12-2, and the Paladins will be looking to sweep the season series with the Buccaneers. ETSU, which has the stronger NCAA at-large résumé of the two, has a five-game winning streak. Furman has won seven straight.
What to watch: Can ETSU shoot straight? In the Buccaneers’ two SoCon losses, they were a combined 11 of 27 from the foul line and 8 of 45 from the three-point line. That included a 3-of-9, 5-of-23 nightmare in the first game against Furman. Effort is never a problem for Steve Forbes’ team, but they will occasionally struggle with the shooting stroke.
Vermont at Stony Brook (20), Thursday. The Catamounts are 11-1 in the America East, up two games in the loss column on the second-place Seawolves. One of these two teams has won the AE regular-season title the last four years, and 10 of the last 11. The Catamounts are on an 11-game winning streak—since losing at home to Stony Brook.
What to watch: Will Stony Brook’s best player be back in action? Elijah Olaniyi suffered an ankle injury Feb. 8 against New Hampshire and did not play in the Seawolves’ next game last Wednesday against Binghamton. This has been a fortuitous time for an eight-day break between games. Olaniyi (18.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals per game) will be needed if Stony Brook is going to be able to offset the firepower of Vermont star Anthony Lamb (16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists). Olaniyi went for 28 points and 11 boards in the first meeting.
North Florida at Liberty (21), Thursday. The Ospreys have a half-game lead in the Atlantic Sun over the Flames and come in on a six-game winning streak. The Flames have been the kings of the league the past two seasons, winning 24 of 28 A-Sun games—but two of those four losses were to North Florida, including one earlier this season. Locking up the top seed in the league tournament matters, since the A-Sun plays its tourney at campus sites.
What to watch: Can the Ospreys beat the league’s best defensive team from the three-point line? Matthew Driscoll’s team leads the nation in percentage of threes taken, launching more than half its shots outside the arc. When the Ospreys beat Liberty in January, they fired up 28 threes and outscored the Flames by 18 points from three.
Kansas at Baylor (22), Saturday. Yes, the Big 12 race is in the balance, but there are much larger stakes in play. This is, without question, the biggest game of the entire season nationally. The winner could get the inside track to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney. If the Bears win, their hopes of becoming the first Big 12 team to go undefeated in conference play since 2002 take a major step forward. This should be a wicked defensive battle, with challenged shots everywhere. It might not be the prettiest game, but it will be intense.
What to watch: A matchup of the two best guards in the conference, Kansas’ Devon Dotson and Baylor’s Jared Butler. The Bears’ Butler is averaging 15 points, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals in February; ironman Dotson has played 188 out of 200 minutes this month and averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals. But Dotson’s three-point shooting has plummeted lately, making just 19.4% outside the arc in his last 10 games. Butler outplayed Dotson in Lawrence in January.
Oregon at Arizona (23), Saturday. One of these two has won the Pac-12 regular-season title five of the last six years, and the last four league tournament titles. This edition is a rematch of an overtime game in Eugene that Oregon won by a single point, and the second of two big ones in the desert this week for the Ducks (they’re at Arizona State Thursday). Oregon has beaten Arizona four straight times.
What to watch: Another great guard matchup—Oregon’s relentless senior Payton Pritchard and Arizona’s clever freshman Nico Mannion. Pritchard is as vital to his team as any player in America, averaging 19.3 points, six assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Mannion’s play has fluctuated a little more, as tends to be the case with freshmen, but he’s still checking in at 13.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. Both point guards lead their teams in minutes.
Gonzaga at BYU (24), Saturday. If the Zags are going to lose a regular-season West Coast Conference game for the first time since January 2018, this figures to be it. BYU is surging under first-year head coach Mark Pope, riding a six-game winning streak and firming up its NCAA tourney credentials. The Cougars are the most accurate three-point shooting team in the nation, and both teams are susceptible enough defensively that this could be a shootout.
What to watch: How different does this game look than the January blowout in Spokane? Perhaps a lot different. BYU didn’t have injured 6-8 forward Yoeli Childs in that one, and the Cougars were smashed on the glass. Childs has averaged 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds since that game. Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie, who had 22 and 10 in the first meeting, has missed three of the last four games with an ankle injury.
HOME HEROES, ROAD ZEROES
The biggest separator between contenders and pretenders in college basketball is performing on the road. Who wins in the tough environments? Who routinely falls short?
The NCAA selection committee certainly is tracking that sort of thing. Every team’s home, road and neutral records are listed right there on its NET Ratings page, and they tell a story. A look at the Power-6 teams with the widest discrepancy between home and road records:
Rutgers (25). Record at home: 16-0 (actually 17-0, but the NCAA number crunchers don’t count games against non-Division I opponents). Record on the road: 1-6. The RAC has long been the only distinctive feature about Rutgers basketball, but this season it has morphed into a complete snake pit and elevated the home team to a likely NCAA tourney berth—which doesn't happen every decade. Meanwhile, Rutgers still looks a lot like the old Rutgers when away from home. The lone trend breaker thus far: a win at Nebraska Jan. 3. The Scarlet Knights have two remaining games at home (Michigan and Maryland) and three on the road (Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue).
Utah (26). Record at home: 10-1. Record on the road: 1-8. The Utes’ season opener was at Nevada, and they won it by five points. Since then, they have been mauled on the road—eight straight losses by an average of 19.1 points. Remaining schedule: three at home (USC, UCLA, Colorado) and two on the road (Stanford and California).
Iowa State (27). Record at home: 10-4. Record on the road: 0-8. Like everyone else in the Big 12 not named Baylor or Kansas, the difference in winning percentage is drastic based on the location of the games. But the Cyclones are one of just four Power-6 teams that are winless in true road games, and their losing streak in those games now stands at 11 dating back to last season. Iowa State has at least come close a few times—four losses by six points or fewer—but cannot close the deal. Remaining schedule: Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia at home; Kansas, Oklahoma and Kansas State on the road.
Washington State (28). Record at home: 12-3. Record on the road: 1-7. Even the Cougars’ lone road win is slightly spurious—it was at Idaho Dec. 4, a whopping seven miles from Pullman, and there were probably plenty of Wazzu fans in the house for that one. Washington State has now gone more than a year since its last conference road win. Remaining schedule: home against Cal and Stanford; on the road against Washington, Arizona and Arizona State.
Indiana (29). Record at home: 13-3. Record on the road: 1-6. Nebraska is the gift that keeps on giving in the Big Ten—like Rutgers, that is the only road victory for the Hoosiers thus far. Indiana is scoring 74.6 points per game in Big Ten home games and 61.2 on the road. Remaining schedule: Penn State, Minnesota and Wisconsin at home; Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois on the road.
California (30). Record at home: 10-5. Record on the road: 0-7. (Give the Golden Bears credit for also being winless in neutral-site games, making them a robust 0-10 in contests played outside of Haas Pavilion.) Cal is actually 2-31 in games away from home since Christmas 2017—and both wins are at rival Stanford. At least the Bears chose the right two road games to win. Remaining schedule: home against Colorado at Utah; on the road against Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State.
Missouri (31). Record at home: 10-3. Record on the road: 1-8. The Tigers won at Temple on Dec. 7, but otherwise have been pummeled. They’ve also scored some surprising home upsets of Auburn, Florida and Arkansas. Remaining schedule: home against Mississippi, Mississippi State and Alabama; on the road against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
Although not a Power-6 team, special Minutes commendation for the most psycho home-road team in the nation (outside of maybe Rutgers): Siena (32) is 12-0 at home, 1-10 on the road. The Saints are two wins away from their first undefeated home season since 2010, when Fran McCaffery was the coach.
And special Minutes commendation to Dayton (33), which can brag about being the only team in the nation other than San Diego State that is undefeated at home, undefeated on the road and undefeated in regulation. The Flyers’ lone two losses are on neutral floors in overtime—against Kansas in Maui and against Colorado in Chicago.
UNDER THE RADAR LOVE
Each week, The Minutes shines some light on a player who is doing good work outside the power conferences:
The most productive and efficient offensive player in the country, among those with at least a 28% usage rate, according to stat guru Ken Pomeroy? It’s not Iowa’s Luka Garza, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard or Duke’s Vernon Carey. Say hello to Max Mahoney (34) of Boston University.
The 6-8, 235-pound senior leads the Terriers in scoring (15.5 points), rebounding (7.6), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.5) while shooting 62% from the field. His game is so old-school that he’s never attempted a three-point shot as a college player. He’s the biggest reason why Boston U. Is 10-4 in the Patriot League, just a game behind Colgate.
STAT OF THE WEEK
San Diego State (35) and Boise State (36) did the fans in Taco Bell Arena a glorious favor Sunday afternoon. They played the first 12 minutes and 14 seconds of the game without committing a foul. (Or at least being called for a foul.)
There were only 18 fouls called the entire game, and nobody finished with more than three. The whole thing was over in 100 minutes, which certainly has to be one of the fastest games of the season. Maybe the officials (David Hall, Randy McCall and Larry Spaulding) had a plane to catch.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Bobby Hurley (37), Arizona State. Heading into February, it looked like the Sun Devils might not be making the NCAA tournament. They were 12-8, 3-4 in the Pac-12 and coming off a loss at Washington State. Since then: five straight wins, three of them on the road. Now Hurley’s crew is in the race for the conference title and more secure in its Big Dance standing. If the Devils lock down a third straight NCAA bid, it would be the first time the school has done so since the early 1960s.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Shaka Smart (38), Texas. As mentioned above, things have gone very sour for Smart in Austin. The Longhorns are 14-11, 4-8 in the Big 12 and on a four-game losing streak. They haven’t scored more than 58 points since Feb. 1. Losing by 29 to a bad Iowa State team Saturday seemed to have an air of finality about it, as Smart’s tenure at Texas has never taken off as expected.
When hungry and thirsty in Kansas City, The Minutes recommends a stop for barbecue at Q39 (39). It’s a crowded smoked-meat market in K.C., but this place can hang with the best of them. The ribs are outstanding, and the brisket and burnt ends stack up well. Pair your meal with a locally brewed Boulevard Tank 7 (40) and thank The Minutes later.