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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Pat Forde

Forde Minutes: Pistol Pete’s Record, UNC’s Dance Bid in Serious Jeopardy

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball, where even Georgetown can occasionally win a road game:

Story lines for the stretch run

It’s less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, as a wildly scrambled season seeks to find some order—or, perhaps more likely, another player of chaos. The Minutes has identified a half dozen story lines to watch over the next 20 days.

Can North Carolina (1) avoid a bust of historic proportion?

This is cut-and-dried: If the Tar Heels don’t make the NCAA tournament, it will be the worst performance by a preseason No. 1 team in the 60-plus year history of the AP Top 25. And as of Monday, after five losses in the past six games, North Carolina is out. There is a lot of work to be done to reverse course.

Only three other preseason No. 1 teams have missed the tournament, and there were good reasons for each of them. Reasons that don’t exist for this Carolina team.

Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels have dropped five of their past six games. 

AP/Jacob Kupferman

UCLA (2): The 1965–66 defending national champions missed the tourney when it consisted of 22 teams and only conference champions were invited. The Bruins (18–8) finished second in the Athletic Association of Western Universities (the AAWU was the precursor to the Pac-12) to Oregon State. Had freshmen been eligible to play then, UCLA not only would have made the field, but almost certainly would have won another title. The Bruins’ freshmen team beat the varsity before that season. They had a kid named Lew Alcindor.

South Carolina (3): The 1969–70 team missed the field when the tournament was 25 teams and the school was in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That league’s bid went to the tournament winner. The Gamecocks went 14–0 in the ACC, winning by five games, but lost the tourney title game in double overtime to North Carolina State, 42–39.

North Carolina State (4) went 22-6 but missed the Big Dance in 1975 when the tournament expanded to 32. Maryland was the second ACC team to get a bid, despite losing to N.C. State in the ACC tourney semifinals. But the Terrapins won the regular season and had been denied a bid the previous season after losing in triple overtime against the eventual national champion Wolfpack in the ACC tourney final. That epic ’74 game was the final catalyst to expand the tourney and admit more than one team from a conference

In a 68-team era, with four returning starters from the national runner-up, North Carolina is close to breaking new ground in terms of under-delivering on preseason expectations. Coach Hubert Davis is still putting on an optimistic face, but his Heels look broken.

Relatedly, is the ACC (5) about to disappear in March?

With the Tar Heels and one-time league leader Clemson sliding off the bubble for the time being, this looks like a five-bid conference—with no teams on the No. 1 or 2 seed lines. Virginia was a No. 3 seed in the selection committee’s early top 16 released Saturday. After the Cavaliers, Miami, Duke, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh are the only teams in anybody’s current mock bracket.

All of them have the potential to make some noise in the tourney, as Duke and North Carolina did last year by outplaying their seeds and making the Final Four. But there hasn’t been much to inspire confidence this season. The league is ranked seventh nationally, behind the other power conferences plus the Mountain West.

This is part of a two-year low ebb, with Louisville cratering and Syracuse receding chief among the problems. (And both are perhaps still unwilling to do anything about it, in terms of coaching changes.) The ACC almost certainly is going to have fewer NCAA teams than the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC for the second straight season.

Is a Big 12 takeover (6) imminent?

Fact is, it’s already been happening. The league has produced the past two national champions (Baylor 2021, Kansas ’22) and delivered a riveting gantlet of rugged games this entire season. But March matters most, and the Big 12 will be positioned to dominate (or disappoint) when we get there.

The league had five of the committee’s top 16 seeds Saturday—five of the top 12, really—and TCU (7) stands a chance to make it six by Selection Sunday. Leading scorer Mike Miles is back after missing five games in which the Horned Frogs went 1–4, something the committee can take into account when seeding them. Miles scored 15 as TCU dropped a C-note on Oklahoma State in a 100–75 blowout.

Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams seem assured of making the tournament. An eighth (West Virginia) seems likely. Even nine and 10 (Oklahoma and Texas Tech) are hanging around the bubble and capable of creating havoc (see below). This Big 12 tourney presence could rival the best years from the Big East and ACC.

Is Pistol Pete’s record (8) in jeopardy?

Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis is averaging 27.8 points per game through Feb. 20.

Albert Cesare/The Enquirer/USA TODAY Network

For more than half a century, Pete Maravich’s career NCAA scoring record of 3,667 points at LSU has been unassailable. But here comes another coach’s kid—Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis (9), playing for his dad, Mike—with an outside shot at 3,668.

No one will ever touch the Pistol’s career 44.2 points per game scoring average, but Davis has a shot at the total points number. Through Sunday, Davis trails Maravich by 124 points. He is assured of only three more games—regular-season contests against Northern Kentucky and Wright State this week, and a first-round game in the Horizon League tournament—which means he would have to average 41.7 to break the record. But if the Titans (13–16, 9–9) reach the Horizon quarterfinals, which they should be seeded to do, that average would drop to 31.3. And if they overachieve and make the semis, he’d need to average 25. His season average to date is 27.8.

In reality, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Fifth-year senior Davis has played 140 college games; Maravich compiled his numbers in just 83. Without freshman eligibility and a three-point line, what Maravich did remains absolutely mythic.

Are mid-major teams being squeezed out of at-large consideration (10)?

A quick look at most mock brackets shows that the deck continues to be stacked against anyone from outside the Power 6 leagues. The consensus has just four at-large bids from outside the Power 6: two for the Mountain West (Nevada and Boise State, with San Diego State as the theoretical automatic bid); one from the West Coast (Gonzaga, with Saint Mary’s the autobid); and one from the American (Memphis, with Houston the autobid).

If that holds, it would be the fewest at-large bids from outside the Power 6 since 2017. The previous four tournaments averaged six.

The problem continues to be scheduling opportunities. Power conference teams are increasingly reluctant to schedule quality mid-major opponents—and they sure don’t want to play them away from home. They’re playing more league games, more “challenge” games against other power conferences and more neutral-site tournaments that don’t invite many teams from outside the glamour leagues. Strength of schedule is baked in.

That leaves fewer opportunities for teams from second-tier leagues to earn statement victories against the big boys. North Texas is 23–5 but hasn’t played a single Power 6 opponent. Same with Oral Roberts, which is 24–6 (but did play Houston). Drake is 23–6 and played just one power-conference team—Mississippi State, which it defeated on a neutral floor. Mississippi State is a bubble team. Keep that outcome in mind if Drake doesn’t win the Missouri Valley tournament and winds up in the at-large pool with Mississippi State and others.

Are there Agents of Chaos (11) poised to wreak havoc?

The short answer: absolutely. Several teams have put it together recently, reversing fortune and threatening to either make a bubble run of their own or jeopardize bids for their competitors.

Vanderbilt (12) (15–12, 8–6 in the SEC) has won five straight since getting 7-footer Liam Robbins back in the lineup, including last-second wins over Tennessee and Auburn. SEC tournament seeds three through 11 still figure to be up for grabs over the next two weeks, and if the Commodores stay hot nobody will want to draw them.

Texas Tech (13) (15–12, 4–10 in the Big 12) has won three straight and five of seven. The current winning streak corresponds with the return to action of big man Fardaws Aimaq, who had played just three of Tech’s first 24 games. In wins over Texas and West Virginia, Aimaq averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds, a callback to his double-double days at Utah Valley before coming to Lubbock as a prized transfer.

Nebraska (14) (14–14, 7–10 in the Big Ten) has won three straight against either NCAA tournament teams or bubble teams, most recently rallying to beat Maryland on Sunday night. Pressed into extensive duty due to injuries, coach’s son Sam Hoiberg played a career-high 37 minutes and produced nine points, six rebounds and two steals—the last of which was the biggest play of the game. In a league that has stopped making sense, could the Cornhuskers join the cast of thousands who head to Chicago for the tournament believing they have a chance?

Washington State (15) (13–15, 8–9 in the Pac-12) might have dealt a mortal blow to Oregon’s at-large hopes Sunday night. It was the Cougars’ third straight win. Despite being a miserable road team (2–12 outside the state of Washington), Wazzu somehow won at Arizona. Now it has three straight winnable road games to close the regular season: Stanford, California and Washington. The Cougars aren’t making the NCAAs without winning the Pac-12 tourney, but they could cause a lot of heartburn for everyone else.

No load management here

Since the start of 2023, Trayce Jackson-Davis has led the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

“We’ve got to start scaling him back,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said of the nation’s most indispensable player, Trayce Jackson-Davis (16), after the Hoosiers barely held off Illinois on Saturday. TJD had just played 37 minutes, which actually was scaled back from the previous five games. In those, the fourth-year center averaged 39 minutes.

You can’t blame Woodson for getting itchy when Jackson-Davis is on the bench. He’s way too valuable to leave there for long, too integral to everything Indiana does at both ends of the floor. And for everyone who wanted to give Purdue’s Zach Edey the national (and Big Ten) Player of the Year award weeks ago, The Minutes suggests keeping an open mind for the next couple of weeks.

The full body of work matters most, of course, but consider who is leading the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots since the calendar flipped to 2023: TJD, with averages of 23.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. He’s even ninth in assists during that time (4.1) and 14th in assist-turnover ratio (1.26).

Per Ken Pomeroy’s stats, TJD’s usage rate (the percentage of offensive possessions that ended with a basket, a miss or a turnover by a player) has risen from 30.4% overall to 32.7% in Big Ten play. His percentage of minutes played in conference games is 92.7. There may be times when it looks like his motor is idling—but it’s always running.

Indiana’s surge over the past 11 games has been directly powered by Jackson-Davis, who surpassed Woodson for fifth place on the all-time Indiana scoring list Saturday and could move into fourth Tuesday against Michigan State. Chances are good that he will finish his career third, trailing only Calbert Cheaney and Steve Alford.

“It just means the body of work that he’s put in over the years, but he can’t stop there,” Woodson said. “It’s just points. He’s still staring at two things, a Big Ten title and a national title, and that’s where I’m trying to get him.”

Five other players trying to carry their teams to titles in the coming weeks:

Zach Edey (17), Purdue. Usage rate: 32.5 (34.1 in Big Ten games, highest in the league). Percentage of Purdue’s shots: 33.9. Offensive rebounding rate: 22.1%, highest in the nation. The giant Boilermaker has 13 games this season with 20 points and 10 rebounds; no other player has more than nine.

Jalen Pickett (18), Penn State. No one in the Big Ten is playing a higher percentage of his team’s minutes in league play (93.3), and no one has a higher assist rate (39.7). In two wins last week, Pickett scored or assisted on 42 of the Nittany Lions’ 61 baskets.

Drew Timme (19), Gonzaga. Coach Mark Few has had the luxury to play his senior center fewer minutes in a couple of blowouts during WCC play, but he will undoubtedly be a 35-per-game guy in the postseason. His percentage of minutes played for the season is up more than 10% from last year, when Timme had more help. He’s leading the WCC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, at 6.8.

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