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Winners and Losers from Another Wild Saturday in College Basketball

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So I want to start finding different ways to recap these Saturday slates where there are a million games going on throughout the day. More importantly these slates where it seems like something significant happens almost every hour in terms of upsets or crazy finishes. I figure this week we’ll do a winners and losers blog – taking 5 from each side and just talking about it. I’m open to any ideas so let me know.

Winners

1. Kevin Knox – Listen, I have talked quite a bit about how Kevin Knox hasn’t lived up the hype this year and his inconsistencies. That said, he was downright awesome last night at West Virginia (more on them later). He looked like arguably the most talented player on the floor and that lottery pick that everyone expects him to be. But, that game last night was more than Knox looking like a lottery pick. It was a win that Kentucky flat out stole and one that can now be a jumping off point for the season. They haven’t handled success well this year, whether it’s blowing leads or not putting together winning streaks, but Kentucky also hasn’t had a win like this. I debated putting Kentucky as the winner here, but they don’t win that game without Knox dropping 34 and drawing all that attention. That allowed guys like Nick Richards and Wenyen Gabriel to come up big late in the game.

2. Kevin Keatts beating rivals – Kevin Keatts has flown a bit under the radar as one of the best hires this offseason in college basketball. Now, he has NC State on the right side of the bubble and has wins at North Carolina, home vs Duke and home vs Wake Forest – the three biggest rivals for the Wolfpack. Granted the Wake win doesn’t mean much, but it’s always nice to say you’re 3-0 in your first 3 games against rivals. Keatts has opened up the floor for NC State this year, pushing tempo and letting NC State play freely. That paid off yesterday when they were able to weather the first run by North Carolina early on and then take advantage in overtime.

3. Virginia solidifying itself as a national title contender – If you didn’t buy into the Virginia hype heading into the weekend, you sure as hell better after yesterday. That was a team that went into Duke, dominated the first half, dealt with the Duke run in the second half and still won. The difference with this Virginia team to those of the past is they can play a variety of ways. Granted, they want to continue to play that slow pace, if they get sped up it’s fine. They can attack you with Hall/Guy/Jerome in the backcourt and all are absolutely lethal shooters from the 3-point line. They bring De’Andre Hunter in off the bench who fits that small-ball four type role who is extremely athletic. Oh, they also are flat out silly on the defensive side of the ball and that’s not changing.

4. Alabama staying inside the bubble – That was an absolutely huge win over Oklahoma yesterday, keeping Alabama on the right side of the bubble. The Crimson Tide got help from Herb Jones off the bench who dropped 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in the 80-73 win. Alabama showed a different way to defend Trae Young as they took what West Virginia and Kansas State did to him and combined it into one. They were incredibly physical off the ball with him all while denying him for 90 feet.

5. East Tennessee State’s climbing up the seed line – I know most people aren’t really locked in to the Southern Conference and East Tennessee State, but the Bucs are 9-0 in conference play after a win at Wofford yesterday. They are ranked 56th in KenPom with a 35th ranked defense and a top-100 offense. Steve Forbes is one of the best mid-major coaches especially when you consider they lost guys like TJ Cromer, AJ Merriweather and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. ETSU lost last year to Florida in the NCAA Tournament and this year they look like a No. 12 seed again. The only losses on the year came at Northern Kentucky, Kentucky and Xavier (a game they led for the majority of the time) and home vs Troy. This is a mid major to keep an eye on.

Losers

1. Texas A&M – The Aggies had a chance to right the ship at Kansas. It was a matchup that fit A&M’s strengths and they started the game playing Kansas tight. Then the Aggies couldn’t chase Kansas around the perimeter as the Jayhawks shot 12-for-26 from the 3-point line. A&M once looked like a top-5 team in the country and now they lost seven of nine. I still think A&M makes the NCAA Tournament due what it did in the nonconference, but man this team is a disaster. Something is off with this team as they can’t put together a full game. There’s absolutely no reason for this team to be struggling this much with Tyler Davis/Robert Williams/DJ Hogg and all the roleplayers.

2. Trevon Duval being a top point guard – The narrative coming into the year is Duke found the Tyus Jones they have been looking for. That changed rather quickly and yesterday Trevon Duval was flat out awful, especially with the game on line. Down just 2 points with about a minute to go Duke was able to pick up a loose ball. Duval for whatever reason decided to try and throw a lead pass to Wendell Carter running down the court, slightly ahead of three Virginia players. The ball flew out of bounds. Even if it was completed, Carter didn’t really have a move and would have caught it in a weird spot. The next defensive possession, Duval bit on a Jerome ball fake and gave up a three to push the lead to five.

3. West Virginia’s ability to close out games – This is now a major storyline for me. The Mountaineers have lost three games recently in which they blew a fairly sizable second half lead, two of which came at home to Kansas and Kentucky. The other came on the road against Texas Tech. This team continues to struggle in the halfcourt and gets stagnant on offense, but this roster is made to be a little more successful there. West Virginia has now lost four of its last five and a ton of questions as to just how good this team actually is.

4. North Carolina being a top-10 team to the public – I’ve talked about it nonstop since the start of the year that this team was more top-20/25 than top-10. This week North Carolina slid into the No. 10 ranking in the AP poll and then lost at Virginia Tech and home to NC State – both okay teams, but not ranked and bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina has absolutely struggled guarding the 3-point line as they rank 315th in the country in 3PA/FGA and letting teams shoot 38% from the behind the arc against them. Virginia Tech hit 12 threes against them and NC State hit 15 – that’s not a coincidence, UNC is just that bad at guarding the 3-point line. This team has some serious holes – as do a bunch of teams in the country – but it’s time to stop talking about them as a top-10 team.

5. Anyone who says college basketball is only fun in March – Yesterday was one of the more fun days of college basketball yet it’s only January. The day started with Stan Robinson hitting a buzzer beater, a Ball State/Akron game in double overtime with crazy shots and the NC State/UNC game. We had the comeback at West Virginia. We had a controversial ending in Utah/Arizona. We had Virginia going to Duke. It was awesome and I highly suggest tuning in to more games so please like my sport.