By Steve Silverman
Purdue unexpectedly climbs the ladder
In a season in which many of the usual suspects are playing solid but unspectacular basketball, there is a good chance that one or two teams could emerge from the pack and challenge college basketball's power structure.
Villanova remains at the top of the heap, and Virginia, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State – despite being under fire from the school's sexual abuse crisis – are all in striking distance.
But, the Purdue Boilermakers are the No. 3 team in both the AP and USA Today coaches poll with a sensational 21-2 record.
Purdue is regularly a solid Big Ten contender, but the Boilermakers are not usually going to be in the picture for national honors very often.
Well, let's re-examine that, because Purdue has had powerful teams in 1994, 2000 and 2010, but when it came to getting to the Final Four, they have always found a way to fall short.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter has seen his team win 18 consecutive games, as Isaac Haas, Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards have meshed together and given this team a somewhat unstoppable feel to it.
It's not just the stars, either. Senior guard Dakota Mathias is one of those players who is easy not to notice. However, when Mathias has the ball in his hands, you can expect him to stick a big shot or find the open man with the extra pass that the defense does not see coming.
Mathias understands that his team is going to get hot and cold from an offensive perspective, but the defense has to remain a constant. "I think we matured and realized we've got to get stops on defense regardless of what's going to happen offensively."
Carsen Edwards is averaging 16.7 points per game and connecting on 47.6 percent of his shots from the field, while Vincent Edwards is scoring 15.4 points and coming down with 7.8 rebounds per night. Haas is right there with them at 14.8 points per night followed by Mathias at 12.3 points and 4.6 assists per game.
This is a team that is not dependent on star power, but one that knows how to play in crunch time and has a championship feel.
Tough times aplenty at St. John's
The glory days of the old Big East conference are ancient history at St. John's.
There was a time when the Big East was a three-way battle John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas, Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange and Lou Carnesecca's St. John's Red Storm.
Carnesecca is 93 and long retired, and Thompson gave up his role as Georgetown head coach nearly two decades ago. Boeheim is still going strong in upstate New York.
St. John's is going through disastrous times right now. Former Red Storm and NBA star Chris Mullin has not been able to get this team going in the right direction as the team's head coach.
The Red Storm is at the bottom of the Big East standings with an 0-11 record to go along with a 10-13 overall mark. Seven of the losses have come by seven points or less, and that has added to Mullin's frustration.
However, he keeps pushing himself and his players.
"That's the easy thing, to give up," Mullin said. "That's not happening. That's not what anyone came here for, and we're going to work through it.
"I don't know that 'give up' word. I'm not about that at all. I'm about jugular vein. Keep coming, keep fighting, and keep throwing blows. Keep showing up. That's what I'm about, and that's what my players are about."
Those are admirable words, and you have to give credit to Mullin for his fighting spirit. But turning those words into wins is something that Mullin may not be capable of doing.
Guard Shamorie Ponds is averaging 19.7 points per game to lead the Storm, but his 39.6 shooting percentage tells the story. This team regularly falls short and is shooting 42.1 percent overall. That's not going to lead to many wins the rest of the way.
USC emerging as Pac-12 force
The USC Trojans are currently firing on all cylinders, and they may be ready to give first-place Arizona a run for the regular-season title in the Pac-12.
The Trojan have reeled off six straight victories and are 17-6 overall and 8-2 in the conference. The Wildcats have won nine of 10 conference games, and that means the Trojans are in a perfect position to overtake the perennial conference power.
USC polished off Bay Area foes Stanford and California, and they will go to Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA Saturday.
If the Trojans can get the best of the Bruins, they will take a two-game road trip to Arizona State and Arizona with a chance to move into a tie for the conference lead.
Junior forward Chimezie Metu leads a balanced attack with an average of 16.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Bennie Boatwright is scoring 15.1 points and bringing down 6.7 rebounds per night, but he has missed the last two games with a foot injury. He could be back in the lineup for head coach Andy Enfield against the Bruins.
The Trojans are on the rise, and their next three games could say quite a bit about what will happen come NCAA Tournament time.
Numbers, we have numbers …
Freshman sensation Trae Young of Oklahoma continues to lead the nation in scoring and assists. He is scoring 30.3 points per game while dishing out 9.4 assists per night. … Huge 7-6 center Tacko Fall of Central Florida is leading the nation shooting percentage, knocking down a robust 76.7 percent of his shots. … Ben Emelogu II of SMU leads the nation in three-point shooting, knocking down 53.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc, slightly ahead of Michigan State's Cassius Winston, who is hitting 53.6 percent from downtown. … Ajdin Penava of Marshall is blocking 4.8 shots per night, and that's slightly better than freshman Mo Bamba of Texas, who is swatting 4.5 shots per night.
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