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Big Three: Life is good for Coach K, not as much for Minnesota

POSITION RANKINGS: Small Forwards | Shooting Guards | Point Guards

It was a busy month on the hardwood as a slew of programs announced themselves as contenders and another group became pretenders. Recapping the month of January with The Big Three, no one had a better string of days than Mike Krzyzewski and Purdue, while Michigan State and Minnesota are reeling and for a variety of reasons.


Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski (AP Images)


The beat rolls on in Durham as Coach K has again loaded up with the top-ranked class in America. He began the month of January atop the Team Recruiting Rankings and ended it with arguably the greatest class ever assembled thanks to the surprise commitment of five-star Zion Williamson. This 2018 class should allow Duke to contend for the 2019 national title. On the floor, the Blue Devils, despite fighting through some defensive issues, have not been short for fireworks. They sit among the very best nationally on the offensive end and are slated to earn a top two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament. January wasn't a bad month for Duke as the program's short-term and long-term future remains on stable ground.


It is downright mind-boggling that a program like Purdue could withstand the loss of one of the most dominant and productive big men over the past 20 years of the sport. Yet that's exactly what happened after the departure of Caleb Swanigan. The Boilermakers have not lost since Thanksgiving and have continually run up the polls thanks in large part to the top three-point shooting core in America. Not only that, the Big Ten program received a verbal commitment from 2019 guard Isaiah Thompson, the younger brother of senior guard PJ Thompson. All is well in West Lafayette and, with Matt Painter at the helm, the future remains just as bright.


Plenty of programs have had strong months on the hardwood and on the recruiting trail but the work Frank Martin and his South Carolina team have done is nothing short of impressive. Entering the new season in needing to replace its top two scorers from last year, the expectations were that the Gamecocks would struggle this season. Don’t look now but USC is now in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid thanks to its recent wins over Florida and Kentucky. Beyond that, Martin made some news by enrolling former five-star wing Brian Bowen. They the Gamecocks completed the month with a commitment from wing Jermaine Couisnard. Last year’s Final Four run was followed by silence but January was a big step forward for South Carolina.


Tim Miles
Tim Miles (AP Images)


It is rather amazing all that Bill Self and his staff have had to navigate over the past few months. Questions pertaining to the eligibility of Billy Preston were put to bed when the former five-star forward decided to sign an overseas contact. While Preston’s services would have been welcomed with open arms, the Jayhawks did some maneuvering by enrolling former five-star big man Silvio De Sousa a semester early, giving the Jayhawks a tough and rugged interior presence they were looking for in spelling Udoka Azubuike down low. There was some commotion in January that KU’s streak of Big 12 dominance could come to a close but, as we enter February, the Jayhawks remain atop the Big 12 standings.


Tim Miles entered the season on the hot seat, but three months later he he may have his team on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid. Fighting its way through a rather dismal Big Ten schedule, Nebraska has proved that it is deserving of an NCAA Tournament bid. The Huskers have recaptured the league’s attention with a fully healthy Glynn Watson. They've also used the transfer magic of Isaac Copeland and James Palmer perfectly and competed with an intensity that was reminiscent of the 2014 Nebraska team that made the NCAA Tournament. With a budding star on its roster with Isaiah Roby and a strong but underrated class signed this fall in Brady Heiman and Xavier Johnson, February could be the month that puts the Huskers over the top and cements Miles’ standing in Lincoln.


Over the first few months of the season, freshmen sensations DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Trae Young have taken up most of the spotlight, but might Mohamed Bamba be ready to join the trio? Just as highly touted as Ayton and Bagley prior to his tenure in Austin, Bamba’s first two months were solid but paled in comparison to the stars at Arizona and Duke. That has changed in recent weeks as he has averaged over 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks over his last four games. February may be the month that a spurt of quality games turns into a string of quality weeks, thus pushing Bamba's name into contention for the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.


Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo (AP Images)


The situation at Michigan State is ugly and was handled badly. It is downright mind-boggling to think about all that transpired throughout the athletic department, especially considering the recent issues at Baylor and Penn State. There are still so many questions to be answered in East Lansing, one of those being the immediate future of its men’s basketball coach. Word began to trickle out on Friday afternoon that Tom Izzo was leaning toward stepping down as the head coach of the program. He remains at his current position, but for how long? That is the question circulating throughout the college basketball world. How will this impact recruiting? The Spartans are reeling and it seems as if the light at the end of the tunnel is still far away.


How fast things have fallen at Minnesota? While the situation at Michigan State dwarfs what has occurred in Minneapolis, it still should not minimize the negative situation surrounding Reggie Lynch and the sexual assault allegations he is linked to. Head coach Richard Pitino had gone to bat for Lynch publicly, only to see it blow up in his face. On the court, things have not been too grandiose, either. The Gophers were riding high entering the New Year with legitimate hope of reaching the Final Four in March thanks to its loaded backcourt and stabilizing frontcourt. Take away Lynch, add an injury to Amir Coffey and the Gophers went on a torrential slide that now put the Gophers on the wrong side of the bubble.


Things have hit a breaking point at Pitt as the Panthers are facing a goose egg in the wins column in ACC play. Kevin Stallings, who is in his second full year at Pitt, has not been short for critics. Replacing the long tenured and revered Jamie Dixon has not been easy, and neither has putting together a roster that originally boasted zero lead guards or true centers on its roster prior to last season. Give credit to where it is due as the Panthers may have found a few nice pieces to build with in Shamiel Stevenson and Marcus Carr, as they will enroll a Big East throwback in the post with hard playing and bruising big man Bryce Golden in the fall. However, no one needs a better month ahead than the Pitt Panthers.