Baylor walks off the court after its 72-57 loss to Missouri (US Presswire)
Baylor walks off the court after its 72-57 loss to Missouri (US Presswire)
Here's a look at some of the players and teams whose stock has risen and fallen on a busy Saturday in college hoops. Check back because this file will be updated again tonight:
Stock up: Louisville
Having already won five straight entering Saturday's game at West Virginia, Louisville received a boost from the debut of arguably its most talented player. Freshman Wayne Blackshear, a top 30 recruit who suffered a torn labrum in October, had 13 points and four rebounds against the Mountaineers, helping the Cardinals rally from a 10-point deficit to secure a 77-74 victory. It wasn't that long ago that injury-riddled Louisville was off to a 2-4 start in the Big East and appeared to be in the midst of a midseason collapse. Now the Cardinals are a game out of second place in the league and will have a crack at second-ranked Syracuse on Monday.
Stock down: Perry Jones III
One of the biggest reasons the Big 12 now appears to be a two-team race between Kansas and Missouri is because Perry Jones III vanished in Baylor's two biggest games of the season. Jones scored a total of nine points on 3-for-20 shooting in losses to both the Tigers and Jayhawks this week, dropping the Bears two games behind in the Big 12 standings. When Jones returned to school instead of entering the NBA draft last spring, it was viewed as a risky move since he likely would have gone in the top five. He's probably too talented to drop out of the lottery altogether this June, but his stock certainly has been hurt by erratic play, a lack of aggressiveness and an inability to dominate against a smaller team like Missouri.
Stock up: Michigan State
Instead of Ohio State extending its home win streak and creating two games of separation in the Big Ten race, Michigan State made sure there will be plenty of drama in the league in the weeks to come. The Spartans (20-5, 9-3) created a first-place tie with the Buckeyes by parlaying ferocious, physical defense into a 58-48 victory. They harassed Jared Sullinger into 5 of 15 shooting and 10 turnovers. They limited William Buford and DeShaun Thomas to matching 2-for-12 shooting lines. And they got an inspired 15-point performance from 6-foot-10 Adreian Payne to win the first of two meetings with the Buckeyes.
Stock down: Creighton
Lost amid the well-deserved coronation of Wichita State as the Missouri Valley's best team is that the team it has upstaged is suddenly reeling. Creighton, a fixture in the Top 25 for two months, will likely fall out of the polls Monday after suffering its third straight loss. While the Bluejays' defense in Wichita State's 89-68 rout left a lot to be desired, the biggest reason for the losses to the Shockers, Northern Iowa and Evansville is that their typically efficient offense has sputtered. They've shot 22.9 percent from three-point range during the losing streak, leaving them with a bit of work to do in the next two weeks to shore up a once-certain NCAA bid.
Stock up: Temple
In spite of a jumbled, chaotic start, it's now becoming clear who the Atlantic 10's best team may be. That's Temple, which won its eighth straight game and remained in first place in the league by whipping still-scuffling Xavier 85-72. Thanks to the return of top big man Micheal Eric to complement one of the nation's better backcourts, the Owls (19-5, 8-2) have bounced back from a 1-2 start in league play and made a case to return to the Top 25 on Monday. They still have four of their final six on the road, but they're done with surging Saint Louis (20-5, 8-3) and Xavier (18-7, 7-4), still probably their biggest competition for the league title.
Stock down: Alabama
Suspended forward Tony Mitchell wasn't the only key player Alabama was missing during Saturday's 67-58 loss at LSU. Hours before tipoff, coach Anthony Grant also suspended leading scorer and rebounder JaMychal Green and guards Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The quartet's absence cost Alabama (16-8, 5-5) a winnable road game and dropped the enigmatic Tide closer to the bubble. Their NCAA tourney hopes likely depend on when Grant decides to lift their suspensions, especially considering three of Alabama's next four games are against NCAA tournament contenders beginning with Tuesday's matchup with Florida.
Stock up: Tyler Zeller
If there was any doubt how Zeller would respond from his disastrous final two minutes against Duke three nights earlier, the North Carolina center erased it Saturday against Virginia. Zeller scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds and sank 7 of 8 free throws to lead the Tar Heels to a 70-52 victory. It sometimes seems like Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall get more publicity than Zeller, but the truth is the 7-foot senior may be both North Carolina's and the ACC's best player. He has scored at least 17 points in North Carolina's past six games and at least 20 in the past three.
Stock down: Mississippi State
The difference between Mississippi State and the nation's best teams isn't talent. It's consistency. The Bulldogs showed their frustrating tendency to lose to inferior teams once again on Saturday, falling at home to Georgia 70-68 in overtime. It was the Bulldogs' first SEC road win of the season and just their third conference win overall. For a team with an elite point guard in Dee Bost, an NBA-caliber big man in Arnett Moultrie and one of the SEC's top freshmen in Rodney Hood, losses like this one simply shouldn't happen. Mississippi State (19-6, 6-4) remains in good position to make the NCAA tournament, but its seeding will suffer with anymore losses like this.
Stock up: Justin Hawkins
With UNLV's transition offense stymied and its double-digit second-half lead down to one, reserve guard Justin Hawkins made two huge plays to keep the Rebels in contention for the Mountain West title. First Hawkins pulled down the rebound of teammate Chace Stanback's missed free throw with 10 seconds to go, forcing San Diego State to send him to the free throw line. Then after sinking 1 of 2 free throws to extend UNLV's lead to two, Hawkins poked the ball away from San Diego State's Xavier Thames on the Aztecs' final possession, clinching a 65-63 Rebels victory. Hawkins scored only four points and logged just 18 minutes, but his defense, decision-making and ability to do the little things well make him invaluable to UNLV off the bench.
Stock down: Florida
The combination of a talented guard quartet and Patric Young's presence in the paint seems to give Florida a Final Four-caliber roster, yet the Gators don't look trustworthy enough for anyone to pick to make it that far. For every win over Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, there's a loss to a middling Tennessee or Rutgers. Saturday's 75-70 loss to the Vols was especially discouraging for the Gators because it snapped their 19-game home win streak and gave rebuilding Tennessee a season sweep. Even more alarming, Young continues not to make much of an impact on the block, scoring just seven points and attempting just four field goals.
Stock up: Texas
Before Saturday's come-from-behind 75-64 victory over Kansas State, Texas had only two noteworthy wins: Temple and Iowa State at home. Those wins certainly won't turn too many heads, but they'll at least vault the Longhorns (16-9, 6-6) back into NCAA tourney contention with six games left in Big 12 play. The key for the Longhorns continues to be the supporting cast around star J'Covan Brown. While Brown had 23 points on Saturday to up his season average to 19.6 points per game, the biggest reason Texas has won three in a row is that Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo and even Alexis Wangmene have scored in double figures during that stretch.
Stock down: Cleveland State
Any hope Cleveland State had of contending for an at-large bid likely vanished this week as a result of back-to-back home losses. The Vikings followed up a 59-41 shellacking against Horizon League leader Valparaiso on Thursday with a 52-49 loss to third-place Butler. The absence of versatile defensive stopper D'Aundray Brown didn't help Cleveland State (20-5, 10-4) this week, but against Butler, it wasn't the Vikings' defense that failed them. They shot just 38 percent from the field, missing a three that could have tied it on their final possession to fall a full game behind Valparaiso.
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