It's dangerous to play with Michigan State's Bryn Forbes when he's hot because he pushes people. Not opposing players, but his teammates. That's how he congratulates them on a good day.
And Saturday was a great day for the Spartans and Forbes, who recorded 29 points and finished with an 8-for-10 mark from the 3-point line.
It's perfect timing. February gives emerging players a chance to shine before March comes. Maybe, as with Forbes, a prolonged slump suggested their efforts would be more trivial than pivotal. But now, they're back. Or maybe they've just arrived. Young players who finally found a groove. Veterans who got theirs back.
"It's hard to say what went right, what went wrong," Tom Izzo told reporters after Saturday's win. "We executed pretty well. When you make shots, everything changes."
Forbes' vibe started early after he hit his second 3-pointer of the afternoon and commenced his patented trash talk to the sky, in which he curls his lips as if he's in a scene from the "Godfather" and he yells at the doubters who wondered how a Cleveland State product could excel in East Lansing, Michigan.
And then, he got physical. He shoved Matt Costello. He bumped three or four of his teammates during an early timeout. At one point in the first half, Denzel Valentine gave him one of those "You good, bruh?" looks. But Forbes can't help it. He'll be the 60-year-old uncle who still wants to arm wrestle everyone at the family BBQ. Right now, he's the off-the-radar standout who factors into Michigan State's Big Ten title and postseason dreams.
Follow his surge. Check the box scores. Set a Google alert. Don't miss what might come next. Valentine is a Wooden Award contender. Deyonta Davis is an NBA prospect. Costello, now healthy, seems prepped for a strong finish. It's not easy to emerge as a member of a top-10 Michigan State team. But Forbes has erased that three-game drought in January, which included a 5-for-22 stretch, with his recent run. The 25 points (4-for-8 from the 3-point line) in a win over Maryland. The 60 percent clip from beyond the arc against Rutgers last weekend. And Saturday's breathtaking output against rival Michigan.
This isn't new. Forbes has been good all season. But he has found his mojo.
And that matters in February, but it could alter everything that happens in March. Don't wait for the Madness of the NCAA tournament to identify potential stars, though.
They're raising their hands right now.
Well, in Forbes' case, he's using his to nudge another teammate.
Jump on the bandwagon now for these players.
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The 6-foot-5 forward's 19 points (5-for-5 from the charity stripe) and 10 rebounds helped the Fighting Irish overcome a 15-point deficit in Saturday's come-from-behind win over No. 1 North Carolina. Notre Dame needs that version of the sophomore standout to suit up the rest of the season.
Ryan Anderson, Arizona Wildcats
Seems unlikely that a guy averaging a double-double in the Pac-12 would need any additional hype. Anderson hasn't enjoyed the universal praise that surrounded past Arizona standouts, but his effort in Arizona's 77-72 win at Washington (22 points, 15 rebounds) -- a win he sealed with a late rebound snatched from four Huskies -- was his fourth consecutive double-double and the third time in four games that he recorded at least 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Charles Cooke, Dayton Flyers
He recorded 24 points (10-for-13) in Saturday's 98-64 win over George Mason. It was his third 20-point effort in his team's past five games. He has averaged 17 points per game during Dayton's seven-game winning streak (Cooke didn't play in the Davidson game on Jan. 12).
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers have won five in a row and that rally has reinserted Greg Gard's program into the NCAA tourney conversation. Happ's contributions have certainly played a role. He has gone 27-for-50 during this winning streak.
Diamond Stone, Maryland Terrapins
In his team's 72-61 win over Purdue on Saturday, a victory that could elevate the Terps to the No. 1 slots in the national polls, the freshman finished with 12 points and six rebounds. It was the seventh time he recorded at least 10 points and six rebounds in Big Ten play.
Matt Thomas, Iowa State Cyclones
Steve Prohm's squad doesn't thrive on a robust bench. And Jameel McKay's indefinite suspension could make the immediate future more challenging for the Cyclones. But Matt Thomas (16 points, six rebounds and a 4-for-6 clip from beyond the arc in Saturday's 64-59 win at Oklahoma State) has logged big minutes and delivered for Iowa State. He has shot 16-for-28 from the 3-point line in Iowa State's past five games.
Nikola Jovanovic, USC Trojans
After suffering back-to-back losses to Oregon and Oregon State, USC recovered with a three-game rally. Now the Trojans remain in the hunt for the Pac-12 title with a 7-3 record. Jovanovic's 28 points and five rebounds in a 10-point win over Washington last weekend demonstrated the impact the 6-11 big man could have on the Trojans' push for a conference championship.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso Crusaders
Valpo is just a bulldog of a team and the best squad in the Horizon League right now. If Bryce Drew's squad sees your favorite team in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, you should worry for two reasons. First, the Crusaders own the nation's most efficient defense, allowing just .86 points per possession. Second, they have Peters, a 6-9 talent averaging 17.0 PPG and 7.8 RPG while connecting on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Texas A&M-South Carolina result more confusing than anything
Just when you thought you were beginning to understand the SEC ... Saturday happened. That Vanderbilt team that showcased its potential in Thursday's win over Texas A&M last week? The Commodores committed 19 turnovers in a seven-point road loss to Ole Miss. Kentucky, which lost to Tennessee in its previous outing, bullied a surging Florida team in a 19-point victory at Rupp Arena. But those results were tame compared to what happened in College Station, Texas, the stage for South Carolina's 81-78 road victory over Texas A&M. The Aggies had an opportunity to build momentum after a Big 12/SEC Challenge win over Iowa State. Instead, they suffered their third loss (Arkansas, Vandy and South Carolina) in three games. And Frank Martin's program scored a signature road win. That's the same Gamecocks squad that endured lopsided road losses to Alabama (23 points), Tennessee (nine points) and Georgia (13 points).
Check the SEC standings. Johnny Jones' LSU squad is in first place at 8-2. South Carolina, Texas A&M and Kentucky are all one game back at 7-3.
Welcome to the SEC.
Virginia's rise worth watching
There were issues during that odd four-game stretch that featured three road losses to unranked teams. Then, many pulled back on the lofty projections attached to the Virginia program earlier this season. Something was wrong with Virginia. Clearly. Rare defensive lapses. Poor bench production. Malcolm Brogdon's lackluster 3-point shooting in those games.
But look at the Cavs now. They've won six in a row and those victories include double-digit wins over Louisville and Pitt last week. Only one team in that six-game stretch accrued more than 1.03 points per possession (Wake Forest). In the ACC race, they're on Louisville's and North Carolina's heels -- we'll be here all day, folks -- at 8-3 in league play. Maybe they'll win the crown. Perhaps the Cavs won't. They could, however, enter March Madness as one of the nation's most imposing programs. The bad losses might trouble some observers. They should not, however, diminish what's happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, right now.
Anyone want to win the West Coast Conference?
If you're looking for a fun, fascinating mess of a league, then pay attention to the WCC. On Thursday, BYU beat Saint Mary's in a critical conference matchup. Three days later, the Cougars lost to a 6-15 Pacific team (now 7-15). That fourth WCC loss hurt their shot at making a late run at the league's crown. Meanwhile, Gonzaga has won five in a row. Its late-February matchups against Saint Mary's (Feb. 20) and BYU (Feb. 27 on the road) could decide the final hierarchy in the conference. The league's tournament -- and potentially its one shot at an NCAA tournament berth -- should be as exciting as any league tourney in America.
Wichita State probably needs the MVC tourney title now to Dance
Prior to Saturday's loss at Illinois State, the Shockers had made a respectable case to the NCAA's selection committee that their poor showing earlier this season while Fred Van Vleet missed multiple games due to a hamstring injury should not be viewed as a serious blemish on their résumé by smashing everyone they faced in MVC play. But Illinois State's RPI of 124 severely damages Wichita State's at-large argument. The Shockers are 3-5 against the top 100 and 2-5 against the top 50. That's not the sexiest résumé for a team that's competing in a mid-major conference.
Wichita State will enter Arch Madness as the favorite and perhaps desperate for the league's tourney title, which might be its only ticket to the Big Dance.
Beat the Buzzer
North Carolina's defense an ongoing concern
Notre Dame made just 3 of its 16 3-pointers (18.8 percent) and still managed to complete a come-from-behind win (the Fighting Irish were down by 15 in the first half) against North Carolina on Saturday. That also shows that Notre Dame beat North Carolina's defense inside the arc. The loss also demonstrated the gap between UNC's offense and defense (15th in net efficiency). The Tar Heels gave up 1.19 PPP on Saturday. Their raw numbers show they've given up 0.98 PPP this season -- 259th nationally.
Craig Victor's impact
The Arizona transfer has averaged 12.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG since he became eligible for LSU in mid-December. His rugged play inside (he rebounds 9.6 percent of his team's misses when he's on the floor, per KenPom.com) has changed the program. If the Tigers find a way to stay on top of the SEC, Victor will definitely factor into the outcome.
Arizona could still be the team to beat in the Pac-12
Still feels like Arizona could end the season as the team on top of the Pac-12, right? With Ryan Anderson rolling and Allonzo Trier back in the mix, the Wildcats can handle any team in the league. Plus, five of their final seven Pac-12 games will be played at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona, where one opponent (Oregon on Jan. 28) has won since Feb. 10, 2013 (California).
Kentucky intriguing, if nothing else
Who knows which Kentucky will show up in March. But when they're at their best, the Wildcats are both intriguing and daunting. They outscored Florida, one of America's most efficient defensive units, 50-32 in the first half of their 80-61 win at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Navy and Florida Gulf Coast failed to score more than 50 points in two halves against Florida. Michigan State registered just 58 points against the Gators.
That's somebody's child, Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu!!!
So a win over a No. 1 Oklahoma team wasn't enough for you, Wesley? You had to dunk all over Norman, Oklahoma, too. Why'd you do this? (You should see it.)