This week’s Bucket List — 10 observations on the college basketball season.
1. Maryland has lost only five games all season, is ranked in the top 10 and controls its own destiny in the Big Ten title race. Indeed, it has been a fine season for the Terrapins. But has it been good enough?
Not yet. The Terps have yet to live up to my expectations for them. I’d be willing to bet coach Mark Turgeon still is looking for more — much more — from his team, too.
Maryland was my preseason No. 1 pick due to its all-NBA starting lineup and the manner in which those five terrific starters should’ve complemented one another: Melo Trimble, the sweet-shooting point guard; Diamond Stone, the precocious post man; Jake Layman, Mr. Versatility; Robert Carter, the old-school power forward; and Rasheed Sulaimon, the lock-down perimeter defender.
Man, what a group. Unfortunately, Layman has been so unselfish offensively that he has faded into the woodwork. And the bigger problems have been with Trimble, whose shooting has gone way south — 10 for his last 48 from the field, 3 for his last 16 from deep — and who’s turning the ball over at an alarming rate. This is supposed to be one of the very best players in the country, but he hasn’t been acting like it.
The Terps’ A-game can get them over the hump against any competition out there, the fellow powers of the Big Ten certainly included. But how often will we see that A-game the rest of the way? Does this look like a team that’s going to peak in March (and April)?
2. Put me on the ever-expanding list of observers who believe more in Michigan State than in any other Big Ten team right now. Without a doubt, Spartans seniors Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes have become the best one-two punch in the league, and Forbes’ vast improvement in recent weeks has been glorious to behold. The shooting guard has drilled 34 of 60 three-point attempts over his last eight outings, a stretch in which the Spartans are 7-1 — their only defeat coming by a single point in overtime at Purdue.
3. For many weeks, the national player of the year race had one guy, Oklahoma scoring maching Buddy Hield, out in front and nobody on his heels. Forget that noise — as great as Hield is, Valentine has chased him down. It’ll be a photo finish.
4. Probably only two other duos in college basketball are as potent right now as Valentine and Forbes: Duke’s Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray. Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State — some things never change, right?
5. Remember that totally odd turn of events last season when then-No. 4 Wisconsin, a team of senior stars with Final Four experience, visited lowly Rutgers and somehow, um, lost? Oh, how the Scarlet Knights have made up for it since. Including their 2015 Big Ten tournament appearance, they’ve lost 30 league games in a row.
For those who recall Northwestern’s epic 32-game league regular-season losing streak that ended in February of 2001 — that’s the hell-on-earth the Knights and their fans (assuming they have fans) are experiencing these days. Can’t be very fun.
6. OG Anunoby — if you don’t know the name, practice saying it until you do. I’ll go out on a limb right now (like anybody will even remember) and predict the Indiana freshman will be the Big Ten’s most improved player next season. He’s going to be a star, and the Hoosiers very likely will be the team to beat.
7. Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak and Miami’s Jim Larranaga are awfully far apart on the map — not to mention in personalities and coaching styles — but they’re two in the same, in my book, as the most unsung big-league coaches in college basketball. The Pac-12 and ACC are much stronger for having them.
8. Krystkowiak is under contract through 2019, and Larranaga through 2022. Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew has both beat after signing a 10-year contract extension midway through the 2013-14 season.
Uh, about that Drew deal? Some bigger school really ought to swoop in and blow it up. Just sayin’, Drew has Valpo playing better ball than it ever did when father Homer Drew was in charge.
Bryce Drew, a one-time Bulls guard, remains most famous for the NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater he hit for the Cinderella Crusaders in 1998. It’s probably time for him to start making a name for himself as a coach in a power conference. Illinois might be in position soon to take a run at him.
9. Speaking of Illinois, an athletic-department staffer took me to task for writing earlier this week that John Groce’s first Illini team “barely scraped” into the NCAA Tournament in 2013. Illinois was only 8-10 in Big Ten play that season, but it was a No. 7 seed for the Big Dance — far from just scraping in.
10. DePaul and St. John’s met Thursday night in an utterly meaningless game for two teams that entered with combined Big East records of — wait for it — 3-26.
The Big East — the city league — has No. 1-ranked Villanova repping Philadephia, No. 5 Xavier doing Cincinnati proud … and Chicago’s and New York’s teams existing as bottom-feeders? It’s just so sad.
Follow me on Twitter@slgreenberg.