Weekend takeaways: Rutgers snaps skid, why there is hope for Duke and how the virus shut Michigan down

Which team had the most necessary win this weekend? What about those headed in the wrong direction? Nine ranked teams were toppled, which continued a trend in the past week-plus that has seen many atop the sport incapable of putting together significant winning streaks. (Gonzaga and Baylor excluded.)

Here are my 10 takeaways from the weekend, the first of which is a significant off-the-court headline. 

1. Michigan situation rings alarm bells

“There has been concern, there is concern and will be concern going forward,” one league commissioner told me only a few days ago. We were discussing the slight chance of a pre-NCAA Tournament pause to the season due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

The news out of Michigan late Saturday night only reinforced that unease. The state mandated that the University of Michigan “immediately pause athletic activities in all sports, including games, team and individual training sessions, until further notice and up to 14 days.” The reason being that the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus (commonly referred to as the UK variant) was found in “several individuals linked to the U-M Athletic Department through its diligent testing regiment.” 

Because this variant is estimated to be 50% more contagious than the more dominant strain, it rightfully has administrators spooked — especially since hundreds of campuses across the country now have students back. A few of my sources posited this in the hours since the news broke: If it’s at Michigan, it’s already on other campuses or on its way to other campuses very soon. 

“There’s no way it’s not going to end up somewhere else,” one Big Ten source said. “To think that other schools are going to end up in a similar spot at some point, I feel it’s going to be inevitable. I think that’s the bigger story in this.” 

If that happens, we’d likely see other schools enforce near-identical shutdowns, which could have domino effects on college basketball’s schedule. But we’re not there yet. The good news is nationwide vaccination rates are trending up, north of 1 million daily, which will be crucial to curb the spread of a strain that’s proven to be more transmissible. 

The timing of Saturday’s news is another thing athletic directors and administrators are noting. Michigan felt confident at 4 p.m. Saturday to announce a few rescheduled women’s basketball games. Less than six hours later the athletic department’s next two weeks were wiped out. For Michigan’s 13-1, seventh-ranked men’s basketball team that won at Purdue on Friday, its next four games are postponed with no promise they’ll be made up: at Penn State (Jan. 27), vs. Indiana (Jan. 30), at Northwestern (Feb. 3), vs. Michigan State (Feb. 6). 

2. All hope not lost for Duke

Mike Krzyzewski’s team has dropped three straight after a 70-65 loss at Louisville. Duke lacks a Quad 1 win but there’s still time. If you’re now completely writing off the Blue Devils making the NCAAs, you’re more likely than not to eventually be correct. But let’s look at why it’s not yet dire. If — if — Duke can play its next five games as scheduled, the slate is kind. Four of its next five are at home. Here is the lineup. Duke is the projected favorite in every game. Numbers are parentheses are each team’s NET ranking as of Sunday.

Georgia Tech is just OK. Clemson is tailspinning. Miami can’t get fully healthy. UNC is not yet a surefire NCAA Tournament team, and Notre Dame is bottom-tier in a weak ACC. But because every one of those games is winnable for a down Duke team, they won’t provide Quad 1 boosts. Still, if it can get to, say, 9-6 overall with a 4-1 run in its next five games? Duke’s tourney chances will not seem nearly as grave on Feb. 9 as they do now.

3. About that controversial Coach K quote

My colleague, Kyle Boone, was the one who first shared this postgame presser quote from Krzyzewski on Saturday night. It went viral soon thereafter. Jake Piazza, a student reporter for the Duke newspaper who opted to make the 16-hour roundtrip drive from Durham to Louisville, asks an anodyne question about where this 5-5 team goes from here. Because “Duke is Duke” this video was ripe for widespread online dragging.

Krzyzewski goes on the defensive and tries to compare losing a competitive basketball game as a team to a student taking a huge economics test. (The analogy is weak.) But Krzyzewski does have a point: the coaches will need more time than the 20 minutes following the end of this loss before next steps can surely be known. 

Still, the 73-year-old — who is paid more money to coach college basketball on an annual basis than any other coach in the history of the sport — had a few different paths to take when answering that question and chose the wrong one. Was it the most offensive response? Definitely not. There was some predictable performative outrage on Twitter over this, but Krzyzewski’s said worse. Thirty years ago Sports Illustrated detailed an embarrassing dress-down he gave to student reporters, in surprise fashion, in front of the basketball team. Krzyzewski long ago developed a local reputation for occasionally being harsher than necessary on student reporters (I’ve seen this firsthand as well). 

The Chronicle has produced many high-quality journalists over the decades, so in a weird way being talked down to by K is to earn a badge of honor. (This motif has been true at other schools with sometimes-ornery coaches who’ve been God-ed up.) Was it a great question? No, but it’s also the exact question that professional journalists ask coaches and players across all sports all the time. It’s a question Krzyzewski’s received before. This is a college student. Read the room (or in this case, read the Zoom). Coach K is known for his affinity to send handwritten notes. He should take some time to make good and send one to Piazza.

4. Bill Self is rarely in this position

Like Duke, Kansas is nursing a three-game skid. No. 9 KU couldn’t catch up to Oklahoma on Saturday, going down 75-68. The win for OU was one that will eventually ensure it’s safely in the NCAAs. But for Kansas, three straight games in the L column is a rarity. This is just the fifth three-game losing streak in Bill Self’s past 26 seasons of coaching. And none of those led to a fourth consecutive defeat. Here are the others:

The 1994-95 season was Self’s last time experiencing four in a row on the wrong end. He was a 32-year-old second-year coach at Oral Roberts then. Barring a postponement or cancellation, a four-game losing streak isn’t happening. KU’s next game is scheduled at home on Thursday against so-so TCU. 

5. Ohio State undefeated vs. top end of its schedule

One of the three most impressive wins of Saturday was No. 15 Ohio State’s 74-62 win at 10th-ranked Wisconsin. I spoke with Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann a few days ago and he was hopeful C.J. Walker would be back. That wound up being true, but the Buckeyes’ best point guard came off the bench and wound up not even being needed. Ohio State’s win marked the fourth time this season that it’s beat a team ranked in the top 15 at the time of the matchup. All those games have ended with an Ohio State victory, all those games with Ohio State being the underdog at tip. Keep it in mind when we get to the NCAAs. Holtmann’s team (a top-five offense in the sport) is exhibiting reasons to trust it to make the second weekend of the Big Dance.

The Buckeyes have proven so far to play great against the best teams.
USATSI

6. Rutgers’ win bigger than Indiana’s loss

The most notable game from Sunday was the urgent Rutgers-Indiana matchup in Bloomington. Rutgers won 74-70, snapping its longest losing streak (five games) in almost three years. Now the Scarlet Knights are 8-6 and at least have a path to establishing a case for Selection Sunday. If its next three games can be played as scheduled, Rutgers has home vs. Michigan State, at Northwestern and home against Minnesota. Win two of those three and it’ll still be a fair spot. This was a necessary win for the Scarlet Knights. For Indiana, yeah the loss is a stinger. That team’s still got much hill to climb to feel safe about its March fate, but coming off the win at Iowa, it’s not as damaging as it otherwise would have been.

7. Maryland’s weird resume

Every season I’m always on the lookout for the two or three teams that invariably blossom by early February with a slate of results that itch the mind. Maryland’s going to be one of those teams. The 9-7 Terps went into 17th-ranked Minnesota and held the Gophers to a season-low 49 points. Minnesota is a good offensive team — it was averaging 76.5 points in its previous eight games — and until Saturday was unbeatable at home.

Then Maryland walked in as though it had Juan Dixon and Lonnie Baxter on the roster. 

Mark Turgeon’s team has zero quality wins outside of league play. It’s 3-6 in the Big Ten. It’s also 3-6 vs. Quad 1 competition (and 0-1 in Quad 2) with the toughest strength of schedule, per NET calculations, in the sport. It shouldn’t be anywhere near the NCAA tourney convo. And it mostly isn’t, but that could change. Maryland has road wins over Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, three top-30 KenPom teams. The Terps get their next two at home vs. Wisconsin and Purdue. This team is weird, and weird is good. 

8. Stanford’s win just as big as Rutgers’

There were 53 teams that won on Saturday. I’m not sure any of them were more relieved and elated on a collective molecular level than Stanford. Oscar da Silva’s heads-up cut to the hoop with 0.8 seconds to go — when the Cardinal (9-5) did not have a timeout after the previous play was swatted out of bounds — gave Jerod Haase’s guys a 73-72 win in OT over UCLA (12-3). It was UCLA’s first loss in league play. 

It was Stanford’s ninth win of the season and improved the Cardinal to 5-3 in the conference. This is the team’s most important win through 14 games. Look at it this way: If Stanford takes a few more tough losses but stays the course and it gets into the field of 68, Saturday’s win could prove to be the clincher. 

Here’s the best part: Stanford did this without three of its top six players. Ziaire Williams opted not to play, according to a source, and Daejon Davis is also out due to non-coronavirus reasons. A third starter, Bryce Wills, is too banged up to play as well. To get this win without three starters, well you can see how much it meant to the team after da Silva (26 points) was Johnny on the spot. 

Credit to freshman Michael O’Connell for exhibiting patience and making a perfect pass. Stanford led for much of the game, so it was a well-earned W for a team that is living out of a hotel, hasn’t been home in months and is scraping together a season because Santa Clara County will not let any organized sports happen within its borders. 

9. Clemson … hello?

Eight days ago Clemson woke up as a top-15 team with a 9-1 record and visions of winning the ACC for the second time in program history. 

Then Virginia apparently vanquished this team’s spirit.

In terms of margin of defeat, the No. 20 Tigers have worst three-game losing streak for a ranked team I can remember. (Clemson will not be ranked when the polls refresh on Monday.) Kansas and Duke are in the midst of frustrating three-game slides, but those look rosy compared to the horrors Clemson is enduring. The Tigers’ past three games have left them outscored by 72 points, the most recent being an 80-61 loss at FSU that at one point was a 69-31 affair. (Newsflash: FSU is really good for the fifth year in a row.) 

But the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency as of eight days ago. Now they’re down to No. 24. It’s stunning. What a plunge. And it’s all happened since the team came off a 10-day COVID pause. The Tigers can and must get off the schneid Wednesday at home vs. Boston College. 

10. Mizzou and Tennessee flip roles

On Dec. 30, Tennessee went into Missouri and beat the Tigers by 20 points. Both teams entered that game undefeated. It was validation for the Vols and a back-to-earth moment for Mizzou. On Saturday, the opposite. Cuonzo Martin’s No. 19 Tigers played like someone insulted their mother and took it to No. 6 Tennessee with a 73-64 upset to improve to 10-2. Tennessee dropped a second straight game, and now at 4-3 in the SEC, is probably not going to win the league title after being prematurely labeled as the overwhelming favorite when the calendar flipped to 2021. 

With Alabama’s as-expected home win over Mississippi State on Saturday keeping the Tide undefeated in the SEC, Missouri is now the closest on the ledger. The Tigers have two league losses, putting them one game ahead of Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky. This is without debate Martin’s best Missouri team yet. 

Published: 2021-01-24 21:07:33

Tags: #Weekend #takeaways #Rutgers #snaps #skid #hope #Duke #virus #shut #Michigan

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