With just seven weeks to go until Selection Sunday, the stakes keep rising every week in men’s college basketball. Sports Illustrated’s Stars of the Week breaks down the biggest wins and most impressive performances of the week that was. Whose star shined brightest this week?
The Seminoles flew under the radar early in the season thanks in part to a pair of COVID-19 pauses, but they have looked excellent in the month of January. Two double-digit wins this week against teams that should finish in the top half of the conference made it clear that FSU is on track to contend for another ACC title. The Noles jumped on Louisville early on Monday, leading by as many as 24 in the first half before cruising to a 13-point win. Saturday, the Noles torched a good Clemson defense for 80 points to knock off the Tigers, 80–61, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as that scoreline indicates.
What makes Leonard Hamilton’s club special is its balance. FSU put five players in double figures in the win over Louisville and four against Clemson, with just one player (RaiQuan Gray) who scored at least 10 in both games. The team’s leading scorer for the season, senior M.J. Walker, scored just two points against Louisville and a quiet 10 against Clemson. Meanwhile, highly touted freshman Scottie Barnes has been more than happy settling into a high-level glue guy role in what will likely be his lone season in Tallahassee, consistently picking his spots and making good decisions in a hybrid guard/forward role. While Virginia has been impressive of late, FSU will absolutely be a factor in the ACC race.
Baylor had its toughest week of the season and passed both tests with flying colors. Why? Its National Player of the Year candidate, Jared Butler, balled out. Butler was by far the best player on the floor in a win against Kansas, pouring in 30 points and eight assists in a 77–69 win over the Jayhawks on Monday. He then followed up that performance with 22 points and six assists in a tough road test at Oklahoma State. Butler was especially impressive in the second half when Baylor needed him most, scoring 15 of his 22 after halftime to help the Bears pull away from a pesky Cowboys team.
The undefeated Bears continue to impress despite playing in one of the nation’s strongest conferences. Butler’s improvement from a terrific 2019–20 season is a testament to just how good he is: He has improved in every statistical category this season, including now shooting 49% from beyond the arc on almost three makes per game.
It feels like an annual ritual at this point to look up in late January and see a Mark Schmidt team surprisingly hanging around the top of the Atlantic 10. In a league that has seen teams like Richmond, St. Louis and VCU get most of the attention, the Bonnies are quietly in first place atop the A-10 and are starting to collect the type of wins necessary to have a shot at an at-large bid come March. Wednesday’s win over VCU in Olean was quite the grinder: The Bonnies trailed by 15 at halftime but fought back by holding the Rams to just 14 second-half points and outscoring them by 31 in the second to earn a big win over an A-10 contender. The Bonnies then found a way to win a tough road contest at Duquesne, scoring the game’s next six points after being tied at 55 with 2:39 to go to pull away.
St. Bonaventure didn’t do much of substance in nonconference play thanks to a COVID-19 pause that delayed its start to the season until Dec. 15. Still, this is the type of experienced, well-coached group that will be a problem for opposing teams come March. A tough road trip to Davidson looms next weekend.
Villanova went 27 days without playing a game due to near-consecutive COVID-19 pauses, but the Wildcats returned to action this week and earned a pair of wins against solid Big East foes. Gillespie’s huge week was a huge reason why. The veteran floor general put together a pair of highly efficient performances to lead his team to victory. In the team’s first game back against Seton Hall, Gillespie scored 22 points on 10 shots, including knocking down all eight of his free throw attempts in a nail-biting win over the Pirates. Gillespie then turned around and posted 15 points, six assists and just one turnover in a win over Providence. All six of those assists came in the second half, a period which saw the Wildcats outscore the Friars by 18 to pull away after trailing at the break.
Gillespie may not make the flashiest plays, but he’s the perfect point guard for a Jay Wright team. His miniscule 8.3% turnover rate is remarkably low for a point guard, and he’s shooting a blistering 45% from beyond the arc on the season. The Wildcats are clearly the class of the Big East and a potential No. 1 seed come March.
The Cardinal really needed a quality win to get back onto the right side of the bubble, and they found a way to win a thriller in overtime against Pac-12 leader UCLA. Perhaps more impressively, they did it without three starters, including a pair of double-figure scorers in Daejon Davis and Ziaire Williams. Playing in Santa Cruz rather than Palo Alto due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County, the Cardinal and Bruins went back and forth in a highly entertaining game that saw neither team lead by more than six in the second half or overtime.
UCLA took the lead on a three-point play by Tyger Campbell with five seconds to go, and the Cardinal looked dead in the water after Jaiden Delaire’s shot was blocked out of bounds with under a second to play. But coach Jerod Haase drew up a perfectly executed play that turned into this game-winning layup by Oscar da Silva.
Stanford’s neutral-court win over Alabama continues to age well, and a victory over a team as good as the Bruins will also go a long way towards punching its ticket to the Big Dance for the first time since 2014.