For 3: Maryland sends a message with statement win at Michigan State

  • Basketball recruiting insider.
  • Joined ESPN in 2014.
  • Graduate of University of Delaware.

It was another busy weekend in college basketball, this one filled with top-25 upsets. So yes, it was essentially business as usual.

Auburn lost by 12 at Missouri in its first game without injured freshman star Isaac Okoro, while several other other top-25 teams also fell Saturday. We’ll get to Louisville shortly, but Seton Hall (No. 10), Butler (No. 19), Houston (No. 20), Illinois (No. 22), Texas Tech (No. 24) and LSU (No. 25) all dropped games.

There was plenty of bubble intrigue, with Mississippi State beating Arkansas in Fayetteville in an SEC bubble battle and Richmond knocking off VCU in a city rivalry game to move up the Atlantic 10 pecking order. Georgetown might have helped itself the most of any team with a win at Butler.

Also, a special shoutout to Alabama’s Herb Jones, who finished with 6 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks — and two one-handed free throws because he’s playing with a broken wrist — in a win over LSU.

Here are the biggest talking points from Saturday:

3 things from Saturday

1. Maryland gets statement win at Michigan State

The college basketball world — heck, even Maryland fans — has been hesitant to jump on the Maryland bandwagon this season. We’ve been down this path before, where the Terps begin to develop a gaudy record and then the wheels fall off at some point late in the season. Over the past four years, Maryland is just 14-14 in February.

It might be time to hop on board. Maryland went into East Lansing on Saturday night and knocked off Michigan State, finishing the game on a 14-0 run to win by seven. The Terrapins jumped out to an early lead but didn’t finish the first half strong and allowed Michigan State to control most of the second half. Just when it looked as if Maryland was going to fold, Anthony Cowan Jr. hit three 3s and the Terps left the Breslin Center with control of the Big Ten race.

That’s now eight straight wins for the Terps, and on Saturday night, they showed mental toughness that they’ve perhaps lacked at times over the past few seasons. Cowan is one of the best point guards in the country, and despite disappearing for long stretches in the second half, he finished with 24 points. Jalen Smith tallied his fifth straight double-double. This team has talent, a top-five defense and now a true road win on which to hang its hat. And a one-game lead over Penn State in the Big Ten standings.

On the other side, Michigan State has lost four of five and its NCAA tournament seed is dropping every game. Tom Izzo simply needs to find a consistent third option besides Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman; it’s easier said than done, as it’s something the Spartans have been trying to find all season.

2. Baylor pummels West Virginia without MaCio Teague

The 11-point margin in Baylor’s win over West Virginia on Saturday afternoon doesn’t do the Bears’ dominance justice. They led by as many as 28 points in the second half and West Virginia didn’t make a shot from the field in the second half until nearly 10 minutes after the break. Baylor led by double figures for the last 32 minutes or so and never trailed. It wasn’t close.

Making the win even more impressive was the fact Scott Drew’s team did it without second-leading scorer MaCio Teague, who sat out the game because of a wrist injury. The Bears announced the injury news just before the game, and the timetable for a return is unclear. But Baylor is well-equipped to deal with a short-term loss of a guard. Devonte Bandoo stepped into the starting lineup, and while he struggled Saturday, he has shown the ability to get hot in a hurry this season. And Matthew Mayer filled Bandoo’s instant-offense role off the bench, scoring 13 points in 17 minutes. That’s now 22 straight wins for Baylor, and sets up a heavyweight tilt against Kansas next weekend — perhaps the best game of the 2019-20 season.

West Virginia is in trouble. I wrote in the Weekend Roundtable that the Mountaineers were in danger of falling off the top-four seed lines in the NCAA tournament, partially due to their résumé and partially due to their offensive struggles. Saturday’s performance marked three straight losses for Bob Huggins’ team, and West Virginia didn’t crack 60 in any of the games. There had been some alarming trends developing for the Mountaineers earlier in Big 12 season, and now that the offense isn’t getting to the free throw line and perimeter shots still aren’t falling, it has been tough for West Virginia to beat good teams.

As for their NCAA tournament résumé, the Mountaineers’ best wins are over Ohio State, Texas Tech, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. That’s solid, but they need a marquee win — and losses to Kansas and Baylor this week were two more misses.

3. What’s going on with Louisville?

A week ago, Louisville was polishing off a home win over Virginia, a victory that extended the Cardinals’ winning streak to 10 games and left them alone in first place at the top of the ACC standings. That feels like a long time ago. Louisville lost its second game in a row on Saturday, falling at Clemson by 15 — three days after losing at Georgia Tech.

The Cardinals didn’t look great in either game, getting down early in both games and struggling mightily on offense throughout. The biggest thing that stands out is the poor performances from Jordan Nwora.

Nwora entered the week as a legitimate Wooden Award candidate; that ship has probably sailed. He totaled just seven points on 2-for-11 shooting, and Chris Mack even started with him on the bench against Clemson. Nwora wasn’t close to the only culprit, however. As a team, the Cardinals scored 120 points on 137 possessions in two games — that’s about 0.88 points per possession. It was two of their four worst offensive efforts of the season, and their worst since a loss to Texas Tech on Dec. 10.

This loss also shakes up the ACC race. Duke and Florida State both won on Saturday, meaning the Blue Devils move atop the standings by a half-game over Louisville, with Florida State just a half-game behind the Cardinals. Louisville still has to travel to Florida State on Feb. 24, while Duke is already finished with both of its title competitors.

3 things for Sunday

1. Bubble season

We’re less than a month from Selection Sunday and teams need to begin to solidify their résumés to punch a ticket into the NCAA tournament. Sunday features several bubble teams in action, with nearly all of them on the road. Indiana snapped its four-game losing streak against Iowa on Thursday, but now the Hoosiers have to face Michigan in Ann Arbor. NC State gave itself a shot in the arm by beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Tuesday, but Kevin Keatts’ team still has a ways to go.

The Wolfpack play at Boston College — before two season-shaping home tilts against Duke and Florida State next week. Arizona State has played its way into consideration by winning six of its past seven, and the Sun Devils have a chance to extend the winning ways at California on Sunday. The final road bubbler we’ll talk about here is Cincinnati, which came back to beat Memphis on Thursday and now heads to East Carolina.

Perhaps the best game of the day features a bubble team at home: Minnesota hosting Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ loss to Indiana this week boosted the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes, and the Golden Gophers are hoping for the same. Minnesota would fall to .500 with a loss.

2. Memphis’ last stand?

We didn’t mention Memphis in the first section, but the Tigers’ NCAA tournament hopes are essentially on life support after blowing a 10-point lead in the final six minutes against Cincinnati. They’re now just 6-5 in AAC play, and their best wins this season are over Cincinnati, NC State and Tennessee. Those aren’t going to move the needle too much on Selection Sunday. They need to start racking up quality wins and avoiding any sort of losses. Penny Hardaway’s team still gets Houston twice and Wichita State, so there are chances. But that will go out the window if Memphis loses at UConn on Sunday. The Huskies have lost only twice at home in conference play, with both defeats coming in overtime; Memphis is 2-3 on the road in AAC games.

3. San Diego State faces road test

San Diego State is now only seven games from entering the NCAA tournament with an unbeaten record, but the Aztecs won’t have a cakewalk to get there. On Sunday, they head to Boise State — which has won six of its past seven games and hasn’t lost a conference game at home since Feb. 27. Boise wing Derrick Alston is one of the best players in the league and a legitimate potential pro, and Justinian Jessup is shooting lights-out from the perimeter in Mountain West play. San Diego State’s defense has fallen off a step or two over the past couple of weeks, giving up more than one point per possession three times in the past five games after doing that only three times in the first 20 games.

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