Photo credit: Ernie Anderson, via goaztecs.com

March Impact Player Profile: Malachi Flynn, San Diego State

It’s the year of the mid-major in college basketball, and nobody exemplifies that more than San Diego State, a previously mediocre Mountain West team who has exceeded all expectations this season. The Aztecs had not been ranked since the 20-14-2015 season, and they’ve made just one NCAA tournament appearance since that season. But this year, San Diego State is 26-0 and steamrolling through the conference. Win out the remainder of their schedule and the Aztecs will likely be handed a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So the question is worth asking: What makes the Aztecs tick? While there are a few different answers, one big reason is point guard Malachi Flynn, a 6’1 junior transfer from Washington State, who has delivered in big moments for San Diego State while playing efficient, low-turnover basketball. 

Watching Flynn for the first time the other day, it was evident that SDSU is far better when he is rolling. The Aztecs struggled mightily in the first half while hosting New Mexico, but as Flynn got himself going in the second half, so did San Diego State, as they steadily pulled away to a 23-point victory. 

The Aztecs can count on Flynn to score, as evidenced by his 16.2 points per game average, but the junior guard can impact the game in a variety of ways. In engineering a comeback versus Utah State, Flynn notched 15 points –  a touch below his average – but also dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds, and recorded three steals for the Aztecs. He also turned the ball over just once, allowing San Diego State to maximize their offensive possessions in rallying from a double-digit deficit. Even as one of San Diego State’s primary ball handlers, Flynn is averaging just 1.5 turnovers per game, a stunningly low rate that has him ranked fifth in the country in assist to turnover ratio. 

As if all these attributes aren’t enough, Flynn has been clutch all year, especially in closing out games from the free throw line. An 83% shooter from the charity stripe, Flynn has virtually single-handedly secured several victories for the Aztecs. In a tight win over a tough Iowa squad, Flynn went 9-9 at the line as his team won by 10. He went 7-8 as the Aztecs staved off UNLV by four points, and 10-10 in a 9-point victory over Utah State. He’s a 45% shooter from the field as well, meaning opponents can’t sit back and let him shoot because he will undoubtedly find his stroke, and send the Aztecs through.

In a year where we could see 2-3 mid-majors in the Elite Eight, keep an eye on the Aztecs. Thanks in large part to Malachi Flynn, they’re no feel-good story this year – they’re looking to win it all.

February 12, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

NOTE: Although this article was published late, these rankings reflect games played through Monday, February 10.

We’re back with this week’s power rankings and we have some major shakeup within our top-10 and honorable mention. Slotting teams into the honorable mention and high single digits slots were tough, as many of these squads took brutal losses in the past week or two. Ultimately, after combining our ballots, we came up with another list of 13 teams, so we will summarize some of the biggest movement here, and then read on for the full rankings (and to see our new #1). 

Biggest Riser: Auburn

Biggest Faller: Oregon

Dropped out: Oregon

Joined the Rankings: West Virginia

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • West Virginia
  • Villanova

#10 – Maryland Terrapins (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • Maryland has won seven straight to rejoin the Top-10, both in the AP Poll and in our Power Rankings. The Terrapins are now a 2-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology after an impressive week in which they took down Rutgers and then went on the road to defeat #22 Ilinois.

#9 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #8)

  • Dayton suffers from the sad fact that they are the ‘ other’ elite mid-major. With San Diego State stealing the headlines, it’s been tough for Dayton to draw attention to their remarkable season. These Power Rankings were assembled before last night’s impressive win over Rhode Island, so they could still have room to rise. But last week saw Dayton play and win just one game, which isn’t enough to keep their #8 slot. 

#8 – Auburn Tigers (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • Our biggest risers of the week, Auburn is once again red-hot after crashing out of our top-10 with consecutive blowout losses. Auburn isn’t dominating, but they are passing the gut-check test after a series of tight victories, including an overtime 91-90 win over #25 LSU this past weekend.

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

  • The Seminoles lose to Duke, and so they slip behind them in the power rankings. Two games out of the conference lead, Florida State is virtually out of the regular season title chase, but they still can beat Louisville at home to help their chances for a top-2 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

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

  • In their third straight week at #6, San Diego State continues to play excellent basketball, but it also is coming against less-than-excellent teams, so our ballots still reflect our general distrust of the Aztecs. Their only game last week was a road contest at a sub .500 squad in Air Force, making it very difficult to climb at all in this week’s rankings, even as they are 24-0. 

#5 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke escaped disaster against BC, engineered an incredibly gutsy comeback at UNC, and then earned a statement victory over #8 Florida State to cap off an impressive three-game stretch. Their winning streak is at six, and the Blue Devils hope they’re not out of the hunt for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament just yet. 

#4 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #2) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The top of our ballots differed incredibly, as all of us have different opinions on who the best team in college basketball. Louisville gets a first place vote, but they ultimately drop two spots after needing a huge comeback to beat Wake Forest at home. After escaping Georgia Tech, it was their second close-call win at home in two weeks. They’re walking a tight-rope, but they’ve also won ten straight so they slot in at #4. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #4) – 1 First Place Vote

  • For some people, including AP voters, Gonzaga is the best team in the country. Not all of us feel that way evidently, but they do rise a spot in this week’s rankings. Why? Well, Gonzaga travelled to St. Marys to face the consensus second-best team in the West Coast Conference and beat them by thirty points. Especially with a weak conference schedule, wins don’t get much more impressive than that for the Bulldogs. 

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

  • It’s probably our most controversial ranking. But Baylor has won three straight games by single digits over unranked teams, and they’ve displayed some of the red flags that had us concerned about the Bears in the early going. These red flags included scoring just 52 points in a recent game at Texas and needing to go down to the wire at home to beat Oklahoma State, who are 2-9 in Big 12 play. They’re still an elite team, but these close calls aren’t inspiring confidence. 

#1 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #3) – 1 First Place Vote

  • Each of our ballots reflected a different team that we felt was #1, but Kansas was the only team that was Top-3 in each of our ballots. They beat Oklahoma State by 15 on the road, handled Texas by double digits, and they’ve won eight straight since losing to Baylor. Yes the head-to-head loss makes this ranking difficult, but overall, the Jayhawks just feel like the closest thing to a sure thing in a year where turmoil has reigned supreme.

March Impact Player Profile: Elijah Hughes, Syracuse

In March Madness, lightning can strike at any moment. If, in 2018, UMBC played Virginia 50 times, they would probably lose 49 times. If Loyola Chicago replayed their tournament a million times, they probably rarely make it to the Final Four. Weird things happen. Shooters who rely on the 3 can carry you, but they can just as well shoot your team out of the tournament if they get cold for one game, and that’s why, when it comes time to dancing, the teams that most often make the most noise are those with experienced leaders, who usually can score consistently. And while Syracuse is still fighting for their NCAA tournament life, they’ve got just the player to do that with if they can crack the field. 

Junior forward Elijah Hughes has been the Orange’s most consistent player this year, and it’s not even close. While sophomore Buddy Boeheim can put up gaudy numbers due to the pure volume of shots he takes from beyond the arc, it’s Elijah Hughes that makes Syracuse tick. 

Hughes has scored at least ten points in every game, and he’s notched at least 15 in 19 of his 23 contests. Since December 7th, Hughes has been held under 17 points just one time, and it is his level of play that helped Syracuse rise from ACC afterthought to a potential contender for an at-large bid. 

Hughes helped Syracuse turn their season around in a pivotal game in January when the Orange, sitting at 1-3 in ACC play, visited #18 Virginia, who had beaten Syracuse by 14 in the season opener. The game went to overtime, and Hughes played every minute, knocking down four triples, grabbing nine rebounds, and gutted out 18 points on a day when his shot wasn’t falling as frequently as normal. Syracuse won in overtime and the statement victory sparked a five-game winning streak. Hughes scored 19, 17, and 26 points in the Orange’s next three wins – two on the road – as they skyrocketed up the ACC standings. Syracuse now sits at 7-5 in ACC play, good enough for a tie with Virginia for fourth and the rights to a coveted double-bye in the ACC tournament. Perhaps more impressive than his statistics is his durability. Since November 27, Hughes has come out of a game just three times, and on all three occasions, the Orange led by more than ten points. 

If Syracuse gets into the NCAA tournament, it will certainly be on the back of their junior star. And if the Orange, a team already used to making long underdog runs in the NCAA tournament, make it to March, be ready for Elijah Hughes to lift this team onto his shoulders and help Syracuse carve out a vicious warpath en route to a deep run. 

March Impact Player Profile: Will Moreton, Stonehill

When Division 2 Stonehill opened their season at Providence, a strong Big East team who could very likely be in the NCAA tournament this year, they were understandably large underdogs. And while Stonehill fell well short of the upset, there were a few noteworthy individual performances from the visitors. One of these performances belonged to senior guard Will Moreton who put up 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds against premier competition. It was a solid game to start the year for Moreton, who has continued to put up outstanding numbers in his senior year, averaging a career-high 18.7 points per game. Standing 6’6, Moreton is proficient from both inside and outside the arc, shooting a tick under 45% in both categories. Moreton has long been one of Stonehill’s stars, and he even competed for Team USA this past summer in an international competition in Greece.

 In a season full of standout performances, one particularly big day came on January 4th, when the Skyhawks hosted #15 Daemen. Having lost their last game before Christmas break, Stonehill had a chance to make a statement, and Moreton made sure they did just that, torching Daemen for 22 points and 7 rebounds, including seven free throws to help seal the deal late in the game.  Just three games later, Moreton posted a 35-point performance, paced by a blistering 14-19 shooting performance from the field. 

Moreton has been incredibly consistent, which might be his most impressive trait, and it is one that could benefit the Skyhawks greatly in the playoffs. Just once in 2020 has Moreton been held below 10 points, and he’s scored over 15 in all but two games. Beating Stonehill has virtually become synonymous with stopping Will Moreton. 

Overall, Moreton has been the leading scorer for Stonehill, which is now 10-5 in conference play. They finished last year at 8-13. Sitting in first place in the conference, the Skyhawks will look to continue to improve their record as they eye a deep run in the postseason. To do that, they’ll continue to lean on Moreton who is not slowing down as his collegiate career draws to a close.

March Impact Player Profile: Cole Anthony, UNC

One of the biggest disappointments of this basketball season may be not being able to watch future top-10 draft selection Cole Anthony in the NCAA Tournament. Because, barring a miracle, Cole Anthony’s UNC Tar Heels will not be going dancing this year. A large part of that is due to Anthony’s extended injury-related absence, as the star freshman guard missed eleven games, a span in which the Tar Heels went just 4-7. They haven’t been dynamite with Anthony, going just 6-5 in those games, but UNC’s tournament chances dipped below 1% while Anthony was gone, and barring a miraculous run at the tail-end of their conference season, the Tar Heels will be fighting for a NIT bid the rest of the year. 

Despite this, our March Impact Player Feature series will include Cole Anthony, as he is undoubtedly a star talent who can take over March, even if it’s not in the tournament we all wanted to see him in. Normally, blue bloods in the NIT have limited motivation to compete, but Cole Anthony should have plenty of personal motivation after missing the first half of the ACC season. He’s got a lot of opportunity for his draft stock to rise, and Anthony undoubtedly makes the Tar Heels a different team. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game, and, almost more impressive, he has nabbed 6.5 rebounds a game, including four games of eight or more. As a 6’3, 190-pounder, Anthony scraps for rebounds many of his size and position would not go for. Combined with his ability to get blazing hot from beyond the arc, Cole Anthony is an incredibly exciting talent.

Anthony burst onto the scene when the Tar Heels hosted Notre Dame in the opener, as he went 6-11 from 3 and 12-24 overall while pouring in 34 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in their win. As UNC started 5-0, he added in 28 and 20-point performances, along with a do-it-all 13-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist performance in a tight win versus Alabama. UNC started to slump, and they were 6-3 when Anthony went down with injury, and their spiral continued as they lost several games as heavy favorites, leading to coach Roy Williams calling them the ‘least talented group’ he has ever coached. 

Anthony returned for the last two games, and although rust has been evident, he is still putting UNC on his back, albeit without much success yet as the Tar Heels have lost both games since his return. That’s hardly due to Anthony, however, who scored 26 points in his first game back and 16 points in a road top-10 match-up at Florida State. 

Anthony is the type of shooter that can carry a team when he gets hot, so as he rounds back into form and UNC heads towards (hopefully) the NIT, it’ll be exciting to watch the star freshman put on his final clinic for NBA scouts as he skyrockets towards a lottery draft selection.

March Impact Player Profile: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

In scanning lists of statistical leaders, the name Udoka Azubuike may not reach your eyes very often. His stat line isn’t gaudy, and due to a talented array of shooters in the Kansas lineup, he isn’t always the go-to guy for the Jayhawks. But Azubuike, a 7’0 center from Nigeria, can take over games in ways that go well beyond the box score. 

Take the Jayhawks’ Big 12/SEC challenge game against Tennessee. As the Volunteers repeatedly tried to make a comeback, Kansas responded with consistent feeds to Azubuike in the paint, who dunked with little effort over his defenders, spurring on the home crowd and energizing his teammates. At one point, Tennessee collapsed so hard, selling out for the pass to Azubuike, that Kansas kicked it out for an easy three. While the play doesn’t show up on the senior center’s stat sheet, it was his impact that gifted the Jayhawks the open look. Overall, Azubuike poured in 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, for one of his ten double-doubles on the season. 

Azubuike is known to get into foul trouble, picking up at least three fouls on ten different occasions, and fouling out once, so he isn’t always on the court as much as his counterpart stars, but when he is, his impact is nearly unmatchable. He creates a mass quantity of high percentage shot opportunities, leading to a 76.3% shooting rate for the year. And when he’s not getting a lot of shots, he’s impacting the game in other ways. There have been just two contests this year when Azubuike was held to under 10 points, under 10 rebounds, and less than 3 blocks. When #1 Baylor shut down his inside looks, Azubuike locked down defensively with a season-high seven blocks. In a overtime win over #6 Dayton, Azubuike only got three rebounds, but he was unstoppable near the basket en route to 29 points on 12-15 shooting. 

While Azubuike may not be a traditional star, his immense value to the Jayhawks is unquestionable. The Nigerian native has not scored more than 12 points in any of the three Kansas losses, suggesting that when they get their big man going, combined with their skilled outside shooting, the Jayhawks may be nearly impossible to stop. 

This valuable impact makes Azubuike our next March Impact Player Feature, so be sure to watch out for this guy when Kansas goes dancing. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

March Impact Player Profile: Payton Pritchard, Oregon

Payton Pritchard played 28 minutes a game as a freshman, when his Oregon Ducks bowed out in the Final Four. After a strong individual sophomore campaign that saw the Ducks left out of the bracket, Pritchard returned as the Ducks’ go-to-guy, as Oregon gleaned a 12th seed in the tournament and raced to the Sweet 16 before dropping a four-point contest to the eventual national champions in Virginia. Pritchard led Oregon in scoring in both of their victories, and he played all but six minutes of the three games combined.

Now, Pritchard is back in his senior season for the Pac-12 favorites, and he has Oregon hunting for a top-3 or top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Regardless of their seed, when the Ducks make it into the tournament, they’ll inevitably be turning to Pritchard to lead them on a deep run, which is why Pritchard is our next March Impact Player Feature. A 6’2 guard, Pritchard has shot the ball at an astounding 47% clip, including 40% from deep, and he has a clutch gene. Averaging 21.1 points per game in Pac-12 games, Pritchard has not been held to less than 16 points in a conference contest. He also dishes out close to six assists per game and even grabs about four rebounds per contest.

The Oregon senior has led the Ducks to a 7-3 conference record and 18-5 overall, propelled by a sparkling 12-0 record on their home court. Pritchard has been directly responsible for several of Oregon’s victories, including a massive comeback he engineered at Washington, which he capped off his 22-point performance with a game-winning triple. He played every minute of an overtime victory over #24 Arizona, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out six assists to compensate for a rare poor shooting performance.

That Arizona game was an indicator that Pritchard can impact a game in multiple ways. Even when his shots are falling, the senior guard falls back on gritty defense, grabbing rebounds and ball distribution to lead his squad to big wins. Pritchard has a lot of experience in March Madness, and he is 6-2 in career NCAA tournament games. He’ll be returning to the tournament this year with arguably the best team he’s been a part of over four years, and he’ll be looking to push the Ducks back towards the Final Four.

March Impact Player Profile: Anthony Lamb, Vermont

Not all of our March Impact Player Profiles come from slam dunk tournament teams, or power-6 teams. Some of our favorite potential players are the ones that haven’t shown up on too many team’s scouting reports come March. 

When considering this description, one player that comes to mind is University of Vermont’s senior star Anthony Lamb, who was all over the court against Florida State, notching 16 points and 8 rebounds in an extremely close loss, and that was with one of his poorer shooting performances. He had a few uncharacteristic misses at the free throw line, which he referred to as something “he’ll sit on all year”. Lamb has come back with a vengeance this year, averaging 17 points and 7 boards a game, and that is in an American East conference that knows first-hand about Lamb’s abilities, often double or even triple-teaming the 6’6 forward. After a handful of tough conference games in which he was held to 12 or less points in four consecutive match-ups, Lamb has adjusted to the added attention, notching three straight games of at least 20 points, including his most recent effort – a season-high 33-point onslaught on Albany, where he shot 10-17, as well as 10-10 from the charity stripe.

That Lamb is adjusting to being the center of attention for every opponent could be bad news for Vermont’s potential opponents in March. Now the America East almost never gets more than one team in the tournament, so the Catamounts are not a slam dunk to make the dance, as they’ll almost certainly need to win their conference. And if they do, the Catamounts will be served a tough match-up as a 13th or 14th seed. But, much like when they played Florida State last year, Lamb won’t be the center of anyone’s attention in March, as blue-bloods don’t often regard mid-major stars worth double-teaming. This means Lamb will have an opportunity to put the Catamounts on his back, and help Vermont make an inspiring underdog run in March. 

They have to get there first, but if they do, consider this a warning to any ranked team that draws the Catamounts: Anthony Lamb is coming, and, after falling just short last year, he has a mission to accomplish.

February 4, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with this week’s edition of the NCAA basketball power rankings. Auburn got a huge home win to get back into the conversation, and one other squad climbed back towards the rankings. Two teams dropped out, and while we have the same #1, there was some movement right beneath them. Check out the full rankings here!

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Louisville

Biggest Fallers: Kentucky

Dropped Out: Kentucky, West Virginia

Joined the Rankings: Auburn, Maryland

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • Maryland
  • Auburn

The Rankings

#10 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: #8)

  • The Wildcats were looking like one of the biggest risers in college basketball, a few games seperated from a 76-61 beatdown of a ranked Butler squad, but then Villanova played an unranked Creighton squad and got throttled by the same score. They stay in the rankings due to how they’ve looked up until that game, but Villanova raised some serious question marks on Saturday. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: #9) 

  • Oregon has stayed at #9 for the past three weeks, and the Ducks had inspired a lot of confidence until their recent slip-up at Stanford. However, one road conference loss can be excused, and the Ducks still appear to be the Pac-12 team to beat. 

#8 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #10)

  • Dayton rises two spots after two more victories, surviving one of their toughest road games remaining against Duquesne, a 16-5 team with a previously spotless 9-0 home record. They host dangerous Saint Louis and Rhode Island squads in the next week, so they’ll need to prove themselves to keep rising in the rankings. 

#7- Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke survived a raucous environment to triumph at Syracuse, winning their third straight game since a home loss to Louisville. They have road games versus Boston College and UNC coming up before a home date with Florida State. If they’re looking for a chance to prove they’re one of the country’s elite squads, they’ve got a few opportunities coming up. 

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

  • In writing about potential trap games for the Aztecs, we identified a tricky-looking road matchup versus New Mexico, who was 13-0 at home prior to the match-up. San Diego State marched into the game and dismantled the Lobos by 28 points, sending yet another notice to the country that they are for real. They survived a potential letdown by pulling away from Utah State. 

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

  • There were mixed reviews among our ballots on how to rank the Seminoles after a close loss to Virginia and tight win over North Carolina, largely because it is difficult to tell exactly how good those teams are. Virginia is starting to round into form and North Carolina just got Cole Anthony back, yet both squads are tournament bubble teams at best. Either way, the Seminoles are still 19-3 and 2nd in the ACC, so they stay at #5 this week. 

#4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #3) – 1 first place vote

  • Gonzaga deals with questions year-in and year-out about how valid their success is, as they play in the West Coast conference. They didn’t do much to quiet their doubters after needing a go-ahead three-pointer with under five seconds remaining to survive San Francisco. Without signature wins available on the remainder of their schedule, such close calls drop the Bulldogs in the rankings. 

#3 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #2) 

  • Kansas continues to win, although they’ve had to survive a few stiff challenges. The Jayhawks certainly have a few tough Big 12 games ahead, but there is no doubt they’ve circled the February 22nd rematch with the Baylor Bears. A win there could make Kansas the team to beat.

#2 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #4)

  • One of our biggest risers of the week, the Cardinals continue to win convincingly, having won three straight ACC contests by at least 17 points, including two games on the road. Both BC and NC State gave them a push, but the Cardinals continue to put together full 40-minute efforts. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #1)

  • Baylor raised some eyebrows after escaping Oklahoma at home, but they’ve since made short work of Florida, Iowa State, and TCU, winning all three games by double-digits. They are 20-1 and on a 19-game winning streak, one game shy of the longest winning streak in the history of all Big 12 teams, and they are slowly strengthening their hold on the #1 spot in the rankings.

March Impact Player Profile: Luka Garza, Iowa

Our third March Impact Player Profile belongs to Luka Garza, the junior center for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Garza has been a three-year contributor for the Hawkeyes, and he very nearly led Iowa to a Sweet 16 berth last year. Both Garza and his squad have looked much stronger this year, and they appear to be loading for a big surge in March. Garza has averaged 23 points per game and 10.4 rebounds, while shooting at an astonishing 54.6% clip from the field. While the shooting percentage is around the same as it has been his first two seasons, Garza’s points and rebounds per game have almost doubled since last year. 

Garza made a statement in the Big 10 opener. Having played solidly to open the year, Garza torched Michigan for 44 points on 77% shooting. Although Iowa lost 103-91, their star had officially arrived on the scene, and he has barely slowed down. Recording a dozen double-doubles, Garza has also scored at least 21 points in eight straight contests, and 11 of 13 since the 44-point game. Iowa is 10-3 in that stretch with four victories over ranked opponents. 

The biggest knock on Garza was his one-dimensional game, as he rarely shot the ball from distance. #19 Illinois tried to limit Garza in the paint, and the 6’11, 260-pound center responded by knocking down four three-pointers, a career-high. Overall he is now shooting 38% for triples on the year, forcing opponents to respect his ability to drill a shot or two, opening up more room for him inside. 

Garza takes 16 shots a game and, if he keeps up his scoring average, he could be a one-man wrecking ball for the Hawkeyes come March. Watch out for this man, as after nearly single-handedly lifting the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 last year, he is looking better, and ready to do it again.