This week’s Bucket List — 10 observations on the college basketball season.
1. Bryn Forbes has drained 49 three-point shots over the course of Michigan State’s 9-1 hot streak, during which the Spartans have climbed to No. 2 in the polls and, likely, into a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s a huge number of makes in a 10-game stretch, but the even more impressive number is 59.8 — the senior guard’s success rate on threes in that period. Forbes has misfired only 33 times in 82 attempts. A lot of good teams would instantly become great with a guy like that in the lineup.
One of the many reasons star teammate Denzel Valentine is so valuable to the Spartans is that his pinpoint passing puts Forbes in ideal shooting position. The two are childhood friends, won championships together in high school and now are peaking together as college players. Nice to see a couple of longtime pals get to live the dream like that.
2. Wisconsin was 7-5 when Greg Gard took over as interim coach. Now the Badgers are 20-10 and crushing it with 11 wins in their last 12 games. A team that started 1-4 in Big Ten play has a chance to beat Purdue on Sunday and finish 13-5, which would leave it in no worse than a tie for second place. Amazing.
And let’s be real — the Badgers’ talent level is down markedly from last season, and the drop-off in experience was even greater. It’s not an overstatement to call Gard’s performance this season one of the best in program history. Ryan himself never was better.
3. As good as Wisconsin and Michigan State have been, Kansas is in the best stretch of any team in the country — a 10-game winning streak that includes victories over Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. The last three of those wins came on the road, the exclamation point being a 30-point margin against the Longhorns.
As we near the postseason, one of the most wonderful times of year, the Jayhawks have thoroughly earned their No. 1 ranking. It has been volatile at the top of the polls all season, but KU deserves to be seen as the best team and Bill Self clearly is the national coach of the year.
4. Kansas’ most impressive accomplishment probably still is its pair of victories over Oklahoma, though the Sooners have fallen off, losing four of their last eight after having spent three weeks with the No. 1 ranking.
OU and Iowa really mirror each other. The Hawkeyes soared to No. 3 while the Sooners were at the top of the heap, but now the teams have twin 11-6 league records in the Big Ten and Big 12, respectively. I still think the Sooners can make a big postseason run. Iowa? Not so much.
5. Big props, though, to terrific Iowa senior forward Jarrod Uthoff for being named the Academic All-American of the year. Kind of puts a few “Ls” into perspective, doesn’t it? Also making the first team were Nebraska’s Shavon Shields (son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields) and North Carolina star Marcus Paige.
6. Emotions are going to be incredibly high in Saturday’s regular-season finale between Duke and visiting North Carolina. The Blue Devils will be going for a 2-0 sweep of their bitter rivals, but the Tar Heels still are trying to win the ACC; UNC and Miami share first place at 13-4. If Miami wins at Virginia Tech earlier in the day, the pressure on UNC will be absolutely enormous.
7. Louisville still has a chance to tie for the ACC regular-season title; all it’ll take are Miami and North Carolina losses and a Cardinals victory at No. 4 Virginia. OK, that’s a lot.
But what really stinks about the whole situation is how little Louisville will be playing for, no matter what, and what that means to senior transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. The team’s season will end Saturday due to a postseason ban self-imposed by the school. That ban completely screwed over Lee and Lewis, who were at other schools when any misconduct that brought about the punishment occurred. They deserve better.
8. Notre Dame sure picked a bad time to go into a tailspin, or what’s at least its worst slump in a few seasons. The Irish have dropped three of their last four games, the last two by 21 points at Florida State and by 18 at home against Miami. The biggest reason: the combined errant shooting of Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia, who are a combined 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) from three-point range over those four games. That’ll have to change, like, immediately.
9. Whichever other games you watch Saturday, you’re going to want to flip when you can to a pair of huge SEC contests: Vanderbilt at Texas A&M and LSU at Kentucky. The home teams are tied for first in the league at 12-5; the road teams are tied for second at 11-6. Yes, that could mean — holy tiebreakers, Batman — a four-way tie by the time it’s over.
10. Speaking of LSU at Kentucky, there will be a near-guaranteed three 2016 first-round draft picks on the floor: Tigers superstar Ben Simmons — a strong bet to be the No. 1 overall selection — and Wildcats phenoms Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere. All are freshmen, and it will surprise no one if all become lottery picks.
And you know what? One could easily argue that the best player on the floor will be Tyler Ulis, the shrimpy sophomore from Marian Catholic. The 5-9 point guard is averaging 16.7 points and closing in on Kentucky’s single-season assists record. He’s the only one in this game who’ll be on my All-American team.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.