February is always a great time for college basketball. Almost every single night has games that have postseason implications, and the sport will take center stage after that other sporting event this weekend is finished.
February also means it’s extremely cold outside. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, which supposedly means six more weeks of winter. It’s only seven degrees here in Indianapolis, but it gives me a reason to drop this classic line in here:
IT MAY BE COLD OUTSIDE BUT THE ACTION ON THE COURT IS HEATING UP!
[dodges incoming tomatoes]
Whatever, you’ve wasted enough time reading this already. Just read the rest. Last week’s stock watch can be found here.
Short Stars: Right now, mid-major basketball is full of sub-six foot stars who are electric to watch. Monmouth’s Justin Robinson is the favorite to repeat as MAAC POY and lead the the Hawks to the Big Dance. Keon Johnson is one of the best scorers around for Winthrop, and how could we mention short scorers without mentioning Marcus Keene? Our own Ellie Lieberman has a great piece about him up on the site, and he’s worth every bit of the hype. Make it a point to catch some of these players (and any others I may have omitted) because they’re some of the most exciting in the country.
Nigel Williams-Goss’s NPOY Candidacy: His numbers don’t jump off the page, but Williams-Goss is the engine that makes No. 1 Gonzaga go. His 33-point performance Thursday night against BYU adds another notch in his belt for his National Player of the Year candidacy, and he absolutely deserves to be in that conversation. If Gonzaga heads into the NCAA Tournament undefeated (I think they will), then Williams-Goss absolutely needs to be in the discussion for National Player of the Year. Another standout performance against Saint Mary’s next week should catapult him into that conversation.
Valparaiso: While the spotlight has been focused Gonzaga, Wichita State, and other mid-major powers, Valparaiso has quietly put together an eight-game win streak. Since their home loss to Oakland, the Crusaders have gone 8-0, while the Grizzlies have sputtered at 4-4. In Horizon League play, Valpo holds the throne in both offensive and defensive efficiency by significant margins. They appear to be hitting their stride at the perfect time, and will not be a team that opponents want to face in the postseason.
Coaches Powering Forward: This weekend, coaches across the country will be donning the blue Autism Speaks pins as part of the Coaches Powering Forward for Autism campaign. The campaign was started by Towson’s Pat Skerry and former Marshall head coach Tom Herrion in 2014, and has grown every year. You can learn more about their story here, but it’s great to see coaches across the country supporting such an important cause. If you’re inclined to do so, you can donate to Autism Speaks here.
Bad Gonzaga takes: Wait, Gonzaga is the best team in the country? FAKE NEWS! Yes, Gonzaga is in fact the No. 1 team in the country, and for good reason. As discussed on our podcast last night and broken down by our WCC writer, Will Maupin, the Bulldogs are absolutely deserving of the high praise. They pass the eye test, the numbers agree, and their resume backs it all up. Don’t let others tell you that the Bulldogs aren’t legit, because they are and will continue to prove themselves until everyone realizes.
BYU’s at-large hopes: If BYU had any hope of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, it had to topple Gonzaga last night. The Cougars came up short, and their resume still lacks a signature win. Unless they beat Saint Mary’s at home and Gonzaga on the road (both projected losses on KenPom), their only path to the NCAA Tournament goes through the WCC Tournament, which is a tall task in itself.
Saturday Responsibilities: The college basketball slate is barren on Sunday because of the Superb Owl (My prediction: Falcons 100, Patriots 0), so get your fix in on Saturday. Russ has more in his weekend preview, but be sure to get obligations out of the way in the morning before the fun starts. A few games of note: Valparaiso at Green Bay, VCU at Saint Bonaventure, Fort Wayne at Denver, Princeton at Harvard.
Wait on It
The Big South: Liberty, UNC Asheville, and Winthrop all sit tied at the top of the Big South with 9-2 records. It’s not a coincidence that those three teams are the top three in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Each team still has a matchup remaining with the two others, and those could be the deciding factors in who gets the top seed in their conference tournament.
#FunBelt: Speaking of three-way ties in the conference standings, the Sun Belt has one of its own. Arkansas State, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern are locked at 7-2, while UT Arlington and Texas State are biting at their heels with 6-3 records. Those five teams will likely shuffle around until the last weekend, and it’s hard to peg a favorite at this point. The #FunBelt never disappoints.