Jackson and Jayhawks Bounce Back
Just four days after losing to then-No. 18 West Virginia (17-4, 5-3 Big 12), No. 3 Kansas (19-2, 7-1 Big 12) bounced back in a big way by beating then-No. 4 Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 SEC) on its own court 79-73.
Thanks to the efforts of four double-digit scorers — with freshman standout Josh Jackson contributing 20 points and 10 rebounds, including the game-sealing layup with 1:07 left — the Jayhawks avoided their first losing streak of the season. Senior Frank Mason III added 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, but the real story here is Jackson’s sudden emergence from behind the arc.
Not known as a shooter, Jackson started the season shooting 23.7 percent on 38 three-point attempts, but has since sunk eight of his last 14 attempts from downtown, becoming nearly unstoppable offensively. Kansas hopes his hot streak can help it finish the season strong and prepare for a deep run in March. Kansas’ next game against No. 2 Baylor (20-1, 7-1 Big 12) is another chance for Jackson to shine.
I could not tell you what has happened to Florida State if I tried. After beginning the season at a blisteringly unexpected 17-1 and beating household names like No. 9 UVA (16-4, 6-2 ACC), No. 21 Duke (16-5, 4-4 ACC) and No. 20 Notre Dame (17-5, 6-3 ACC), No. 15 Florida State (18-4, 6-3 ACC) has lost three of its last four games, all by double digits. This slide includes a 22-point blowout against unranked Georgia Tech (13-8, 5-4 ACC) after scoring 15 points in the first half, an all-time low for the program, thus dropping FSU’s ranking nine spots.
The Seminoles, led by freshman Jonathan Isaac, have been one of the feel-good stories in college basketball up until this point, as they have struggled to establish much of a reputation in the sport behind their excellent football program. But now, things are taking a turn in the wrong direction.
They have averaged 16 fewer points per game in their last three losses — 80 points per game prior compared to 64 points per game in the last three losses — and shot nearly 14 percent worse from the field. The team needs to correct this soon to avoid an extreme tumbling in next week’s rankings and, even worse, a loss of legitimacy.
Have the Irish Run Out of Fight?
On a similar note, No. 20 Notre Dame has its own set of problems to worry about: dropping in the rankings. Including their close loss to Florida State on Jan. 18, the Irish have also dropped three of their past four games, recently losing on a buzzer-beating layup to Georgia Tech. Now 1-4 against ranked opponents, the Irish’s issues trace to their lack of a true superstar.
The team has some of the toughest players in the country, but no one leading the way, and in college basketball, it is nearly impossible to get from where Notre Dame is to the next level without a go-to playmaker.
While there is still a good portion of conference play left, Notre Dame has to approach the next week as an opportunity to recapture its identity. Games against No. 21 Duke and No. 12 North Carolina (19-4, 7-2 ACC) should force the Irish to address these issues in order to stop themselves from falling out of the top 25.
The Fighting Irish’s next matchup against the Seminoles on Feb. 11 could be take place when each of these two teams are desperately scrambling for a NCAA tournament bid.
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