PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CHRIS LOFTON
height=200 width=275 alt="Chris Lofton" hspace="0" border="0" vspace="0">
AP Photo/John BazemoreLofton's tough on the defensive end, too.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
What a week for Lofton and the Vols.
Tennessee won at Kentucky and Georgia to solidify its hold on first place in the SEC East. The Vols are not only looking like the team to beat in the SEC, but also like a No. 2-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
A lot of this has to do with Lofton. He averaged 32 points in the two wins while shooting 72 percent from 3-point ranges (16-of-22). He also grabbed 6.5 rebounds a game. So, tell us why Lofton, who stuck it to his home-state Wildcats last Tuesday, isn't the lead candidate to be SEC player of the year? No reason? We thought so.
Lofton has been perfect for Bruce Pearl's system and isn't getting enough national recognition. If he keeps this up, he'll probably be the SEC player of the year and be a second-team All-American.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: OHIO STATE
height=272 width=195 alt="Terence Dials" hspace="0" border="0" vspace="0">
AP Photo/Kiichiro SatoTerence Dials holds down the Buckeyes' fort inside.
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
Ohio State had the most impressive week by our account. The Buckeyes stunned Michigan in Ann Arbor with a hailstorm of 3s and then took out Illinois at home in Columbus to move to within a half-game of first-place Iowa in the Big Ten. The two teams are tied in the loss column with three each.
Ohio State has a great shot to win the Big Ten. Sure, the Buckeyes still have to go to Wisconsin and Michigan State, but the remaining home schedule of Northwestern, Michigan and Purdue provides three winnable games, and the other road game at Northwestern is as well.
Ohio State has had balance, poise and plenty of pop when it matters most. The win over Illinois on Sunday was as convincing as they come for a team in the balanced Big Ten.
While Bruce Pearl is doing a great job at Tennessee, don't overlook the great job Buzz Peterson is doing at Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference.
Peterson has been successful at each stop in his career, starting at Appalachian State, Tulsa, then Tennessee, and he has instilled a winning attitude at Coastal. The Chanticleers have won five straight games, including two straight on the road at Winthrop and at Charleston Southern for the first time since 1997, and Coastal Carolina has its best 22-game record since 1994.
Coastal Carolina has not had a rich history of great success, and Peterson's 13-9 record is a major step forward for the program and a great accomplishment. Peterson did not provide the spark Tennessee wanted, but he could coach then and he can coach now.
I don't know Quin Snyder well, but I've watched him handle the last couple of seasons with grace.
Everyone knows he has been on the hot seat -- one he brought upon himself because of NCAA violations and the Tigers' mediocre play -- but over the past two seasons, I saw a coach whose players believed in him and worked hard at every practice I attended. I can't honestly say that for every practice I've seen.
Whether you work for Mike Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich or Larry Brown, becoming a first-time head coach in a league like the Big 12 is not easy -- or even desirable. All of us who were fortunate enough to start their careers at places like Manhattan, Oral Roberts and Hofstra were able to develop a head coaching style and make mistakes without the glare of the bright lights. Snyder's job at Missouri was made doubly difficult by the fact that he was replacing a Tiger legend in Norm Stewart.
Did Snyder make some major mistakes? Yes. Hopefully he will learn from his difficulties in Columbia and emerge a more adversity-tested, mature coach. It might not be at the Big 12 level, but I firmly believe Snyder will get another opportunity.
First Indiana, now Michigan State ... if I were Iowa and Illinois, I would watch out for Minnesota. Vincent Grier, Mo Hargrow and Adam Boone might have begun Big Ten play with a bizarre 0-6 start, but the Gophers, more than any other team, may decide who wins the regular-season championship in the Big Ten.
For more of our experts' 3-point shots, click here.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
By Andy Katz, ESPN.com
Connecticut at Villanova, Monday (ESPN, 7 ET): This was a mega-game when the season started and it has survived the hype, with both teams in position to win the Big East and competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs over the final month of the season.
Creighton at Wichita State, Tuesday, 7 ET: The winner will be right there in the Valley with Northern Iowa while the loser will drop a step in the most competitive conference race in the country.
Michigan State at Iowa, Tuesday (ESPN, 9 ET): The Spartans could go a long way toward winning the Big Ten by getting the sweep of Iowa. A win by the Hawkeyes would give them some clear separation from the Spartans.
Oklahoma at Colorado, Wednesday (ESPN2, 9:30 ET) The Buffs desperately need a signature win. This would suffice. The Sooners need this one to stay within striking distance of second-place Kansas.
Miami at Boston College, Thursday, 7 ET: The Canes really need a road win like this in their quest to get an NCAA bid. For the Eagles, a win over the Canes keeps them within a shot of catching N.C. State for second place in the ACC.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
By Mark Simon, Special to ESPN.com
Indiana is struggling and its coach is ailing, and that's not a good combination in that basketball-crazy state. The Hoosiers, after a 4-1 start in the Big Ten, have stumbled, losing four of their last five in league play.
Yes, the Big Ten is having a nice year, but perhaps Indiana wasn't as good as initially thought. A couple of signs point to that -- most notably an unimpressive assist/turnover ratio, even when the team was winning.
Even with Marco Killingsworth back on track after recent struggles, Indiana couldn't beat Iowa at home. The Hoosiers have taken their medicine, so to speak, but have a chance to recover slightly, with two of the next three against Penn State. That might help stabilize what is turning into a bad situation.
Rocking The Rim
If you want to beat Oklahoma, the numbers tell you the player you'll most likely have to stop is point guard Terrell Everett.
Right now, Everett is rolling along pretty well, but if you look at the common thread of the Sooners' five losses this season, it's that Everett got a little out of control.
The Sooners are 7-1 in their last eight games and a lot of that can be attributed to Everett's play, as he has raised his level when needed. His 14 assists Saturday against Baylor were a new career high.
Matchup of the Week
We ran afoul of some Wake Forest fans regarding a misprint in this space a year ago and heard about it via e-mail from some Rabid Demon Deacons fans. We imagine that the Wake Forest fan base isn't too happy these days, either, with the way that the team has struggled this season.
There's a chance to make up for that this week with matchups with Duke and North Carolina. With that in mind, we offer up some feel-good thoughts to the school's followers -- the Deacons' recent moments of greatness against those two squads.