Five Things We Learned This Week: Dakota Mathias, Mikal Bridges, and angry rivalries are good
1. PURDUE’S DAKOTA MATHIAS IS THE NATION’S MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
It’s time to give this kid the credit he is due.
Let me just lay the stats out, because they speak for themselves: Mathias is averaging 15.5 points, a team-high 4.9 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 53.7 percent from three and posting an extremely ridiculous 146.7 offensive rating. He’s turning the ball over just a little more than once per game. His shooting splits are, currently, 59 percent from two, 53.7 percent from three and 81.5 percent from the line. It’s generally considered elite when a player’s shooting splits at up to 180; Mathias is getting up towards the 200-club.
But that’s not all that he’s doing for this Purdue team.
Mathias also happens to be Purdue’s best perimeter defender. He may be the best perimeter defender in all of the Big Ten, and there are only a handful of players in the country that are better than he is on that side of the ball. Carsen Edwards gets the headlines because he’s the guy with the ball in his hands and Purdue’s leading scorer. Vincent Edwards gets the hype because he’s the NBA prospect. Isaac Haas gets the attention because he’s 7-foot-3 and college basketball’s version of Mr. Incredible.
Mathias, however, is not only Purdue’s best player, but he’s currently on the very short-list for Big Ten Player of the Year and in the mix to be named an all-american at season’s end. Eventually, his shooting and efficiency numbers are going to regress to the mean, and when they do, make sure you remember just how good, valuable and important he is to the Boilermakers when his stats no longer jump off the page in the same way as they do now.
2. WHAT HAPPENED IN XAVIER-CINCINNATI IS GOOD FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL
I don’t really have too strong of an opinion on the postgame dust-ups from the Crosstown Shootout this weekend. (For a recap of all the events, go here.)
J.P. Macura does what he always does: he spent 40 minutes trying to get under the skin of Cincinnati’s players and coaches, and he succeeded in doing so. He probably shouldn’t be talking to an opposing coaching staff, and he certainly shouldn’t be telling that coaching staff to “f- off,” as Mick Cronin alleges, but it is what it is.
Cronin is certainly in the wrong for going after Macura, but he’s also a human being. There’s only so many times another adult - and Macura is an adult after all - can tell a person to “f- off” before that person reacts, and if you’ve never wanted to fight J.P. Macura you’ve probably never played basketball again J.P. Macura.
Chris Mack should probably reprimand Macura in some way, but if you thought that, after a rival head coach ripped his player in the media, he was going to do anything other than go into that press conference and defend his guy then you’re out of your mind.
But here’s the larger point: This was all harmless. It was also what makes the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry one that is so great. Those two programs despise each other. They play a game once a year that is essentially meaningless beyond earning bragging rights in a city where the campuses are less than three miles apart. The brawl is always going to be the memory we have of this rivalry, and that was certainly a bad look for everyone involved, but playing rivalry games with the kind of intensity that could end up leading to a brawl is a good thing.
Everything about the Crosstown Shootout this weekend was terrific theater.
If only someone told Kansas and Missouri, or Kansas and Wichita State, or Wichita State and Creighton, or Georgetown and Maryland, or Duke and Maryland, or UConn and Providence, or ... sigh.
3. WE NEED TO START LOOKING AT MIKAL BRIDGES AS A POTENTIAL TOP TEN PICK
I’m really not sure how much more definitive I can be about this.
In an era where length, positional versatility and floor-spacing defenders have become some of the most important and valuable pieces on an NBA roster, Mikal Bridges is one of the few guys in college basketball this season that checks all of those boxes. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s shooting 50 percent from three while attempting more than five threes per game. He’s a defensive playmaker - he averages 1.4 blocks and 2.5 steals - that can defend guards, wings and small-ball fours. He’s averaging nearly 18 points.
In a draft class without many players at that position, how many NBA teams are going to be able to overlook a player that can do those things while playing that position?
Think about it like this: The way that basketball is trending, lineups look something like this:
- Point guard
- Smaller wing
- Normal wing
- Big wing
Bridges can play three of those positions, and based on the early returns this season, he probably can play them pretty well at the NBA level.
4. THREE UP
- GEORGIA: The Bulldogs have quietly put together a terrific start to the 2017-18 season. They’re now 6-1 and can claim a road win at Marquette and a neutral court win over Saint Mary’s. Their only loss to date came against a San Diego State team that is going to be in the mix at the top of the Mountain West this season. Given the losses that both have taken of late, the Bulldogs probably need to beat both Georgia Tech and Temple at home, but they’re putting together a non-conference slate that will get them into the bubble conversation.
- TENNESSEE: Speaking of the SEC and the bubble conversation, Tennessee is playing like an NCAA tournament team. They’ve beaten Purdue. They’ve beaten N.C. State. They won at Georgia Tech. Their only loss on the season came by nine points against No. 4 Villanova. They’re in the top 25 conversation right now. A Dec. 17th showdown with No. 13 North Carolina will be a good gauge game.
- VIRGINIA TECH: Has there been a weirder loss this season than the Hokies falling to Saint Louis? The Billikens have fallen off a cliff since, capped by a 30-point loss to Butler, while Buzz Williams’ club has looked the part of a top 25 team in literally every other game they’ve played this season. On Saturday, they came from 16 down to win at Ole Miss in overtime.
5. THREE DOWN
- LOUISVILLE: Maybe, just maybe, losing one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport hurt Louisville. Not only did the Cardinals blow a lead at Purdue during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but they followed that up by losing at home to Seton Hall on Sunday. With the rest of their non-conference schedule looking iffy - Indiana and Memphis and not much else - the Cards are putting themselves behind the eight-ball.
- USC: The Trojans took their second-straight double-digit loss on Saturday night. One was to Texas A&M. The other was to SMU. Maybe stop playing teams from Texas? Anyway, we went deep on USC on the podcast this week. Give it a listen here.
- UCONN: Another topic we covered on the podcast this week was UConn. Coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Arkansas, UConn was promptly taken to overtime at home by both Columbia and Monmouth. At what point is it time for UConn to start over?