February 21, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: Celebrating Senior Day
What makes Oklahoma's offense so good?
The regular season is nearing its end and as we move into post-season mode, we celebrate one of our favorite groups in college basketball — seniors. Senior day celebrations are occurring on campuses all over the country, large and small. They are emotional ceremonies, filled with tribute videos, speeches by coaches and players and photos with family and friends.
It is undeniable that the transfer portal has changed college basketball in a multitude of ways, but no matter how many seasons a student-athlete has been in a program, senior day is a special moment. It is a celebration of every individual workout, every practice and every film session you have been a part of. It recognizes your highest moments and your lowest, reminding us of the hours spent in the training room and rehab from injury. And this is not just about those seniors who spend their years on the court, from starters to walk-ons.
Every team is only as strong as those behind the scenes and college athletics gives students an opportunity to be part of sports programs in many ways. From student trainers to managers, to practice players, office assistants and academic tutors, the “basketball family” in every program is full of dynamic young people who sacrifice their time and give everything for their team. Here at The Weekly Fast Break, we salute all seniors who are recognized on senior day because you are an integral part of your team and the legacy of your program. We hope you enjoy your celebration and the last weeks of your final season – it is an amazing ride, one you will remember for a very long time.
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Spartan Strong: On the evening of Monday, Feb. 13, a gunman opened fire on the Michigan State campus, taking the lives of three students and injuring five others. This senseless act of gun violence shook the East Lansing campus to its core, canceling classes last week and athletic events for many days. Spartan men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo represented the athletic department at a campus vigil two days later. “Our hearts are heavy,” Izzo said. “Our loss has been great. Our lives have been permanently changed. With a shared commitment to help each other and a promise to remember those we have lost, we will find joy again.”
On Saturday, Feb. 18, both MSU men’s and women’s basketball programs returned to action. The Spartan women hosted #7 Maryland at home and during a pre-game ceremony that included a moment of silence for the victims, many MSU players wiped away tears. Once action began on the court, the Spartans gave everything they had but fell short in their upset bid, 66-61. Acting head coach Dean Lockwood, who has filled in for Suzy Merchant since she was in a vehicle accident last month, shared his thoughts after the game with the media.
“Very proud of how they responded to the events of the past week and how they kept their unity of purpose in this game. We talked a little bit about it, we did not want to belabor points going into it. We all need healing, one of the things sports can do and be that. We kind of wanted to be a healing element for our community, and at the same time, we had a big opportunity,” he said. We are inspired by the words of a MSU student who spoke to a national news reporter at the women’s game on Saturday that they want to prove they are “not living in fear.” Win or lose, both Spartan basketball programs gave their community a chance to escape the darkness of tragedy if only for a few hours this weekend and will be part of the healing process for many more days to come.
Sellout Celebration: It was the final home game of the year at #2 Indiana and senior day for an outstanding class of players, including All-Big Ten performer Grace Berger. In what was a close game at half with in-state rival Purdue, the Hoosiers proved why they are one of the best in the nation, pulling away from the Boilermakers to win 83-60, finishing a perfect 16-0 at home this season. With the win, Indiana claims a share of the 2022-23 Big Ten regular season title, their first in 40 years and did it in style in front of 17,222 fans, a program record. Their final regular-season game comes next Sunday at #6 Iowa where the outright Big Ten title will be at stake if the Hawkeyes win at #7 Maryland on Tuesday night.
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Top 16 – Take Two: The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee revealed their first top-16 rankings for the 2023 NCAA Tournament on Feb. 9. The biggest surprise to many was that LSU, at the time still undefeated, was not on the No. 1 seed line but received the overall top No. 2 seed. The question when the committee reveals their second top-16 rankings this week is whether anything really changes. We could see a team move up one or two positions, but will any of the names be different? There is a possibility with their strong week and two big wins that Iowa State could find themselves back in mix. It will also be interesting to see what the committee makes of North Carolina who has stumbled recently and has the most losses (8) of any team ranked in the AP Top 25 right now. We must also remember that the women’s committee not only uses NET rankings, but a list of 13 other criteria in the evaluation process, which differs from the men’s selection process. Get your pencils and practice brackets ready on Thursday, Feb. 23 for the second reveal and our last glimpse of what the committee is thinking before Selection Sunday on March 12.
Poll Watch: South Carolina stays undefeated and squarely on top of the AP Top 25 Poll at #1 after they held off Mississippi in overtime on Sunday. However, it is no longer a unanimous vote with #2 Indiana gaining one first-place vote, and Stanford, UConn and LSU rounding out the top five slots. #8 Utah is down four spots after a loss to now #14 Arizona last week as the Wildcats are on a roll with three big wins in a row. #20 Iowa State is gaining traction yet again with two key victories last week over #19 Texas and Baylor in double overtime on the road. Middle Tennessee and Illinois are back in this week’s poll, tied at #25, while USC drops out after two tough losses to Stanford and Cal over the weekend. Keep an eye on #22 UNC – they are down three spots and sit at 19-8 overall. The Tar Heels finish the regular ACC schedule with #9 Virginia Tech at home and then at #11 Duke. Will they still be ranked after that brutal final stretch? We will wait and see.
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Katelyn Young of Murray State was the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2021-22. The Racers made the move to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) this year and it looks like the 6’1 junior has put herself in the running for the award yet again. Young is averaging a league best 22 points per game and is top five in rebounding (8.3 per game) and field goal percentage (53.2%) while playing 32 minutes per game. Murray State is 13-12 overall and 6-10 in the MVC but got a big victory over Southern Illinois on Sunday, 83-69. Young posted her second double-double of the week with 31 points and 12 rebounds in the win and was named the MVC Player of the Week.
(R/V) South Florida clinched its second straight American Athletic Conference (ACC) regular season title over the weekend with a 70-62 win over SMU led by the AAC Player of the Week, senior Elena Tsineke. Tsineke, a 5’7 guard from Greece averaged 23 points, five rebounds and 2.5 assists last week, including 19 points and four assists in their win over rival UCF. Against the Mustangs on Saturday, Tsineke scored 27 points and added seven rebounds to help the Bulls capture their second conference title in last three years.
5’6 senior guard Keiunna Walker of Louisiana Tech claimed Conference USA Player of the Week honors for the second time this season as she helped lead the Lady Techsters to a two-game road sweep and their fourth straight win. The Lonoke, AR native averaged 21 points, 11.5 rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals in the two games. She posted a career-high 27 point, and season-high 14 rebound performance in their double-overtime win at Charlotte, 83-79. LA Tech is now 9-7 in conference play, 16-10 overall, with four games remaining in the regular season.
Drexel sits atop the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) standings at 11-4, 19-7 overall and they would not be there without the services of 5’7 guard Keishana Washington. Washington scored over 30 points in back-to-back games last week and on Sunday, the graduate student dropped 40 points for the third time this season with four rebounds, three assists and one steal in a 67-55 win over Delaware. Washington is the only NCAA Women’s Basketball player with three 40-point efforts this winter and has 11 games of 30 or more points this season, including four of the past five. She was named CAA Player of the Week for a league-best fifth time this year.
A year ago, Jennie Branaczyk took the Oklahoma Sooners back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018 in her first season and re-energized the program with a fast-paced, offensive system that opened the floor and their season. It did not hurt that Baranczyk had a roster full of veterans who embraced the re-set of the program and quickly learned how her system would give them the freedom to cut, pass, move and shoot their way to a 25-9 season.
Fast forward to this year, on and off the floor, and #13 Oklahoma is firing on all cylinders, scoring 86.7 points per game which is currently second in the nation. On Sunday, Feb. 19 the Sooners went on the road to face Kansas for the second time, scrapping out a win 86-80. The Sooners shot 48.4% from the field on the day and went 10-for-21 from three. Balanced scoring is the name of the game with five players in double figures, led by forward Madi Williams with 23 points. Whether it is the next pass in the half court or kicking the ball ahead in transition, Oklahoma gets shots where they want them, which is evident by 19 assists on the day. They also have firepower outside the starting five as junior transfer Aubrey Joens gave OU a lift with 12 points (2-of-4 from three) giving the Sooners a 19-0 advantage over KU in bench points. The Jayhawks were able to answer most of OU’s runs, but in the end, the precision and execution by the Sooners was too much.
Baranczyk and her squad are off until Feb. 25 when they host #19 Texas in a pivotal game that could determine the Big 12 regular season champion. It will be a match-up of the league’s top offense versus the top defense. At the final buzzer the cheer will either be “Boomer Sooner” or “Hook ‘em Horns”!
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FULL COURT PRESS
Even though we are on the home stretch of the regular season, many conference races are still up for grabs. Final home games are emotional moments with senior day celebrations and if you are lucky, possibly cutting down nets and posing with a conference trophy. But no matter where the season sits for your team, there is no time to let up. Everyone needs to be ready for the post-season because for most teams across the country, this is their one shot at a spot in the Field of 68. So be on your toes and get ready – clear your DVR and peek at these games this week (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):
Feb. 21 – DePaul at #15 Villanova
#6 Iowa at #7 Maryland
Feb. 22 – Army at Boston U.
Tulsa at (R/V) South Florida
#20 Iowa State at (R/V) Oklahoma State
Kansas at Kansas State
(R/V) Creighton at (R/V) Marquette
Feb. 23– #3 Stanford at #21 Colorado
Miami at (R/V) Louisville
#1 South Carolina at (R/V) Tennessee
Northern Iowa at Belmont
#9 Virginia Tech at #22 UNC
#18 Gonzaga at San Diego
#14 Arizona at Oregon
Washington at (R/V) USC
Feb. 24 – #7 Maryland at #16 Ohio State
Drexel at Hofstra
Troy at South Alabama
Feb. 25 – (R/V) Toledo at Ball State
#3 Stanford at #8 Utah
#19 Texas at #13 Oklahoma
Northern Iowa at Murray State
#18 Gonzaga at BYU
San Diego State at #24 UNLV
Texas Tech at Baylor
Colorado State at Wyoming
Feb. 26 – Georgia at #1 South Carolina
#22 UNC at #11 Duke
#10 Notre Dame at (R/V) Louisville
Memphis at SMU
#2 Indiana at #X Iowa
#25 Illinois at Rutgers
Oklahoma State at Kansas
Ole Miss at Alabama
Mississippi State at LSU
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!