In the sport of golf, Saturday is known as Moving Day, meaning that it’s the day when players attempt to move into position so that they have a chance to win on Sunday. When you talk about college basketball, February is Moving Month.
Teams will try to jockey for position in their respective conferences so that they have a legitimate chance of doing damage in March — and getting to New Orleans for the Final Four. As this exciting month gets into gear, here are some of the storylines to follow.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: NOTRE DAME
The Irish seemed like a Big East afterthought after losing top returning scorer Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending injury. A loss on Rutgers Jan. 16 dropped Notre Dame to .500 in the conference.
That’s when the Irish took out No. 1 and then-unbeaten Syracuse, sparking a four-game winning streak that also included a hard-fought win over Connecticut. While young players like Eric Atkins, Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant have stepped up their games, the real star has been coach Mike Brey’s “Burn” offense, which slows the pace of the game and limits the possessions of opponents.
The style has helped the Irish limit opponents to 50 points per game in the winning streak.
After Wisconsin lost three of its first four conference games, including two at home where the Badgers generally dominate, it appeared as if Bo Ryan’s string of Big Ten standout teams was about to expire. A tough gut-check win at Purdue turned the tide, and Wisconsin won six in a row before losing the showdown with Ohio State Saturday.
Although senior point guard and team leader Jordan Taylor has shot poorly this season, a more balanced attack than in past seasons along with a rugged defense has helped to compensate.
STRUGGLING: KANSAS STATE
The Wildcats burned through the preseason schedule to the tune of 11-1, but things turned sour once they hit the Big 12 season. Although they have a nice resume win over Missouri, they’re currently only .500 in the league (5-5) even after beating Texas A&M Saturday.
Back-to-back losses to fellow conference mid-packers Iowa State and Oklahoma really set Kansas State back in its search for NCAA Tournament seeding. The Wildcats have an all-conference candidate in shooting guard Rodney McGruder along with some good young players, but their inexperience has shown in several close losses.
UNDER THE RADAR: ST. MARY’S
In the West Coast conference, Gonzaga gets most of the publicity, and Brigham Young’s arrival this year also grabbed headlines. But Randy Bennett’s Gaels are already 3-0 against those heavyweights so far this season as part of a 11-0 start to conference play, 22-2 overall.
Matthew Dellavedova is one of the most underrated point guards in the nation, while forward Rob Jones is averaging a double-double. This is a veteran team, but freshman center Brad Waldow has been coming on of late. St. Mary’s has suffered some heartbreak on Selection Sunday a few times before, but it's removing all doubt this season.
The Gaels won't just be dancing. They'll be dangerous.
GAME OF THE WEEK: DUKE at NORTH CAROLINA, Wednesday Night, 8 p.m.
Suddenly it’s a three-way race in the ACC, as Florida State has knocked off both of these perennial titans. That makes this game even more important than usual, since the loser will likely drop to third. Duke’s big men, especially center Mason Plumlee, will be hard pressed to deal with the one-two inside punch of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, and the Blue Devils also lack a suitable wing player to match up with Harrison Barnes, the top Tar Heel scorer.
But Duke has the edge in the backcourt, thanks to freshman Austin Rivers and sweet-shooting Seth Curry.
Enjoy the hoops, and I’ll talk to you next week.