This week had it all in men's college basketball. Between incredible buzzer beaters, wild comebacks and big performances from some of the nation’s elite, it’s starting to feel more and more like March. Which players and teams shined the most this week? Sports Illustrated dives in with our Five Stars of the Week:
The Bluejays are playing their best basketball of the season as Big East play heats up. Two dominant wins this week against Seton Hall and St. John’s proved why Greg McDermott’s club has legitimate Final Four aspirations, winning the two games by a combined 54 points. Perhaps most impressively, Saturday’s win over St. John’s came without preseason Big East Player of the Year Marcus Zegarowski, who sat out due to a hamstring injury.
Creighton’s secret sauce is its shooting ability. In the two wins this week, the Bluejays shot a blistering 29-for-60 from beyond the arc. Four different players knocked down multiple threes in each game, including four makes each for Damien Jefferson, Mitch Ballock and Duke transfer Alex O’Connell in the win over the Red Storm Saturday. It was a breakout performance for O’Connell with Zegarowski out on Saturday, as the senior scored 16 points after tallying just 18 in his first five games of the season. If he blossoms into another major scoring threat, the Bluejays will be even more dangerous.
Greg McDermott’s club is also defending as well as any team he’s had in Omaha. The two-headed monster at center of Christian Bishop and Ryan Kalkbrenner has given Creighton a pair of strong rim protectors on the interior, while big wings like Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney are high-impact perimeter defenders. This is a team that can challenge Villanova for the Big East title and push anyone in the country when it shoots the ball well.
Trevion Williams, Purdue
It was an ugly first half for Purdue in East Lansing Friday night. The Boilermakers mustered just 16 first-half points and trailed Michigan State by 15 at intermission. But Williams took over in the second half, outscoring the Spartans by himself 24–23 in the game’s final 20 minutes to help the Boilers escape with a 55–54 victory. Williams was 8-for-12 from the field and 8-for-10 from the line in the second half, and none of the many MSU bigs Tom Izzo threw at him could slow down the junior from Chicago.
After Michigan State guard Aaron Henry split a pair of free throws to give the Spartans a 54–50 lead with 19 seconds to go, Purdue had just a 3.9% chance of winning, per KenPom. But Purdue made two free throws at the other end, then forced a turnover before Williams drew a foul with just nine seconds to play. Williams missed the second free throw, but Purdue snatched the offensive rebound and after a timeout found Williams for the game-winner. It was a much-needed road win for a Purdue team that had lost three of its last four.
Andrew Jones, Texas
There is perhaps no better feel-good story in sports right now than Jones, a cancer survivor now helping lead Texas to a top-five national ranking. First, he carried the Longhorns past Iowa State Tuesday, leading all scorers with 23 points along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He then followed up that performance with 16 points to help Texas earn a come-from-behind win in Morgantown Saturday, including the game-winning three with 1.1 seconds to go.
The game-winner for Jones against WVU was particularly sweet given it came on the three-year anniversary of his leukemia diagnosis. After missing the remainder of the 2017–18 season and virtually all of the 2018–19 season, Jones returned as a key rotation piece for the Longhorns last season. This year, he looks like the budding star he was before the diagnosis, scoring in double figures in each of his last six games and knocking down 39% of his threes during that stretch. When Jones and fellow guards Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramey play well, this Texas team is tough to beat.
For the first time in eight years, UCLA is 5–0 in the Pac-12. The Bruins passed their most difficult test of the season so far this week, sweeping a weekend road trip at Arizona State and Arizona. First was an overtime win against an undermanned Sun Devil team that fought hard, tying the game on a pair of Alonzo Verge free throws in the closing seconds despite trailing most of the second half. But Bruin big man Cody Riley dominated in the overtime period, scoring eight of his team-high 22 points during the extra session to lead UCLA to victory. Riley also had 13 rebounds and 2 blocks in the Thursday win. Saturday, UCLA closed strong after a slow start to win at Arizona behind 22 points from sophomore point guard Tyger Campbell.
UCLA is far from a finished product, but it sits alone atop of the Pac-12 despite losing last year’s leading scorer Chris Smith to a season-ending knee injury earlier this month. But the Bruins are balanced, play well together, and currently own the nation’s 11th-best offense, per KenPom. The 5–0 start to league play, combined with a nonconference win over Marquette, should position Mick Cronin’s group well to start earning top-25 looks this week.
Terry Taylor, Austin Peay
The only active player in college basketball with at least 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, Taylor had yet another huge week for Austin Peay as he tries to will his team into OVC contention. The headliner: a ridiculous 38-point, 17-rebound outburst Saturday in a 74–71 victory over Eastern Illinois that included this miraculous banked-in buzzer beater:
Taylor is one of the hidden gems in college basketball, a four-year star for the Governors who will etch his name into all kinds of record books by the time his career is over in Clarksville. He’s the nation’s active leader in double-doubles, field goals and rebounds, and he’s well on his way to becoming the Ohio Valley Conference’s all-time leading scorer by the end of the season. But one more accomplishment is left: getting to the NCAA tournament.