Blue bloods with Bobby: Jan. 3
After a break for the holidays, college basketball returned with a weekend full of great games featuring top teams in the country playing against each other.
The conference season is underway and that means flurries of upsets, tough road games and separating the pretenders from the contenders. Last Saturday, five teams in the top-25 suffered a loss and thankfully for all those watching, it’s only the beginning.
Here’s a look at all of the top-10 teams in the country:
If there’s the notion that 2016 was a terrible year, it doesn’t apply to Villanova. The Wildcats capped one of the best calendar years in college basketball history, finishing with a 38-3 record (and a national title) after a thrilling 10-point road win over Creighton in a raucous environment on New Year’s Eve.
Of course, Villanova has to lose at some point in the Big East (right?), but it showed why it’s the No. 1 team in the nation. First, the Wildcats have so many scorers with Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart. Brunson led with 27 points against Creighton. Then there’s the defense that always tightens in the final minutes. Plus, the championship experience. "If you are not going to get rattled when the score was 24-14, then you aren't going to get rattled because they won't play in a tougher environment all year,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Record: 14-0. Next: Wednesday at Butler.
Baylor jumped the Jayhawks in the AP poll after opening Big 12 play with a 76-50 road victory over Oklahoma, which was playing point guard Jordan Woodard. But that doesn’t take away from how well the Bears played in their dominant victory — earning the highest ranking in program history. Of course, conference play is a different animal, but let’s remember that Baylor has a pretty nice resume with wins over Louisville, Oregon, Michigan State and Xavier.
Tom Keegan wrote in Monday’s column that Baylor and West Virginia are the biggest threats to end KU’s string of Big 12 titles. And if there was somebody who wasn’t surprised that the Bears leapfrogged the Jayhawks, it was Bill Self: "I anticipated that," he said. ”... That didn't surprise me at all. They deserve where they're at."
Record: 13-0. Next: Wednesday vs. Iowa State.
Following a break for the holidays, the Jayhawks returned for a six-point road victory over TCU. Landen Lucas earned Big 12 player of the week honors for his 15-point and 17-rebound performance. I thought Matt Tait did a nice job of looking at the schedule over the next few weeks and determining the toughest stretches for KU.
And in case you missed it, Benton Smith had a nice roundup on former KU players Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black teaming up off of the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench. Plus the Ringer had a story about Josh Jackson's chances of becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft are tied to his jump shot.
Record: 12-1. Next: Tuesday vs. Kansas State.
UCLA’s loss against Oregon was one of those games that introduces the world into conference play. Sure, UCLA was the higher ranked team, but it wasn’t necessarily a game that the Bruins were expected to win. Actually, credit UCLA for putting itself in position to win the game before Dillon Brooks connected on a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining.
The Bruins followed up their first loss of the season with a 13-point road win over Oregon State. Lonzo Ball, the phenomenal point guard, scored a career-high 23 points in the victory with seven assists and six rebounds. He’s shooting the ball well after deciding to stop messing with his unorthodox shooting motion. The loss to Oregon was actually the first loss for Ball since his junior year of high school.
Record: 14-1. Next: Thursday vs. California.
Gonzaga finished the non-conference portion of the season with a perfect 12-0 record and now the real hype train has left the station. In a story from ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, he asks the question whether the Zags can complete an undefeated regular season.
It seems like every year Gonzaga’s expectations grow a little bit and are better than before, which is a tough thing to do in a really successful program (outside of Final Four appearances). The Zags opened conference play with a 30-point win over Pepperdine and a 20-point road win over Pacific.
Record: 14-0. Next: Thursday at San Francisco.
After a ridiculously tough stretch against North Carolina and Louisville, the Wildcats head into SEC play as a heavy favorite to win the conference — and only Florida seems in position to provide much of a challenge. The Wildcats crushed Ole Miss by 23 points, led by a triple-double from Isaiah Briscoe (19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds). Before this year, only one player in program history had recorded a triple-double. In 31 days, De’Aaron Fox and Briscoe have achieved the feat.
In the win over Ole Miss, the Wildcats showed how fast they can score and how dominant their offense is with such a talented group of guards. They scored 60 points in the first half and only turned the ball over eight times throughout the game.
Record: 11-2. Next: Tuesday vs. Texas A&M.
7. West Virginia
Remember when there was the idea that the Big 12 might be in for a down year outside of Kansas. Now there’s three teams ranked inside of the top seven in the country. The Mountaineers rolled into Stillwater and won 92-75 in their Big 12 opener. "They're very good, that was on full display,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “Their press makes the game ugly, it's never going to be pretty against them.”
One of the most impressive things about the Mountaineers is they rank fifth in the nation with 91.8 points per game. But they don’t have a true go-to scorer. Esa Ahmad, their leading scorer, averages 12.6 points per game, but hasn’t scored more than 19 in a game. Of course, their “Press Virginia” style leads to a lot of different players scoring, but most of the top scoring teams in the country have at least one dominant scorer.
Record: 12-1. Next: Tuesday at Texas Tech.
The big news that was released Monday morning was coach Mike Krzyzewski will be out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery following Wednesday’s game. He’s removing a fragment of a herniated disk. Jeff Capel, a former coach at Oklahoma, will become the interim coach for likely the next several weeks. For Capel, it could be a quick test whether he could one day inherit the team from Krzyzewski, who is turning 70 next month.
The news comes at a critical time for Duke, which was crushed in its ACC opener at Virginia Tech, 89-75. The Blue Devils didn’t have Grayson Allen (suspended, stripped of captaincy) in their loss, but they haven't been playing good basketball for the past few weeks. "We haven't played well for three straight games, and that's disconcerting," Krzyzewski said. "But that's the way it is."
Record: 12-2. Next: Wednesday vs. Georgia Tech.
Speaking of tough schedules, the Cardinals are nearly finished with a slate that included home games against Kentucky and Virginia, a neutral site game against Indiana (in Indianapolis) and a road game at Notre Dame. The Cardinals beat Kentucky and Indiana, earning a 15-point victory over the Hoosiers on Saturday. Leading scorer Donovan Mitchell responded to his benching by scoring 25 points.
In the eight-point loss to Virginia, which never looked as the final score indicated, the Cardinals showed it’s much harder speed up a team to your tempo than slow one down. “Virginia seems to be our kryptonite,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, who owns a 1-4 record vs. Virginia since both teams started playing each other in the ACC. In those four losses, the Cardinals are averaging 48 points.
Record: 12-2. Next: Wednesday at Notre Dame.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott admitted on Twitter that he was anxious prior to the New Year’s Eve matchup against Villanova — the first matchup of top 10 teams in school history. Of course, we all know that the Blue Jays fell a little short in a 10-point home loss, which was much closer until the final minute when Nova made some big shots and hit free throws.
Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel argues this Creighton team has shown something special, even in a loss against Villanova.
Record: 13-1. Next: Wednesday at St. John’s.
Usually we look at teams trending up and down, but with the new year beginning, here’s a look at some of the top contenders for the national player of the year:
- Josh Hart, Villanova: Best player on the best team in the country. Averaging 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’s scored at least 18 points in his last six games.
- Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Mentioned above, the freshman point guard has transformed the Bruins into a high-scoring machine. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
- Luke Kennard, Duke: Everybody figured it would be Grayson Allen to lead the Blue Devils, but the sophomore guard has been the most consistent player for Duke. He’s averaging 21.4 points and 6.0 rebounds on a team full of top talent. He’s scored 20 or more points in six of the last seven games.
- Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Leading Purdue to a 12-3 start, Swanigan has turned into one of the most unstoppable players in the Big 10. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 13.0 rebounds, which includes three 20-20 performances in his last four games.
- Frank Mason, Kansas: Off to an incredible start in his senior season, Mason is averaging 19.8 points and 5.9 assists, leading the Big 12 in both categories. He’s dished at least seven assists in four straight games.