January 3, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: Ringing in the new year
A KBA milestone and Ana Llanusa returns
Happy New Year! No matter how you ushered in 2023 we are here to tell you that one of our favorite times on the college basketball calendar is here – conference play! We get intense matchups, rivalries that go back decades, showcases of talent every day and plenty of Sportscenter worthy highlights. Coaches will start to be sleep-deprived, and players will be bouncing from planes to buses to class to practice. But 2023 is here and The Weekly Fast Break is ready to break down scouting reports until 2 AM if needed.
These next eight weeks will be a grind, there is no doubt, but this is what you are built for. All your preparation gives you this opportunity – to compete for a conference title. So, when you come into the gym, be ready, because here, we always earn our playing time. Entering the hostile arenas of your conference rivals takes confidence and swagger – we will see who still has that swagger after the battles ahead.
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A 500 Party: It has been said that success is earned, but it may take time, and you must be willing to put in the work. Coaching milestones are a product of many years of patience, ingenuity, relationship-building and finding the right players that fit your program. Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico got her 500th career victory on Dec. 28 in a 76-59 win at Nebraska. The #14-ranked Wolverines never trailed in the game and had four players hit double-figures, including senior Leigha Brown, who poured in 20 points and seven assists. Barnes Arico becomes the fifth active coach in the Big Ten to reach the 500-career win plateau.
Full Nest: #25 Creighton has had two sellouts so far this season, the first being Nov. 15 against in-state rival Nebraska. The Bluejays came away with a 77-51 win that night and were looking to channel that energy for their sellout game against #5 UConn on Dec. 28. Despite the packed house at D.J. Sokol Arena, the Bluejays could only muster 16 points in the entire first half and lost handily to the Huskies, 72-47. They were able to regroup on Dec. 31 and get a very important Big East win on the road at DePaul, 92-82. It is all conference games all the time now in 2023 – Creighton hosts Providence on Jan. 4.
Bouncing Blue Devils: There were a lot of questions about Duke when the 2022-23 season started. Most importantly, could this team blend more new faces with returners from 17-13 team a year ago? Fast forward and the Blue Devils enter the AP Poll for the first time this year at #19, sitting at 13-1 overall and 3-0 in the ACC. Last week, they knocked off top-ten ranked NC State in Raleigh, 72-58 and then beat Louisville at home, 63-56. Balanced scoring and rebounding have been a huge key to their success so far, but Duke is becoming the team no one can score on. Only one team has scored over 60 points on them this year (their one loss to #5 UConn, 78-50). The ACC is not an easy road but traveling Tobacco Road to see the Blue Devils right now is a tough task.
A Tiger Tail Caught: Harvard knew their first Ivy League game of the 2022-23 season would be a challenge, but it was one that first year Head Coach Carrie Moore and her team were ready for. The Crimson hosted Princeton on Dec. 31 and bolted to a fast start, leading 22-13 after the first quarter. They held on in a back-and-forth battle to win, 67-59, snapping Princeton’s 42-game Ivy League win streak and their seven-game win streak over the Crimson. Moore’s first career conference win comes over the program where she was on staff from 2016-2020. Can the Crimson be part of the Ivy conversation this season? If this first win is any indication, Harvard is up to the challenge.
Poll Watch: South Carolina, the reigning national champions, finished 2022 how the year started – No. 1 in the AP Poll. #4 Notre Dame is up one spot and UConn is in at #5, up 3 spots from a week ago. #8 Utah is one of five remaining undefeated teams in the nation at 14-0 and rises to their highest ranking in school history. #11 Iowa State is up four spots and Duke enters the AP Poll for the first time this season at No. 19. #22 North Carolina fell the hardest this week, moving down nine spots after losing three straight, including a 68-65 defeat at the hands of #9 Virginia Tech. Keep an eye on those sitting right outside the Top 25 this week, especially Illinois, Florida State and recently ranked Arkansas – conference play moves people in and out of the polls in a blink of an eye.
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It is heartbreaking to see players go down with injuries in the prime of their careers, and it is even more difficult when it happens more than once. Yet in a fierce showcase of grit and determination, Oklahoma redshirt senior Ana Llanusa has returned this season for the Sooners. She once again is showing why she has always been one of the top players in the Big 12 Conference. The 6’ guard led #16 Oklahoma to a 98-77 win at West Virginia on Dec. 31, filling the stat sheet with 28 points, 6 rebounds and five assists. Llanusa is the feel-good success story we welcome here and we are happy to see her thriving in Norman this year.
There have only been eight Big Ten Freshmen of the Week awards handed out so far this year and Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon can now claim four of them. The forward from Centerville, Ohio earned her fourth consecutive award after averaging 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 62.5 percent from the field in two key Buckeye wins. She logged her fifth 20-point game of the season, posting 24 points at Northwestern on Dec. 28 and added 12 points in #3 Ohio State’s win over #14 Michigan on Dec. 21. McMahon and the Buckeyes are undefeated at 15-0, 4-0 in Big Ten play.
Portland is 10-5 on the season and has started West Coast Conference 4-0, due in large part to the efforts of junior Alex Fowler. The 6’2 forward guided the Pilots to a pair of conference road victories last week after putting up 22.0 points on 69.2-percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 steals. She had a game-high 24 points and five rebounds, while adding five assists in a 70-61 victory at LMU on Dec. 29. Two days later at Pepperdine, Fowler finished with 20 points and pulled down seven rebounds to go with six assists and two steals on her way to being named this the WCC Player of the Week.
Sunday brought a vintage Big Ten prize fight that needed an extra five minutes to leave one team standing as the winner. #6 Indiana outlasted (R/V) Nebraska, 74-62 in overtime, as the game was a chess match of strategies with players able to execute them. Nebraska attacked the Hoosiers’ switching man-to-man defense with quick ball reversals and penetration to the rim. Indiana was able to slice and dice the Cornhuskers full-court pressure at times for easy baskets and used screening action inside and out for layups in the half court. However, neither team could find enough distance from the other to get comfortable in regulation.
The game saw 13 ties and 17 lead changes along with a marquee matchup in the post between Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and Alexis Markowski of Nebraska. Holmes got the best of the post battle, leading her team with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Indiana separated themselves at the free throw line, going 24-30 on the day, while Nebraska only was able to go 5-9 for the entire game. But when the time came, Indiana completely controlled the 5-minute overtime, holding Nebraska scoreless and posting 12 points on the Huskers.
Get your grease boards ready to craft a scouting report because the Big Ten conference slate will give us more of these battles in the weeks to come.
FULL COURT PRESS
Whether you are still finding that New Year’s Eve confetti in your coat pocket or convincing yourself that this year’s resolutions will work, have no fear – conference play is here! It is always good remember that your team needs to hold home court and try to steal a significant win or two on the road to rattle the league standings. You must be ready to play every night, or you can trip quickly on the competition. Here are some games of interest to watch this week, as we embark on conference play sweeping the nation (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):
Jan. 3 – Temple at South Florida
#23 Baylor at #17 Oklahoma
Jan. 4 – #24 St. John’s at Seaton Hall
Marquette at DePaul
West Virginia at #11 Iowa State
Jan. 5 – #19 Duke at Wake Forest
#22 UNC at Miami
Mississippi State at (R/V) Tennessee
Virginia at #9 Virginia Tech
UTSA at (R/V) Middle Tennessee
Texas A&M at #7 LSU
Northwestern at (R/V) Illinois
Indiana State at UIC
Jan. 6 – UNC Wilmington at Stony Brook
(R/V) Columbia at Princeton (WATCH WITH US ON PLAYBACK!)
Belmont at Drake
#18 Oregon at Arizona State
Oregon State at #15 Arizona
Jan. 7 – #23 Baylor at #21 Kansas
Santa Clara at #20 Gonzaga
#16 Iowa at #14 Michigan
(R/V) Nebraska at Rutgers
Tulsa at UCF
Jan. 8 – Georgia at Florida
#1 South Carolina at Mississippi State
(R/V) Illinois at #3 Ohio State
#9 Virginia Tech at Miami
DePaul at #5 UConn
#11 Iowa State at #17 Oklahoma
#4 Notre Dame at #22 UNC
USC at #12 UCLA
#18 Oregon at #15 Arizona (WATCH WITH US ON PLAYBACK!)
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!