I’ve got Michigan, Oklahoma State and Mac McClung on my mind this week. Allow me to tell you why in this week’s edition of Mullenix’s Musings.
There’s officially nothing you can say to dog Michigan basketball.
There are currently three teams in the top 25 at KenPom that are still undefeated: Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan. Through five Big Ten games, the Wolverines hadn’t yet played the cream of the crop in the nation’s toughest conference. Well, they did Tuesday night and they did it in very convincing fashion, beating the Wisconsin Badgers 77-54 (and it wasn’t that close). Michigan shot 51% from the field and 56% from beyond the arc led by Mike Smith’s 16 points and six assists. Other than D’Mitrik Trice, who scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting for the Badgers, the rest of Wisconsin scored 34 points total on 13-of-52 shooting.
The Wolverines are now fourth at KenPom, third in the NCAA’s NET Rankings and a full game clear of Iowa in Big Ten play. There’s officially nothing to point to when trying to justify Michigan not being one of the best teams in the sport right now. They’re top 11 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom and they have the best 2-point field goal defense in the country. Opponents are shooting just 38.3% from inside the arc against Juwan Howard’s team so far this season.
Right now, it’s hard to find anything wrong with Michigan. It has senior leadership all over the floor in Isaiah Livers, Mike Smith and Eli Brooks (just to name a few), high-level talent in players like Franz Wagner and one of the best freshmen in the country in Hunter Dickinson. The Wolverines aren’t just beating teams, they’re destroying them. They haven’t won a game by fewer than 11 points since they beat Penn State by four to begin Big Ten play. Apart from an early season win over Oakland that went to overtime, nobody has gotten all that close to beating the Wolverines and they seem to be getting even better.
We talked about this last week, but Michigan’s schedule doesn’t make it look like this train is really going to slow down. The Wolverines play Minnesota, Maryland, Purdue and Indiana in their next four games and don’t play another team truly fighting for a regular season title until they play Illinois on Feb. 11. Michigan will lose at some point. It’s the Big Ten, it’s inevitable. But they are on a track to have a record that is much better than I thought any Big Ten team would have in conference play and there’s a very obvious path to 15 or 16 conference wins.
The Wolverines were picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten, now they look like a true national title contender.
It’s really a shame we aren’t going to see Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament.
The story in Stillwater before the season was two-fold. Cade Cunningham has arrived and the Cowboys won’t be participating in the NCAA Tournament. It sucks that those two things co-exist because not only is Cunningham as good as advertised, but Mike Boynton’s squad is good. They’re young, but they’re good and they continue to get better. The latest evidence of that is a 75-70 win over the Kansas Jayhawks. Oklahoma State now has wins over Marquette, Texas Tech and Kansas in its first 12 games.
Now, they are still young and they are certainly not perfect. At one point, the Cowboys led Kansas by 16 in the second half before a 19-5 Kansas run set up a much more stressful ending that was initially anticipated. However, the Cowboys have given up that kind of lead before. They led West Virginia by 19 on Jan. 4 before giving up 52 points in the final 20 minutes and losing by three. They have lapses and lose games they shouldn’t like their 77-76 loss to TCU, but this Cowboys team is a lot of fun.
Cunningham was the guy against Kansas. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists along with a pair of blocks. Not even Bill Self and the Jayhawk defense can make him look out of control. There isn’t a freshman, or maybe player, in the country that is better at playing at his own pace than Cunningham. Bryce Williams added 17 points while Isaac Likekele added 10 of his own. Sophomore guard Avery Anderson scored 14 and freshman Rondel Walker added another eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
I’m not saying the Cowboys are great, but they’ve put themselves in a position to fight for the fourth or fifth spot in the Big 12 and they’ve certainly put together the foundation of a tournament resume through 12 games. The boat has probably sailed on the NCAA putting a stay of punishment on Oklahoma State’s postseason ban, but man, I really wish we were going to get a chance to see Cunningham and these Cowboys in March.
Texas vs. Texas Tech was a lot of fun and Mac McClung is a bad man.
For those of you who don’t know, I am unapologetic about my affection for Mac McClung. I’ve been following him since his Gate City days when he was blowing up YouTube and the rest of social media, I followed him to Georgetown and now to Texas Tech. He’s a fascinating player who plays with more confidence and swagger than almost anyone else in college basketball. He certainly has his flaws. He’s a little undersized and efficiency isn’t his strong suit, but he wants the ball in his hands in big moments and he delivered in a big way on Wednesday night. His 22-point performance was capped off by a long jumper to give Texas Tech the lead with just three seconds left in Austin. It’s the Red Raiders’ first ever win against a top five team on the road.
MAC MCCLUNG FOR THE WIN.
No. 15 Texas Tech upsets No. 4 Texas in Austin ? pic.twitter.com/CZuNP0lUJU
— ESPN (@espn) January 14, 2021
I was genuinely intrigued by how McClung would work at Texas Tech. McClung had gotten a rep of inefficiency and spotty defense at times. Both of those descriptors are pretty fair and they don’t exactly match up with what Chris Beard has going on in Lubbock. Offense is a team thing and defense is mandatory. I wasn’t expecting Beard to give the keys to McClung the way he has. I’m even more surprised — pleasantly surprised — that Beard talks about how much he enjoys coaching McClung because he’s not afraid of anything. When that’s your mentality, there are a lot of things you can overcome and McClung has used that to excel at Texas Tech.
McClung is averaging 15.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds. He’s more efficient this year than he’s ever been and he’s becoming one of the most important transfers of the season.
As for Texas and Texas Tech, the game was a lot of fun. Those are two high-level basketball teams and one team got the big shot at the end while the other had its veteran guards make uncharacteristic mistakes. My feelings haven’t changed on Texas, but it’s even more clear that the Longhorns’ success is always going to ride on the shoulders of Matt Coleman III, Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones. Texas was up by 10 at halftime due, in large part, to Jones’ explosive first half in which he knocked down three trifectas. In the second half, he cooled off along with Coleman and Ramey, who struggled to a 8-of-26 from the field combined.
Jericho Sims had his best offensive game of the season with 16 points along with two blocks. Greg Brown was all over the place with nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks. If I get 25 from those two players, I’ll almost always favor the Longhorns to win. However, when the guards struggle (especially like they did in the second half), that makes the margin for error that much smaller for Shaka Smart’s club.
Photo by: Marc-Gregor Campredon / Wikimedia Commons