It’s college basketball’s turn to bask in the spotlight. Football is over. The regular season is winding down to the final nine or 10 games. March Madness is just around the corner. The revolving door reserved for No. 1 teams continues to spin out of control. The Top 25 seems to change dramatically each week. Indiana and Michigan just staged the first great game of the season. Don’t worry if you missed it. There will be more.
Here are some observations from the past weekend.
Indiana back to No. 1 -- for now
It was almost a given that the winner of Saturday’s game between Michigan and Indiana would emerge as this week’s No. 1 team in college basketball. Indiana, No. 3 last week, earned that right to return to the top with an 81-73 victory over the top-ranked Wolverines before a crazed crowd at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. The Hoosiers had been working their way back since losing to Butler on Dec. 15.
“You know we started there, we had a hard road to get back here,” said Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who was sensational with his 15 points in the win. “We’re just going to continue to keep working.”
And that’s the smartest thing anyone can say at this point, because there still is not one team that is the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship in Atlanta. The Big Ten is so tough this season, it’s difficult to say that Indiana will run the table. The Hoosiers will lose again -- maybe March 10 in Ann Arbor and maybe another time or two. But Saturday they came out strong, hit the Wolverines with the first punch and did all the necessary things to win the game.
Offensive efficiency remains Indiana’s best friend. Against Michigan, the Hoosiers shot 52 percent from the field, 38.9 from 3-point range and sealed the victory at the free-throw line, where they were 22 of 25. There’s a lot to like about Indiana, but Michigan, Florida, Duke, Louisville, Kansas, Syracuse and possibly others are not out of the championship picture.
Cowboys exposed Kansas
It was easy to be seduced by Kansas’ record, the winning streak, the dominance at Allen Fieldhouse, the smooth shooting of Ben McLemore and the shot-blocking of Jeff Withey. The truth was the Jayhawks weren’t playing as well in January as they had in December and it finally caught up with them Saturday when Oklahoma State handed KU an 85-80 defeat in Lawrence.
Oklahoma State's Markel Brown left an impression on his visit to Kansas.
The Cowboys' Markel Brown and Marcus Smart were not intimidated by playing in the Phog. But the Kansas guards -- especially point guard Elijah Johnson -- were in a fog. It wasn’t just the turnover at the end of the game. The Jayhawks had 15 or more turnovers for the second straight game. They had been finding other ways to win, pulling out games at the end.
Johnson has not been making good decisions and he hasn’t been providing the type of leadership coach Bill Self demands. Self let Johnson have it after the game, telling reporters that the Jayhawks were better with Johnson on the bench.
“We don’t have a guard,” Self said after losing for only the eighth time in 165 games at Allen Fieldhouse. “We don’t have a point guard.”
Self also called his team soft. The Jayhawks have time to work on their problems and can still be a national contender, but they’ve got to learn some lessons from Oklahoma State. The Big 12 race just got tighter.
When Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was done roughing up the Jayhawks, he did a cartwheel and a back flip on the Allen Fieldhouse floor. It may have been a brash thing to do, but Smart likely will never play in the building again since he’s likely headed to the NBA.
If it was Smart's only appearance in the historic building, he made it memorable. Smart scored 25 points and simply took control of the game in the final minutes, when he scored seven points. This was a spotlight game for the Oklahoma State freshman and he really took advantage of the moment. He also had nine rebounds, three assists and five steals in the win.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
Earlier in the week Smart had 21 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals in a win at Iowa State. Smart is impressive because he does everything with confidence and is so strong when he attacks the basket.
Ben McLemore, meanwhile, had 23 points for Kansas and continues to impress. When it is all said and done, Smart and McLemore will probably battle it out for national freshman player of the year honors.
But there’s a freshman at Georgia State who shouldn’t stay under the radar. R.J. Hunter, son of Panthers head coach Ron Hunter, scored 38 points and was 10-for-15 from 3-point range in an 83-63 win over Old Dominion on Saturday. He also had five rebounds, two blocks and two steals. That came after a 27-point performance against Northeastern on Wednesday. Hunter is averaging 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Miami’s success enhances ACC
The old-timers on Tobacco Road won’t want to hear this, but Miami’s success helps the conference’s image. There’s nothing wrong with Duke and North Carolina, because those two programs have enormous stature in the history of the game. In this age when tradition is being ripped apart, we need the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. But new blood is good too.
This was supposed to be the year North Carolina State returned to prominence, but the Wolfpack seem uncomfortable with the role of conference leader. NC State struggled on the road and then Miami marched into Raleigh on Saturday and won.
Don't crown Dana Altman's Ducks in the Pac-12 just yet.
Eight games into the conference season, the Hurricanes are 8-0 with a two-game lead on Duke. Virginia and North Carolina are next at 5-3 and NC State has four losses in league play. There aren’t many teams with three functional big men such as Reggie Johnson, Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji. The backcourt is in the good hands of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. Give coach Jim Larranaga a tip of the hat. Miami isn’t going away.
Pac-12 race back on
We thought Oregon had positioned itself so well. With wins over UCLA and Arizona -- and the fact the Ducks don’t play either opponent again this season -- Oregon appeared to be in the best possible spot. All the Ducks needed to do was take care of business, but they didn’t do that. Oregon fell to Stanford and Cal last weekend, and those are teams in the middle of the Pac-12, both with eight losses overall.
So, the race is on again. Oregon and Arizona are tied for first at 7-2. Arizona State and UCLA are one game back at 6-3. In fairness, the Ducks were without guard Dominic Artis, who has a foot injury. But the way Oregon was playing, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the Ducks to win those games -- or at least split -- on the road.
"We had a six-point lead with three (minutes) to go and we never got any stops," Ducks coach Dana Altman said after the Cal loss. "Turnovers and second-chance points were the difference. It's not just the point guard, it's everybody."
With Colorado and Utah coming to Oregon next, the Ducks need to get back on track.