March Takeover Feature: Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Kemba Walker with the UConn Huskies. Christian Laettner with the ’92 Duke Blue Devils. Steph Curry with Davidson in 2008. Throughout the history of March Madness, there have been a handful of players who have taken the college basketball world by storm in the NCAA tournament, putting their team on their back and carrying them to a deep tournament run. And, with the NCAA tournament just over a month away, we’ve started our “March Takeover” features, as we profile players who could potentially dominate the tournament come March.

On January 5th, 2020, Michigan State senior guard Cassisus Winston served the rest of the basketball world a notice in a big way. Winston was coming off three consecutive games of 21 points with 50% shooting from the field, but he was not supposed to continue that production against Michigan and their elite defense. But Winston has faced his doubts throughout his whole collegiate career. Considered far too undersized, Winston was a fairly lightly recruited prospect, with only a few major school showing considerable interest. Michigan was the last school Winston visited, the school didn’t appeal to him, as he committed to the Spartans later that day. 

In four years, Winston has continued to prove the doubters wrong, shooting at least 42% in all four seasons, as well as at least 38% from long range. With a dozen or so games left in the season – depending on how far the Spartans dance for – Winston is within range of becoming the first ever college basketball player to record 2,000 points and 1,000 assists for his career. After falling short in the Final Four last year, Winston entered the senior year with a singular goal, however, and, after some early struggles, the Spartans are heating up, as they eye a dream finish to their 2019-2020 campaign.

After being dismissed from the national picture after a series of tough losses to start the year, Winston and the Spartans crawled their way back into the picture, working their way into the Top 20 ahead of their showdown with then #12 Michigan. And there, as if he hadn’t done enough to showcase his abilities, Cassius Winston took Michigan and the rest of the country by storm with an elite performance, dropping 32 seemingly effortless points on the Wolverines, and that was with him only attempting one field goal in the final five minutes, when the game was long salted away. 

Winston tacked on 9 assists, all while shooting 58% from the field as the Spartans throttled the Wolverines 87-69. His performance in that game earned one our selections as a potential “March Takeover” player. Winston showcased his ability to put the Spartans on his back, and his three-point shooting ability is reminiscent of players that have simply dominated the NCAA tournament with their ability to shoot their team to victory. 

Michigan State may live and die by Cassius Winston – but if you’re going to live and die by a player, he’s a pretty good option to be stuck with.


January 29, 2020: NCAA Hockey Power Rankings

There were some unexpected results and turmoil within the NCAA hockey world, and a series of upsets resulted in some major changes within the second edition of our NCAA Hockey Power Rankings, including two new teams, and a new #1 team. Below is a quick summary of the biggest changes, with the full rankings following. 

Biggest Riser: Denver (3 spots)

Biggest Fallers: UMass (4 spots)

Dropped Out: UMass, Ohio State, 

Joined The Rankings: Arizona State, Northern Michigan

Honorable Mention

  • Providence
  • Arizona State
  • Northern Michigan

The Rankings

#10 – Minnesota Duluth (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • UMD can hang their hats on one of the most impressive victories of the season – a 7-4 onslaught of a scorching hot North Dakota team. Unfortunately, they dropped a 3-2 decision the next day, still a solid result against one of the best offenses in the nation. Combined with the collapse of a few of our top-10 teams, it was enough for the Bulldogs to climb into the rankings. 

#9 – Bemidji State Beavers (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • I’m way higher on the Beavers than pretty much anyone else, as the latest polls have Bemidji State at just 19th, but this is a team that is 6-1-1 in their last eight, with their lone loss coming in a road series split with #3 Minnesota State. They still might be on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament picture, but the Beavers are consistently impressing every weekend. 

#8 – Harvard Crimson (Last Week: 9)

  • Harvard played two games with a pair of bloodless results. Their tie against Colgate didn’t do much for their resume, but a road tie against #1 Cornell again showcased this squad’s ability to hang with the best, and, to me, justified them rising to #8 in this week’s power rankings. 

#7 – Boston College Eagles (Last Week: 4)

  • Although both games went to overtime, the Eagles were swept at home by an unranked UMaine squad. UMaine is close to cracking the Top 20, but this is a team that BC has historically dominated, so to enter the series red-hot and then drop both games was a severe disappointment that made the Eagles our biggest faller of the week. 

#6 – Clarkson Golden Knights (Last Week: 5)

  • Clarkson played a competitive series at home with Arizona State, but they ultimately split the result, managing an overtime victory in the opener before dropping a 3-2 decision in the second game. It wasn’t a horrific result by any means, but the Golden Knights failed to keep pace with most of their closest competitors and slid two spots as a consequence.

#5 – Penn State Nittany Lions (Last Week: 6) 

  • Penn State salvaged their weekend with a gutsy overtime victory at Michigan State to split the series after a loss in the opener. It was an impressive rebound performance from the Nittany Lions, and their ranked road win was enough to lock them in at #6 for the second straight week.

#4 – Denver Pioneers (Last Week: 7)

  • Denver went to Miami of Ohio and swept the Redhawks, squeaking out a 3-2 decision in the opener before cruising 5-2 in the second game. Denver has not lost since December 6 – although they have three ties in that span – and that justifies their three-spot jump in this week’s rankings. 

#3 – North Dakota Fighting Hawks(Last Week: 3)

  • North Dakota in my mind is still one of the elite three teams in the country, but they showed that defense could be a huge weakness by giving up seven to UMD. Their rebound win was needed, and it kept the Fighting Hawks at #3, but they’ll have to figure out their defense before March rolls around. 

#2 – Minnesota State Mavericks (Last Week: 1)

  • Minnesota State suffered a tough loss to Bemidji State and split the series overall. I’ve already discussed that I really like the Beavers, and I don’t regard this as any kind of disaster for the Mavericks; I just believe any slip up can be costly when your competition plays at an elite level. 

#1 Cornell Big Red (Last Week: 2)

  • Cornell posted another unbeaten effort this weekend, beating a quality Dartmouth team before escaping Harvard’s upset bid with a tie. Their 1-0-1 weekend keeps them at just one loss for the year, and, combined with losses from North Dakota and the Mavericks, propelled the Big Red to #1.

January 28, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with the third edition of our power rankings, and while the top of our rankings stayed largely the same, there was some significant movers. We highlighted the major movers here, but be sure to check out the full top 10 (and honorable mention) below!

Biggest Riser: Villanova

Biggest Faller: Michigan State

Dropped Out: Michigan State

Joined The Ranks: Villanova, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Dayton

Honorable Mention 

  • West Virginia (Last week: Not ranked)
  • Seton Hall (Last week: Not ranked)
  • Kentucky (Last week: Honorable Mention)

#10 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: Not Ranked)

  • The Flyers appeared on just one of our ballots last week, but they got the nod in three of four ballots this week, after they dismantled St. Bonaventures and took down a solid Richmond squad on the road. An under-the-radar mid-major due to the success of San Diego State, the Flyers have their eyes on the Atlantic 10 title and an NCAA tournament run. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: 9)

  • Oregon choked up a late lead before surviving in overtime against USC, and they followed that up with a dominant victory over a struggling UCLA squad. We didn’t learn too much about the Ducks, as we already knew they were extremely good at home (12-0) so the Ducks tread water at #9 until further notice. 

#8 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: Not Ranked)

  • The Wildcats shot up our rankings, after being little more than an afterthought on last week’s ballots. Villanova looked absolutely dominant in beating #16 Butler by 15 points, and they edged out Providence for a key road conference win to secure their sixth straight win. They are our biggest risers of the week, joining the rankings for the first time this year at #8. 
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

#7 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: 5)

  • The Blue Devils drop due very little to their own doings. They played one game against a horrendous Miami team and won handily, but their elite ACC competition had more wins against better competition, and so Duke slides two more spots to #7 this week. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: 7)

  • The Aztecs continue to win and continue to climb. In a prior mid-major report, we identified their road game at New Mexico as a potential trap game. The Lobos have struggled recently, but they are 13-0 at home, so whether the Aztecs continue their climb up the rankings remains to be seen. 

#5 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: 6)

  • There are two ways to look at Florida State’s lone game and win of the week – an 85-84 thriller over Notre Dame. One is a really close game against a below-average ACC squad. The other way is a gutsy finish against a resilient team that plays everyone close. We tended to side with the latter, as the Seminoles won their twelfth straight to move up a notch on the ladder. 
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

#4 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: 4) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The ACC-leaders looked shaky in holding off Georgia Tech before rebounding with one of their most complete performances of the year against Clemson. The Cardinals utilized a 20-0 run to seize control and dominated the upstart Tigers for their sixth straight victory. They are holding off Florida State, but they’ll need to keep winning if they want the top seed in the ACC tournament because the Seminoles aren’t backing down. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: 1) – 1 First Place Vote

  • Gonzaga slid in the AP Poll out of the #1 slot, and they slide here, largely due to their weak schedule. It’s hard to make a statement when you beat every team in your conference by 20 or 30 points, and that’s exactly Gonzaga’s issue currently. Whereas other top teams are winning huge statement games, the Bulldogs are cruising through the West Coast conference, beating up on a cupcake schedule. 

#2 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #3) 

  • The Jayhawks haven’t lost since their home defeat to Baylor, but they’ll play second-fiddle to the Bears in these rankings. They showed flashes of brilliance in putting away Tennessee, and they sandwiched that outing with dominant performances versus Kansas State and Oklahoma State. They’re a legitimate national title contender. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #2) – 2 First Place Votes

  • Baylor shut down a lot of haters with a dominant performance at an unranked Florida team. The #1 team in the nation, the Bears entered the game as 2-point underdogs. They played with a chip on their shoulder and stifled the Gators to the tune of a 72-61 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. With 15 straight wins, the Bears finally rise to the top of our Power Rankings.

Big 12/SEC Challenge Recaps and Takeaways

Conference challenges are great for college sports. They’re engaging and create high-quality matchups and games. The Big 12/SEC challenge was no exception on Saturday with the conferences splitting ten games with five wins apiece, as the Big 12 salvaged the draw via Baylor’s statement victory over Florida to end the day. Here’s a game by game look at the action and takeaways. 

Auburn 80 Iowa State 76 

The recap: Auburn was up 78-74, having watched a large lead slip away, and Iowa State had a wide open look for three from the corner. The Cyclones missed the shot, and Auburn secured the rebound and ultimately hung on. It was a less than inspiring finish to an otherwise solid game from the Tigers who have won two straight following their 2-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Auburn is not a national title contender. The Tigers continue to struggle against inferior competition. Their wins against South Carolina and Iowa State have not inspired much confidence following a horrific two-game stretch against Florida and Alabama. 

West Virginia 74 Missouri 51

 The Recap: One of the few yawners in this challenge, the #14 Mountaineers grinded their way through a sluggish first half before lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 50 points in the second half to pull away for the dominant victory, improving to 10-0 at home. 

The Takeaway: West Virginia is clearly a Big 12 contender: In our initial roundtable, I picked West Virginia to win the Big 12. It was a shot in the dark, but the Mountaineers are making me look good, turning in a strong performance today and looking like the clear third best team behind Kansas and Baylor. 

LSU 69 Texas 67

The Recap: In a thrilling matchup of unranked teams, LSU built a large halftime advantage and held off a furious Texas rally. The lead changed hands several times in the final minutes, but the Tigers ultimately finished the job on the road, improving to 15-4. 

The Takeaway: LSU are road warriors: The Tigers are now 4-1 on the road, and that could bode well for LSU when it comes time to leave the comforts of their own court and play some elimination games on neutral courts in March. 

Oklahoma 63 Mississippi State 62

The Recap: Oklahoma leaned on a big day from Brady Manek, who dropped 18 points, to hold off the Bulldogs in a game that was tight all the way through. Mississippi State was plagued by poor shooting, and they ultimately could not make one more shot to push them over the edge on the road. 

The Takeaway: Mississippi State needs a secondary scorer: On a day when Oklahoma honed in on the Bulldog’s primary scorer in Reggie Perry, the Bulldogs could not find an answer, putting up a poor offensive performance. Their defense performed extremely well, and it should have been enough for a key road win, but Mississippi State proved themselves to be overly reliant on one man.  

Arkansas 78 TCU 67

The Recap: Arkansas continued their dominance at home, improving to 11-1 on their court with an easy win over the Horned Frogs. Desi Sills poured in 18 for the Razorbacks and Arkansas claimed a relatively easy victory for the SEC. 

The Takeaway: Kevin Samuel is an extremely impressive player: All due respect to Arkansas, but I pretty much knew that they were extremely good at home and average on the road. So my biggest takeaway is TCU’s Kevin Samuel. The man put the Horned Frogs on his back on Saturday, and although he couldn’t single-handedly take down the Sooners, he put up 24 points and collected 18 rebounds. If TCU can find some help for Samuel, they could make some noise. 

Kansas 74 Tennessee 68

The Recap: Devon Dotson put up 22 points, and Udoka Azubuike battled through foul trouble, scoring 18 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Tennessee pushed hard on the road, but ultimately the Jayhawks never surrendered their advantage and edged the Volunteers. 

The Takeaway: Kansas still needs to find their identity. I believe the Jayhawks are a title contender, but they need to figure out who they are, especially on offense. The Jayhawks looked lost at times without Azubuike on the floor. When he was there, they clicked, driving in the paint, finding Azubuike for a bevy of dunks and layups, or kicking out for open 3s. Without him on the floor, Kansas seemed to have no system, taking bad shots, turning the ball over and generally looking lost with the ball in their hands. 

Oklahoma State 73 Texas A&M 62

The Recap: Oklahoma State flashed their balance, as their leading scorer posted just 13 points on the day, but the Cowboys looked much better than the Aggies in both halves and steadily pulled away for an easy victory. 

The Takeaway: Neither team is making a run this year. This was a somewhat close game, but it was a relatively boring battle between two average squads featuring very few stars with mediocre verging on below-average offenses. Neither of these two teams looked like a tournament team to me, and overall, it was one of the most boring games of the challenge. 

Alabama 77 Kansas State 74

The Recap: Alabama had all five starters score in double-digits, highlighted by Kira Lewis Jr. and his 26 points, and the Crimson Tide squeaked past the Wildcats 77-74 in a game that was tight all the way.

The Takeaway: Alabama is a basketball school. Well, not really, but I think this is the best basketball team out of Tuscaloosa in a long time, and with a stud in Lewis and a solid supporting cast, I could see the Crimson Tide making a decent run in a few months. 

Kentucky 76 Texas Tech 74

The Recap: A thriller from start to finish, Kentucky avoided disappointment after giving away their late lead to edge the Red Raiders in Lubbard in overtime. It was a huge win for the Wildcats who are looking to move past the inconsistencies that have plagued them this year. 

The Takeaway: This was the turning point in Kentucky’s season. The Wildcats are an extremely talented group that have lost several games they had no business losing. But if any game can get them to start playing consistently, it is an emotional overtime victory in an electric atmosphere against a Top-20 opponent. The Wildcats impressed me, and I think they’ll start to look like the Kentucky we’re used to seeing in the coming weeks. 

Baylor 72 Florida 61

The Recap: Baylor ended the first half on a 13-2 run to claim a comfortable 11-point halftime advantage. They pushed the lead out to 17 points in the second half and never let the Gators make a serious comeback threat, throttling Florida on the road. 

The Takeaway: I was wrong about Baylor. I picked Florida to win this game. Baylor had looked a little weak in recent games, and I really liked the way Florida was playing. But this game was never close in the second half, and the Bears simply outclassed the Gators in every phase of the game on Saturday to claim a big win for their program and the Big 12, as the victory salvaged the split with the SEC in the challenge.

Saturday’s ACC Recaps and Takeaways

The ACC was busy on Saturday, but there were a few yawners before a Notre Dame-Florida State thriller ended the day. Recaps and takeaways are here, as well as the one Sunday game still to be played in the conference.

Louisville 80 Clemson 62

The Game: Darius Perry scored 19 points, Samuell Williamson chipped in 14 points off the bench, and Louisville went on a 17-0 run in the first half to put away the Tigers with ease, the game never coming closer than 13 points in the second half. 

The Takeaway: Clemson is not a legitimate ACC contender. The Tigers had their inspiring underdog week, when they snapped a 59-game road losing streak to UNC and beat Duke at home, but they’ve lost two of three since then, and I don’t see the Tigers making any serious run in the ACC Tournament. 

UNC 94 Miami 71

The Game: Brandon Robinson balled out with 29 points for the Tar Heels, Armando Bacot had a double-double as UNC put up 51 points in the second half and rolled versus Miami to break  a 6-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Miami is the worst team in the ACC. They’ve lost 6 of 7 games with five of those losses by 16 or more points and three by 20+. They entered the day in a tie for last in the ACC with UNC, and they were run off the court by the Tar Heels, clearly highlighting their struggles to be competitive this year. 

Syracuse 69 Pittsburgh 61

The Game: Buddy Boeheim put up 21 points, Marek Dolezaj notched 17 points, and the Orange stayed hot, putting away the Panthers at home for their fifth straight ACC win. 

The Takeaway: Syracuse’s ability to win in different ways could be huge in March. The Orange beat Notre Dame in a shootout 84-82, but they relied on their defense to win on Saturday. During their current winning streak, four of their five wins have been 8 or less points – come March, their ability to win ugly close games could be clutch. 

Boston College 61 Virginia Tech 56

The Game: BC got 23 points from Jairus Hamilton and outscored the Hokies 35-25 in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit and win at home. 

The Takeaway: We have no idea what to expect out of BC. The Eagles beat Wake Forest and Notre Dame to start ACC play, but they lost four of their next five conference games, losing by 39, 18, 19, and 26 points. They lost to Pitt earlier in this week, but won today as an underdog – in conclusion? BC might be the worst or best team on your schedule depending on what version of the Eagles shows up.

Florida State 85 Notre Dame 84

The Recap: Highlighted by Wyatt Wilke’s 19 points 5 for 6 shooting performance from long range off the bench, Florida State shot 12/18 from deep as a team and held off a furious comeback by Notre Dame, who missed four shots in the final 15 seconds. 

The Takeaway: Notre Dame is the best in the country at almost making huge comebacks. As the final Irish shot fell short of its mark, John Mooney grabbed the ball and hucked it at the base of the hoop in frustration. The Irish fell to 2-5 in one possession game and have lost four games in ACC play by a total of 7 points. In all four games, the Irish came back from a double-digit deficit only to lose it in the final seconds. 

Saturday’s Pac-12 Recaps and Takeaways

The Pac-12 had four matchups on Saturday, with one big upset and a huge statement victory among the results. Here are all the recaps and takeaways from Saturday along with the games to come today.

Arizona State 66 Arizona 65

The Recap: 22 was a special number for Arizona State as they held Arizona to 22 second-half points to rally from a 22-point deficit and beat the #22 Wildcats 66-65. Remy Martin scored 24 to lead the Sun Devils while Alonzo Verge sank the game-winning layup with 9 seconds left. 

The Takeaway: Arizona is not good away from home. The Wildcats are ranked due largely to their 10-1 home record, but they are now 0-4 in road games. Home court matters a lot to this squad – they beat the Sun Devils by 28 at home just weeks earlier. 

Colorado 76 Washington 62

The Recap: Tyler Bey scored 16, McKinley Wright IV had 15, and the #23 Buffaloes rode a 51-point first half to an easy win over Washington at home, improving to 5-2 in Pac-12 play and a three-way tie for second in the conference. 

The Takeaway: Colorado’s depth is a huge strength: Big comebacks are hard enough to make, but overcoming an 18-point halftime deficit is near impossible when your opponent continuously has fresher legs on the court. Colorado had four players play at least 12 minutes off the bench, while Washington had one such player. Overall, Colorado’s bench outscored Washington’s 25-4, which may be a difference-maker in the postseason. 

USC 75 Oregon State 55

The Recap: Propelled by Onyeka Okongwu’s 18 points, USC dominated both halves and earned a huge road victory at Oregon State, keeping pace with Colorado and Oregon for second in the conference with their fourth win in five games.

The Takeaway: USC may be the most dangerous Pac-12 team in the Playoff: USC is now 5-2 in true road games and 7-4 in games played outside their home arena. That’s a huge advantage on every other Pac-12 team, and it could make a huge difference in the postseason, where most if not all games will be played on neutral courts.

Utah 76 Washington State 64 

The Recap: The Utes got a big day from Rylan Jones (24 points) and huge contributions off the bench from Mikael Jantunen (16 points) as they handled the Cougars for the second straight win following a four-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Utah’s defense is their key to victory. The Utes have a decent offense that can put up 70 points a game, but they rarely blow you out of the water with a jaw-dropping offensive performance. However, in four Pac-12 losses, Utah is giving up 84 points a game, compared to 66 points a game in their 3 wins. If Utah figures out how to play consistently good defense, this team could make moves in March. 

Friday’s Games


Sunday’s Games

UCLA @ #12 Oregon

Stanford @ Cal 

Saturday’s Big 10 Recaps And Takeaways

There were very few Big 10 games yesterday, but they were both absolute thrillers, so here’s a quick recap and takeaway from the Big 10 games yesterday, along with results from Friday and games to come on Sunday/

Illinois 64 Michigan 62

The Recap: What a game. Ayo Dosunmu poured in 27 for the Illini including his game-winner with half a second left as Illinois took down the Wolverines on the road to improve to 15-5 overall and take the sole lead in the Big 10 standings. 

The Takeaway: Michigan is not a threat. Lots of credit is due to Illinois, but Michigan just doesn’t seem to have that ‘it’ factor this year. They’ve lost four straight games, all by less than ten points, and they seem unable to pull out wins in close games. 

Rutgers 75 Nebraska 72

The Recap: Well there wasn’t a lot of Big 10 teams in action on Saturday, but the games that were played made up for that. Following Illinois’s buzzer-beater, Geo Baker buried a three with 1.1 seconds to play and Rutgers survived a stiff test from Nebraska at home. 

The Takeaway: No Conference Game is ever a lock. I’m not sure if I learned much about Rutgers, and I’m not any higher on Nebraska after their tight loss, but it does speak to the parity in college basketball. For teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, avoiding letdowns in games they should win will be critical to securing a berth or higher seed come Selection Sunday. 

Friday’s Games

Purdue 70 Wisconsin 51

Sunday’s Games

#17 Maryland @ Indiana

#11 Michigan State @ Minnesota

Ohio State @ Northwestern

Big East Game Recaps and Takeaways

There was very little Big East action on Saturday, so here’s a quick summary and takeaway from the two conference games that were played. 

Villanova 64 Providence 60

The Game: Collin Gillespie scored 18 points and notched 8 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to victory at Providence – holding off a Friars comeback bid for their 12th win in 13 games. 

The Takeaway: Providence Needs A Signature Win. The Friars have lost four of five in Big East play, and despite being competitive in each contest, they have not locked down a big win yet, which they will likely need to do to earn an at-large bid in March. 

St. Johns 79 DePaul 66

The Game: LJ Figueroa was a beast for the Red Storm on Saturday, dropping 28 points on DePaul as St. Johns won handily in a battle of Big East cellar dwellers. 

The Takeaway: Butler is in trouble. I know, this takeaway is about a team not involved in the game. But this game highlighted many DePaul deficiencies as they were slapped around on their home-court by another team in the basement of the conference. That Butler lost to this DePaul team is embarrassing and says a lot about the state of their team right now. 

Friday Games

Butler 89 Marquette 85

Sundays Game

Xavier @ Creighton

Women’s B-Ball Headlines: UConn Wins Rivalry Renewal; All Eyes Towards Oregon

It was an old rivalry with a new twist. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma said with uncharacteristic emotion, “It wasn’t the same. I miss having her there.”

‘Her’ was legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Her and Auriemma’s squads did battle many times during her tenure, with UConn edging out Tennessee 13-9 for the series lead between the two teams. During each of those 22 games, both teams were in the Top 15 in the AP Poll. It was a rivalry for the ages that finally concluded around 2007.

On Thursday night, for the first time in thirteen years, the Huskies and Volunteers met on the basketball court again, although this time, Summitt was not leading the ladies in orange. Having retired in 2012, the all-time leader in coaching wins died in 2016 at just age 63, having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. It was a devastatingly early end to the career of one of the greatest coaches to ever do it.

Tennessee, led by coach Kelli Harper, came out of the gates firing on Thursday, taking a lead into halftime on the Huskies’ home court. Auriemma would ultimately pull the right strings, and his team played with a renewed ferocity. Their dominant second half propelled the home squad to a 60-45 victory. The intensity of the game, especially for the first three quarters when the game was still in doubt, echoed the old intensity of what was quite possibly the greatest rivalry ever on a college basketball court.

And, even if it wasn’t the same, it was a big win for the Huskies, who answered some major questions with a statement win over their first ranked opponent since their 16-point home loss to Baylor.

All Eyes On Oregon

In other women’s basketball headlines, the games to watch this weekend once again reside in the Pac-12. After Stanford engaged in two top-10 duels last week, there will be another pair of premier match-ups to watch in the coming days. Fans of high quality basketball and exciting rivalries will want to tune in as #4 Oregon hosts #7 Oregon State on Friday, before the two squads switch locations and do it again on Sunday, with the Ducks visiting the Beavers. Oregon is 15-2 and has won eight of their past eleven games by at least thirty points, including an 87-55 beat-down of Stanford. The Cowboys started 15-0, but they’ve been tripped up in two of their past three games, losing at Arizona State and at home to Stanford by a combined 11 points. It should be a thrilling series out west, and one that will clear up some of the muddled confusion at the top of the rankings.

SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.