When the brackets were unveiled on Selection Sunday, everybody saw the opportunity for Kansas and Duke to meet in the Elite Eight. Both teams took care of business in the first three rounds and set up the mega matchup between blue bloods.
With a trip to San Antonio and the Final Four on the line, the two storied programs will be the last game to tip off this weekend (4:05 p.m., TV: CBS). Both teams feature talented senior guards, but Duke is filled with likely one-and-done players while Kansas has the old-school lineup, in this era at least, with some more experience.
“It's two blue bloods; two great, historic programs; and two Hall of Fame coaches,” Devonte’ Graham said. “And it's a pride thing. And you want to do it. And the fans to have something to brag about. And, of course, getting to the Final Four is on all of our minds. Duke-Kansas is a huge matchup.”
The second-seeded Blue Devils (29-7) finished second in the ACC this season. After losing three of four games at the start of February, they switched to a zone defense. Since then, they’ve posted a 10-2 record, losing to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament and at Virginia Tech.
“We found out that zone was the best defense for this team,” Grayson Allen said. “It's still the intensity and everything of Duke defense is still there. And it's obviously not the man defense that you've seen for 20-plus years. But the intensity is still there.”
Fun fact: The Blue Devils have a 2-6 record in games decided by five points or less this season, which includes their four-point win over Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Series history: Duke leads 7-4. The Blue Devils have won three of the five meetings in the NCAA Tournament, including the 1991 national championship.
BREAKING DOWN DUKE
No. 35 — F Marvin Bagley III | 6-11, 234, fr.
Named the ACC’s Player of the Year, Bagley is one of the most efficient big men in the country. He’s averaging 21.2 points and 11.1 rebounds, shooting 61.5 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from the 3-point line. He is on pace to become the 13th player in ACC history to lead the conference in points and rebounds.
Projected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Bagley reclassified after committing to Duke in August. He’s registered 21 double-doubles, grabbing an average of four offensive boards per game with his unbelievably quick second jump.
In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 22 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 26 of 36 from the floor (12 of 17 at the free-throw line) and recording only four turnovers.
- “The things that I’ve even seen in practice, that you guys can’t even see, is crazy,” teammate Gary Trent Jr. said. “The things that he does, jumping ability, playmaking ability, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
No. 3 — G Grayson Allen | 6-5, 205, sr.
Boasting a 12-2 record in NCAA Tournament games, Allen provides most of the experience for a young Duke lineup. He went through a shooting slump during the middle of the year but is still averaging 15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. He leads the Blue Devils with 60 steals.
Allen, who has drawn criticism for a few tripping incidents over his career, is shooting 37.5 percent from the 3-point line. Helping Duke to a national title in 2015, he is 16 points away from becoming the program’s 12th 2,000-point scorer. He was a third-team all-ACC selection.
In the NCAA Tournament: Totaled 41 points on 13-for-35 shooting (10 of 28 from 3), adding 20 assists, five steals and five rebounds.
No. 34 — F Wendell Carter Jr. | 6-10, 259, fr.
A second-team all-ACC pick, Carter doesn’t attract as much attention as Bagley but he’s likely another NBA lottery pick. With 16 double-doubles this year, Carter is averaging 13.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, leading the Blue Devils with 75 blocks in the middle of their zone. He’s a 44.2 percent shooter from the 3-point line in 43 attempts.
Carter is a former AAU teammate of Udoka Azubuike, winning the prestigious Peach Jam together. Like Bagley, he’s another relentless offensive rebounder, averaging 3.03 per game. He’s a 74 percent free-throw shooter.
In the NCAA Tournament: Recorded 36 points, 26 rebounds and 5 assists through three games, shooting 13-for-21 from the floor.
No. 1 — PG Trevon Duval | 6-3, 186, fr.
An extremely quick point guard, Duval has struggled with his shot for most of the season. Shooting 28.7 percent from the 3-point line, Duval is averaging 10.0 points and 5.6 assists per game. According to hoop-math.com, he takes 47 percent of his shots at the rim. A former IMG Academy teammate of Silvio De Sousa, he picked Duke over Kansas in his recruitment.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored 32 points on 11-for-28 shooting (5 of 12 from 3) while dishing 19 assists and committing eight turnovers.
No. 2 — G Gary Trent Jr. | 6-6, 209, fr.
Duke’s best shooter at the free-throw line and 3-point arc, Trent is averaging 14.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Originally from Apple Valley, Minn., Trent shoots 41.1 percent from 3 and 87.5 percent at the charity stripe, knocking down the clinching free throws in Duke’s Sweet 16 win over Syracuse.
In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 10 of 26 from the 3-point line, Trent is averaging 16 points and 5.3 rebounds. He’s 6 of 6 at the free-throw line.
ONE THING DUKE DOES WELL
Turning to a zone defense after a midseason losing streak, Duke boasts one of the better defenses in the country despite playing a long list of freshmen. One of the tallest teams in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils have only allowed an opponent to reach 70 points twice in the last 12 games (after switching to zone full time). Opponents are shooting 39 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from 3.
ONE AREA DUKE STRUGGLES
Playing in the zone defense has allowed the Blue Devils to force opponents into tougher shots but they don’t force many turnovers. In their last five games, opponents have turned the ball over 12 times or less in four of them.
MEET THE COACH
In a matchup between Hall of Fame coaches, Mike Krzyzewski is in his 38th year at Duke. He’s attempting to reach his 13th Final Four after winning a national title in 2015. He’s the all-time winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history.
Duke by 3.5. The Jayhawks have played with a smaller margin for error all season, but I think they will need many things to go their way to reach the Final Four. They’ll have to hit 3s over Duke’s zone. Udoka Azubuike will have to stay out of foul trouble. They’ll have to rebound as well as they have all year. As much focus as the Jayhawks will place on Bagley, I think it allows Allen to take advantage with shots from the outside.
My prediction: Duke 75, Kansas 69. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-15.
Omaha, Neb. — As the final minutes ticked off the clock in the Kansas basketball team’s 80-76 victory over Clemson in the Sweet 16 on Friday, Duke players stood in a tunnel waiting for their chance to take the floor in the following game.
The Blue Devils were behind a curtain so they couldn’t see the court or much of the video board. They heard the cheers and groans as the Jayhawks saw their 20-point lead drop into single digits, but really only knew the final result.
Focused on Syracuse, before their eventual 69-65 win at CenturyLink Center, Duke players said they needed to watch film in their hotel before they could give much of a scouting report of Kansas. But they are plenty familiar with their Elite Eight opponent.
Many of them were recruited by both schools. They’ve played against each other in AAU. Duke freshman point guard Trevon Duval took one of his official visits to Allen Fieldhouse. Plus, they saw each other earlier this season at the Champions Classic despite playing different teams.
“Great shooting team. Very feisty and very hungry,” said Duke freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. “They are going to come out here and play great defense. And they run the floor. That’s really all I know about them.”
Duval, who had two points and four assists vs. Syracuse, considered playing alongside Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman during his recruitment. He met most of KU’s players during his visit and he played with KU freshman Silvio De Sousa at IMG Academy in Florida last year.
Now he has a chance to line up against them for a spot in the Final Four.
“Devonte’, he’s been winning and nominated for a lot of awards,” Duval said. “They have great shooters and a really good big guy, Udoka (Azubuike). They are a really good team. We have to go back to the hotel, do our scout and then see what we can do to beat them.”
It’ll be the first meeting between the two schools since the 2016 Champions Classic in New York, which ended with a game-winning shot from Frank Mason III. Grayson Allen was limited to 12 points (4 of 15 shooting) in 38 minutes.
Both teams have a much different look than their last matchup. Duke features its latest crop of one-and-done NBA prospects. For Kansas, Azubuike was just playing in his second collegiate game and Newman was sitting out the season as a redshirt.
“They are in the Elite Eight for a reason,” Duke sophomore center Marques Bolden said. “We just know they are a real tough and physical team, and we look forward to the matchup."
At this point in the tournament, teams expect to play the best players and teams in the country. Looking ahead to potentially matching up against Graham, Duval said it will be “pretty cool” to play the Big 12 player of the year.
“It’s another time for me to prove myself and for our team to prove ourselves also,” Duval said. “It’s just another opportunity.”
Feast week certainly lived up to the hype with some excellent non-conference games across the country through midseason tournaments. The PK80 tournament in Portland was a nice touch for Nike schools, giving college basketball a chance to shine during college football season.
Welcome to this season’s first edition of the college basketball blue bloods update, where I’ll take a quick bi-weekly glance at the Top 10 teams in the country.
Without further ado, we’ll take a look at this week's top teams (based on the Associated Press poll):
It’s a shame Marvin Bagley III didn’t have an opportunity to play much in the Champions Classic because of an eye injury, but he’s more than made up for it. Facing Texas and Florida in back-to-back games, Bagley combined for 64 points and 30 rebounds.
On a team with a lot of freshmen, Bagley, who reclassified in August, looks a level above everyone else. How do you stop him? “I have no idea,” Florida coach Mike White said at halftime Sunday. The Blue Devils have lots of room for improvement, especially defensively, but they’ve shown a lot of poise for such a young team in crunch time.
Record: 8-0. Next: Wednesday at Indiana.
The Jayhawks scored 100-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since January 2003 in wins over Texas Southern and Oakland. Despite playing with limited depth, they are shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line and limiting turnovers.
All five starters are averaging at least 12 points per game, while Devonte Graham ranks second in the nation with 9.2 assists a night.
Record: 5-0. Next: Tuesday vs. Toledo.
3. Michigan State
Miles Bridges was a little banged up, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from taking first place in their bracket of the PK80 tournament. In a 63-45 victory over North Carolina, the Spartans held UNC to 24.6 percent shooting, its worst percentage in school history.
In three games against DePaul, UConn and UNC, the Spartans held their opponents to 28 percent shooting, including a 21 percent mark from the 3-point line. That will make up for some of their own troubles on offense, averaging 17 turnovers per game.
Record: 5-1. Next: Thursday vs. Notre Dame.
How good was Villanova’s defense in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis? Playing against Northern Iowa, the Wildcats didn’t allow any free throws in a 64-50 victory. On offense, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are averaging more than 18 points per game.
A little unrelated to Villanova’s undefeated start to the season, the Wildcats will face Kansas in a home-and-home series beginning in 2018.
Record: 6-0. Next: Wednesday vs. Penn.
5. Notre Dame
Coach Mike Brey let loose in the Maui Invitational, standing on the sidelines in a t-shirt and shorts with tennis shoes for each game. After the Irish won the championship game, he returned to the locker room shirtless. Nothing wrong with having fun after a win.
As far as play on the court, 6-foot-6 senior Bonzie Colson has certainly lived up to the hype. In wins over Chaminade, LSU and Wichita State, Colson produced 60 points and 30 rebounds with only two turnovers. Martinas Geben made the game-winning free throws to complete a comeback against the Shockers, 67-66.
Record: 6-0. Next: Thursday at Michigan State.
The Gators were a few minutes away from being the talk of college basketball for a week. But they couldn’t hold off Duke in a 87-84 loss in the championship game of their PK80 bracket, showing their fatigue in the second half. Fatigue might be the only thing that can stop that spectacular offense, which is averaging 99.5 points per game.
Junior guard Jalen Hudson is averaging 21.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza had 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds vs. Duke with a bruised rib, swollen right elbow and a right shoulder contusion. Tough team to beat.
Record: 5-1. Next: Dec. 4 vs. Florida State
Following the Champions Classic loss against the Jayhawks, the Wildcats have started to improve offensively with wins against mid-major teams. They still haven’t had a 3-point shooter emerge, which makes it hard to space the floor, but freshman Kevin Knox is averaging a team-best 16.1 points per game.
Record: 6-1. Next: Saturday vs. Harvard.
8. Wichita State
The Shockers showed their poise in a win over Cal in the Maui Invitational, storming back from an 18-point deficit in the first half. It’s even more impressive because they are still playing without Markis McDuffie, last season’s top scorer and rebounder who is recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot.
Wichita State lost in the Maui title game to Notre Dame, surrendering a 14-point lead, but coach Gregg Marshall has to be a little encouraged by a strong start to the season. Conner Frankamp is averaging 9.8 points and 2.4 assists on 30 percent shooting from the 3-point arc.
Record: 4-1. Next: Tuesday vs. Savannah State.
9. Texas A&M
The Aggies went on the road and picked up a dominant win over then-No. 10 ranked USC, 75-59. A future opponent on KU’s schedule in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Texas A&M has crushed teams with its defense. Opponents are only shooting 23.3 percent from the 3-point line.
Five players are averaging at least 10 points per game, while 6-9 junior forward DJ Hogg runs the show with a team-best 16.8 points a night. "We had a bad year last year so they're still a little asleep on us," Hogg said.
Record: 6-0. Next: Thursday vs. UT Rio Grande Valley.
Through the first five games of the season, Miami has won four of them by at least 20 points. The Hurricanes will have one of the biggest games of the week when they play host to Minnesota in the ACC/Big 10 challenge on Wednesday.
Record: 5-0. Next: Wednesday at Minnesota.
Three teams trending up
1. Minnesota (7-0): If you missed it, the Golden Gophers beat Alabama in one of the most bizarre games in college basketball history, playing the last 10 minutes 5-on-3 because Alabama’s bench was ejected during a near brawl, plus a foul out and ankle injury. But credit the Gophers for leading in the game before the craziness happened behind star forward Jordan Murphy.
2. Arizona State (6-0): The Sun Devils beat a ranked Xavier by 16 points in the Las Vegas Invitational. Tra Holder scored 40 points on 22 shots, proving himself as one of the best players in the Pac-12.
3. Baylor (5-0): Playing in Kansas City last week in the Hall of Fame Classic, the Bears left with wins against Wisconsin and Creighton. Manu Lecomte is averaging 19 points.
Three teams trending down
1. Arizona (3-3): One of the most talented teams in the country looked lost in the Battle for Atlantis. Deandre Ayton is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but the Wildcats’ defense is atrocious.
2. Northwestern (4-2): Playing in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, Northwestern was demolished by Texas Tech, 85-49. Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll.
3. Stanford (3-5): Not a good start to the season for the Cardinal, which lost all three games in the PK80 to Florida, Ohio State and Portland State. Reid Travis is the bright spot, averaging 21.4 points and 7.3 boards.
On the first day following the end of the college football season (and another title game classic), college basketball reintroduced itself with one of its biggest days of the season.
With three top-15 matchups (and of course, another Grayson Allen mini-controversy), it was easy to get lost in all of the hype. That’s where this blog comes in with the latest look at the blue bloods across the country. Here’s a look at the top 10 teams:
Baylor earned its first No. 1 ranking in program history and was destroyed in a 21-point loss against West Virginia in Morgantown. The Bears started slow and never recovered, turning the ball over a season-high 29 times — only two shy of a school record. "They just took us out of everything," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We weren't overconfident. They just kicked our butt.”
Of course, this doesn’t diminish everything Baylor accomplished on its way to a No. 1 ranking. The Bears were a five or six point underdog heading into Tuesday’s matchup. Prior to the loss, Jonathan Motley was named Big 12 player of the week after posting back-to-back double-double performances. And just as remarkable is the rise that Scott Drew has brought the Baylor program within the last decade.
Record: 15-1. Next: Saturday at #25 Kansas State.
Stat of the day: Frank Mason is making 54.9 percent of his 3-pointers this season. He’s one made 3-pointer shy of qualifying on the national list, but he would rank second in the country. In his last three games, Mason is shooting an astounding 12-of-15 from deep (80 percent). Benton Smith wrote about KU’s 3-point prowess on Wednesday afternoon.
In a story from Matt Tait, KU coach Bill Self argues that the Jayhawks don’t deserve to be the top ranked team in the country following their 81-70 road victory at Oklahoma.
Record: 15-1. Next: Saturday vs. Oklahoma State.
Villanova was expecting a dogfight against Xavier and it ended in a smack down. The Wildcats won 78-54, matching a school record with their 46th straight win at the Pavilion — their last home loss was in February 2013. “The annual Villanova ass kicking. I'm getting really tired of it,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said afterward.
The Wildcats held Xavier to 29-percent shooting from the floor, including 6-of-32 from deep. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart both scored 20 points apiece. ESPN’s Dana O’Neil wrote a story on Jenkins becoming a more complete player this season, which has only made the guy who made “The Shot” even better.
Record: 16-1. Next: Saturday at St. John’s.
After losing on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Dillon Brooks on the road at Oregon, the Bruins have responded with three straight wins, including a 14-point home win over Stanford on Sunday. Perhaps the only concern for the Bruins is a couple of second-half letdowns. It hasn’t cost them a win, but they’ve had to sweat at some points in games they should’ve put away.
Bryce Alford, known more for being a coach’s son than star player, is actually climbing up the school record book in career points. He’s averaging 16.3 points this season and could put himself inside of the top five of a historic program. “Those people who say those negative things about me, that I play just because my dad’s here or whatever, I’m not going to be able to change those voices regardless of what I do,” Alford told the LA Times in a story about his success.
Record: 16-1. Next: Thursday at Colorado.
Gonzaga owns wins against Florida, Iowa State and Arizona, but there will always be those who don’t believe the hype until the Zags reach the Final Four. But perhaps, the toughest task to keeping their perfect season alive — the last unbeaten team in the country — will be Saturday’s upcoming matchup against No. 21-ranked St. Mary’s. They lost both regular season games against the Gaels last year.
The Zags earned a 15-point road victory against San Francisco last week, then had a game against Portland postponed because of a winter storm. The Spokane Spokesman-Review had a nice story on freshman Zach Collins, the next forward in a strong pipeline of talented big men.
Record: 15-0. Next: Thursday vs. Loyola Marymount.
There’s always a few SEC games that give the Wildcats some trouble and Vanderbilt nearly gave them everything they could handle Tuesday, before Kentucky pulled away in the final minute for an 87-81 win. Isaiah Briscoe scored a game-high 23 points while De’Aaron Fox added 22. "We still don't trust each other because guys aren't doing their job defensively, what they're supposed to do," UK coach John Calipari said.
The Wildcats added Hamidou Diallo on Wednesday, a 5-star recruit that was ranked highly in the Class of 2017. He enrolled at Kentucky and will practice with the team but is expected to redshirt for the remainder of the season. Diallo, who was playing at a post-graduate school, is eligible for the upcoming NBA draft, but all indications say he will play at Kentucky next year. Will this be a new trend for some college basketball players?
Record: 14-2. Next: Saturday vs. Auburn.
Playing without Amile Jefferson (foot injury), the Blue Devils didn’t have much of a post presence in an 88-72 road loss at Florida State. That seems weird to say when a team has star freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, along with sophomore Chase Jeter, but none of them proved to be ready for the big stage. Giles and Bolden combined for five points and two rebounds in 14 minutes. "Obviously, size they can throw it up there and hurt you on the glass. They throw guys on you and wear you out,” interim coach Jeff Capel said.
As briefly mentioned above, there was another faux Grayson Allen controversy when he dove after a loose ball into Florida State’s bench, and he appeared to shove an assistant coach as he fell down. Apparently trying to catch your balance is the same thing as tripping now. Of course, Allen is going to be under extra scrutiny because of his tripping incidents, but it’s time to put down the pitchforks. Dennis Gates, the FSU assistant coach, said Wednesday that it was simply a great hustle play, “nothing more, nothing less.”
Record: 14-3. Next: Saturday at #14 Louisville.
After a 10-point home loss against Villanova on New Year’s Eve, the Blue Jays get another chance to make a statement — this time against No. 12-ranked Butler. Creighton rolled to a 14-point road win over Providence last weekend behind an 11-point, 14-assist performance from point guard Maurice Watson.
But beyond Watson driving the Ferrari that is Creighton’s offense and the scoring from Marcus Foster, the Blue Jays are receiving a lift from 7-foot freshman center Justin Patton, who is averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. And it appears, from this Omaha World-Herald column, that has landed in the discussion for a potential lottery pick.
Record: 15-1. Next: Wednesday vs. #12 Butler.
9. Florida State
If it wasn’t for another Grayson Allen controversy, maybe people would take notice of this Florida State team, which is no longer under the radar. The Seminoles, who own ACC wins over Duke, Virginia Tech and at Virginia, won’t get to celebrate for long with a looming road matchup at North Carolina.
But in the top 10 rankings for the first time since 1993, the Seminoles felt that they had something to prove in their 16-point home win over Duke, their first sellout at the Tucker Center since 2013. "This one was personal for me. Ever since he did that, I've been waiting a long time to see him again," said Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 21 points and was actually tripped by Allen last year. "It was good to finally see him again."
Record: 16-1. Next: Saturday at #11 North Carolina.
10. West Virginia
Press Virginia came to life Tuesday, forcing 29 turnovers in a 21-point demolition over top-ranked Baylor. According to KenPom, West Virginia entered the game forcing opponents to turnovers on 32.8 percent of possible possessions, the highest number ever recorded. And that was before Baylor had 16 turnovers in the first half and West Virginia turned a close game into a laugher.
“Press Virginia is for real,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey. “They do a good job executing and knowing our personnel and they come at you in waves.”
Record: 14-2. Next: Saturday at Texas.
Three teams trending up
1. Minnesota: After opening Big 10 play with a one-point overtime loss to Michigan State, the Golden Gophers have won three straight, including road games at Purdue and Ohio State. They have a talented backcourt with Nate Mason and Amir Coffey.
2. Oregon: On a 13-game winning streak, the Ducks have opened Pac-12 play with wins against UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State. Three of those victories are by at least 19 points.
3. Nevada: If you missed it, Nevada completed one of the biggest comebacks in college basketball history. The Wolf Pack rallied from a 25-point deficit for a 105-104 overtime win at New Mexico, their first win at the Pit in school history. Nevada trailed by 14 with less than 70 seconds left.
Three teams trending down
1. Georgetown: The Hoyas beat St. John’s on Monday, but they opened Big East play with an 0-4 record, the first time they’ve done that since 1998-99.
2. Michigan State: Facing Penn State in Philadelphia, more than 200 miles from campus, the Spartans didn’t play well in a 9-point loss at the Palestra on Saturday with 17 turnovers. Tom Izzo called it an “effortless approach.”
3. Virginia Tech: After demolishing Duke on New Year’s Eve, the Hokies couldn’t take advantage of any of that momentum with blowout road losses to North Carolina State and Florida State.
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.
There were plenty of great games last weekend, including a pair of thrillers that included Kentucky. But nearing Christmas break for a lot of teams, the top headline across the sport is Duke guard Grayson Allen.
For the third time in less than a calendar year, Allen was caught intentionally tripping an opponent during a game. He was suspended indefinitely on Thursday morning after picking up a technical foul for the move in Wednesday’s game against Elon.
Allen had a tearful apology in the locker room afterward, but he’s too good of a player to continually make dirty plays. There’s plenty of columns and stories about how Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski should reprimand Allen and KUsports.com’s Matt Tait offered his thoughts in his latest Gameday Chat.
But instead of focusing just on Allen and one headline, here’s a look at all of the top-10 teams in the country:
It’s a great time to be a Villanova fan. Of course, there was the NCAA title last season. The Wildcats have swept through non-conference play and have continued an 18-game winning streak. But one of their most prideful moments was their 21-point win against Temple, which made Villanova’s senior class a perfect 16-0 against Philadelphia area schools — the first class to own a perfect record in the City Series.
The Wildcats continued their winning streak with a 42-point win over American, setting up the start of Big East play next week. The New York Times had a nice feature on Kris Jenkins, who wants to be remembered for more than the guy who hit the game-winning shot in the national title game.
Record: 12-0. Next: Wednesday vs. DePaul.
If UCLA proved how well it can play at its best in a road win against Kentucky, the Bruins showed they are still pretty tough when they aren’t playing their best basketball. The Bruins earned a 13-point, neutral-site win over Ohio State on Saturday, with a big game from backup point guard Aaron Holiday (20 points, five steals). They didn’t shoot particularly well and were sloppy in the first half with turnovers, but none of it mattered in crunch time when the Bruins found a way to pull away.
If the Bruins didn’t look good enough at the end of the non-conference season, starting center Thomas Welch (11.6 points, 9.6 rebounds per game) is expected to return for the Pac-12 opener against Oregon next week. Welch missed four games with bruised right knee.
Record: 13-0. Next: Wednesday at Oregon.
The outlook for Big 12 play and the rest of the season shifted a little bit with the news Wednesday night that freshman center Udoka Azubuike will miss the remainder of the season with torn ligaments in his wrist.
That’s not an easy player to replace because of his size and his ability to protect the rim on defense. He led the team with 18 blocks. Of course, there’s still Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg, Mitch Lightfoot and Dwight Coleby, but as Tom Keegan explained in his Lunch Break blog earlier today, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk are really the keys for the rest of the year.
Record: 10-1. Next: Thursday at UNLV.
Following a long break for finals, the Bears returned to the court to play four games within a week. There was no rust or problems against inferior competition. Baylor beat Southern, Jackson State, John Brown and Texas Southern all by at least 25 points.
Heading into conference action, the Bears feature the eighth-highest scoring offense in the Big 12 (79.6 points per game) and the third-stingiest defense (58.7). Even if they don’t score a ton of points, they are efficient (.506 field goal percentage), (.740 free-throw percentage) and they hold a strong rebounding advantage on the glass (plus-7.7).
Record: 12-0. Next: Dec. 30 at Oklahoma.
As mentioned above, Grayson Allen is the news of the week after his latest tripping incident. But that’s not the only news surrounding the program. The Blue Devils have played back-to-back lackluster games, winning by 10 against Tennessee State and nine over Elon. Duke will open ACC play (likely without Allen) on the road against a 10-1 Virginia Tech team.
The final freshman, Harry Giles, returned against Tennessee State and he looks like a guy who hasn’t played in more than a calendar year following knee surgeries. He’s only scored one point in 10 minutes. And if it wasn’t for the Allen headlines, the biggest story would be sophomore guard Luke Kennard’s comments about his team: “I’m just saying that we have to just buy in. Every guy on our team, inside, they have individual goals, and that’s a great thing to have, but sometimes those individual goals may tend to sneak up and kind of take over what it’s really all about, and that’s about winning as a group.”
Record: 12-1. Next: Dec. 31 at Virginia Tech.
No team in the country had a tougher schedule last week than the Wildcats and they responded with two of the best games of the young season. Kentucky beat North Carolina in a 103-100 thriller, highlighted by 47 points from freshman Malik Monk on 28 shots and only five free-throw attempts. Then a few days later, the Wildcats lost, 73-70, against Louisville in a game that featured 10 ties and nine lead changes.
Credit the Wildcats for scheduling tough games, especially back to back, and providing some great non-conference highlights. Monk, obviously, has picked up some big attention after his phenomenal game against UNC, but don’t forget about point guard De’Aaron Fox, who averaged 22.5 points and 6.5 assists in those two games.
Record: 10-2. Next: Dec. 29 at Ole Miss.
One of the six undefeated teams in the nation, Gonzaga showed plenty of poise with an 86-76 victory over Tennessee in its first game back on the court following a long break for finals. The ‘Zags have so many players that can hurt opposing defenses with six players scoring at least nine points.
The Bulldogs crushed South Dakota on Wednesday night, giving them their best start in program history. “To get this far along with all the success this program has had, it’s harder than heck to keep having something, to do something nobody else has done before,” coach Mark Few said. “To go 12-0 … especially with the nonleague slate we had, the opponents, and even the timing a little bit, was an impressive job by these guys.”
Record: 12-0. Next: Dec. 29 vs. Pepperdine.
8. North Carolina
Beyond Roy Williams throwing his jacket, the Tar Heels nearly matched the Wildcats and Malik Monk’s explosive offense in a 103-100 loss in Las Vegas. Justin Jackson scored 34 points on 10-of-17 shooting while Joel Berry added 23 points. "Heck of a college basketball game if you don't care who won," Williams said. "But I do care who wins.”
North Carolina responded from the loss with a 43-point victory over Northern Iowa. Kennedy Meeks, the 6-10 senior forward, was dominant in the second half. The Tar Heels know how to play extremely fast and they will find their way to score points. But if Meeks is playing well, look out. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Record: 11-2. Next: Wednesday vs. Monmouth.
Creighton survived a strong test from Oral Roberts on Saturday, failing to score in the final three-plus minutes in a 66-65 home victory. The Blue Jays, one of the best offensive teams in the country, scored on six of their final 29 possessions, but it was their defense that earned them a win.
The Blue Jays bounced back with an 11-point road win over Arizona State and their offense returned, especially from Marcus Foster (29 points). The Kansas State transfer, Foster, is averaging 19.1 points on 51 percent shooting from the floor.
Record: 12-0. Next: Wednesday vs. Seton Hall.
In a rivalry game that lived up to all of the hype, the Cardinals stepped up through their defense in a 73-70 victory over Kentucky. Their zone defense that is exceptional at trapping held Kentucky to just 30 points on 35 second-half possessions. On offense, Louisville was led by Quentin Snider, a cool moment for the hometown kid.
But it doesn’t get any easier. Perhaps, the toughest schedule in the country next week, the Cardinals will play at home vs. #12 Virginia, a neutral site against #16 Indiana and then on the road at #25 Notre Dame. That’s four straight ranked teams, two of them counting in the conference standings.
Record: 11-1. Next: Wednesday vs. Virginia
Three teams trending up
1. Oklahoma State: Somebody forgot to tell the Big 12 that it was supposed to be a down year. The Cowboys throttled Wichita State for a 93-76 road victory.
2. Purdue: On a night of great basketball in Indianapolis for the Crossroads Classic, the Boilermakers fought back from a 14-point first-half deficit in a 86-81 win over Notre Dame.
3. Butler: Beat back-to-back ranked teams in wins over Cincinnati and Indiana.
Three teams trending down
1. Syracuse: Lost by 33 points at home to St. John’s, the worst loss in the history of the Carrier Dome.
2. Oklahoma: Nobody said it was going to be easy replacing Buddy Hield and some of the other top players, but the Sooners have lost four of their last five games.
3. Iowa: The Hawkeyes, on a four-game winning streak, made headlines for the wrong reason last weekend. After an 84-73 win over North Dakota, coach Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes refused to shake hands afterward after physical play in the final minute.
Welcome back (or for the first time) to my college basketball blue bloods update, where I take a quick weekly glance at the top-10 teams in the country (based on the Associated Press poll).
It's a little bit slow this time of the year because teams are off for finals and other schools are preparing for conference play and waiting to schedule some of those marquee games.
But a lot of that ends this weekend where there's a good slate of games, including a Kentucky vs. North Carolina matchup in Vegas. So let's get to it, this week's blue bloods update:
It’s still early in the season, but Villanova senior guard Josh Hart has emerged as one of the top contenders for national player of the year honors. In a neutral site game against Notre Dame last weekend, Hart stepped up with a career-high 37 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a 74-66 win. Just as impressive, he scored those points on 14 shots.
After a strong win over Notre Dame, the defending champion Wildcats earned a 19-point victory over Temple, their 18th straight win in the City Series. Temple owns some wins against quality teams (Florida State and West Virginia), but Villanova’s defense was the difference. Hart scored 26 points in the victory, including 18 in the second half and six in the final minute of the first half.
Record: 11-0. Next: Dec. 21 vs. American.
After a road victory at Kentucky, the Bruins have simply averaged 102 points in wins over Michigan and Santa Barbara. In the win against Michigan, UCLA shot a ridiculous 20-of-27 in the second half. In a nice analysis piece by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, the Bruins are playing like a Roy Williams-coached team with an incredibly efficient offense playing at an extremely fast pace.
Of course, as mentioned above, if Josh Hart is one of the top contenders for national player of the year, freshman Lonzo Ball is right there next to him. In the last two games, he’s combined for 32 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals in 67 minutes.
Record: 11-0. Next: Saturday vs. Ohio State in Las Vegas.
At the beginning of the season, would anyone have guessed that the Jayhawks would become one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation? The four-guard lineup has really stretched the floor and they aren’t missing when they take open shots. Matt Tait broke it down really well in one of his latest stories in his Tale of the Tait blog.
One note to add on Tait’s story: Frank Mason III is shooting 54.8 percent from deep (23 of 42). That would rank eighth in the country if he qualified (players must average 2.5 made threes per game; Mason is only two shy).
Record: 9-1. Next: Saturday vs. Davidson in Kansas City.
Playing for the first time in 11 days, Baylor looked as sharp as ever in a 40-point rout against Southern on Wednesday night. The Bears shot 64 percent from the floor in the first half and it was essentially out of hand by halftime. Johnathan Motley recorded his seventh-career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
And how about Motley this year? He’s averaging 16.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his junior season. He’s so tough around the rim and is shooting 52 percent from the field this year (51 of 98). Terry Maston, Baylor’s sixth man, served a one-game suspension Wednesday for showing up late to the game, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Record: 9-0. Next: Saturday vs. Jackson State in Fort Hood.
If you ask me, Duke is the best team in the country. Sure, there’s the loss to Kansas in New York last month. But the Blue Devils are returning to full strength and look scarier than ever for opposing defenses. After a 10-point win over Florida, Duke earned a 49-point victory against UNLV at T-Mobile Arena, the first-ever game played in Vegas’ newest arena on the Strip. It’ll be home to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights next year.
In the beatdown over UNLV, Grayson Allen proved he was healthier than he’s shown in the past few weeks, breaking out for a career-high 34 points on 12-of-16 shooting in 29 minutes. Amile Jefferson added 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Luke Kennard (16) and Jayson Tatum (13) finished with double-digit point totals. Once this team has more time to play together and gel, I think the Blue Devils will bulldoze some strong teams in ACC play.
Record: 10-1. Next: Monday vs. Tennessee State.
After a home loss against UCLA, the Wildcats have bounced back with 20-plus point wins against Valparaiso and Hofstra. Now it’s a ridiculous stretch against North Carolina (neutral site) and at Louisville in the next week.
Isaiah Briscoe, who returned for his sophomore season, had one of his better games against Hofstra, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting with six assists in 32 minutes. Kyle Tucker of SEC Country broke down the Wildcats individually.
Record: 9-1. Next: Saturday vs. North Carolina in Las Vegas.
7. North Carolina
Roy Williams has made a lot of headlines this month during his postgame press conferences. After telling reporters that “we sucked” in a 9-point win over Davidson, he called his team’s 73-71 win over Tennessee, “the luckiest I’ve ever been in 1,003 games.” UNC trailed by 15 points in the first half, but pulled out a win in a back-and-forth second half. After his press conference, he sent out a press release to compliment the Smith Center crowd, which he criticized earlier in the year.
But it’s not all negative headlines for the former KU coach. One woman named her dog Roy, inspired by the coach, and after the dog recently died, Williams penned a letter to the woman.
Record: 10-1. Next: Saturday vs. Kentucky in Las Vegas.
The ‘Zags are off to their first 10-0 start since becoming a Div. I program in 1958 following an 18-point win over Akron. Just don’t expect them to celebrate much. “I live for the next game,” coach Mark Few said. “I don't spend a lot of time looking back.” This team is so well balanced it has six scorers averaging between nine and 14 points.
“I love their team,’’ said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who lost 69-48 to Gonzaga in November. “I was immensely impressed.”
Record: 10-0. Next: Sunday at Tennessee.
With a strong offense, Indiana rolled past Houston Baptist, 103-61, last week. It’s all a prequel to one of the top match-ups this weekend: Indiana vs. Butler in the Crossroads Classic.
OG Anunoby, an extremely athletic wing, is expected to return from injury. Indiana coach Tom Crean said he was cleared and Anunoby did go through warmups against Houston Baptist. That would only be a boost for the Hoosiers on the glass where they are outrebounding opponents, 45-31.
Record: 8-1. Next: Saturday vs. Butler in Indianapolis.
The Blue Jays scored a ridiculous 62 points in the first half during their 113-58 rout against Longwood last week, shooting 68.8 percent during those first 20 minutes.
Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster was featured in a video from the NCAA after leading Creighton to a strong start.
Record: 10-0. Next: Saturday vs. Oral Roberts.
Three teams trending up
1. Florida State: Picked up a five-point home win over rival Florida, improving to 10-1. Plus standout freshman Jonathan Isaac returned from a hip injury.
2. USC: Off to their best start since 1971, the Trojans are 9-0.
3. Wichita State: After back-to-back losses to Louisville and Michigan State at the end of the November, the Shockers have won four straight games, including a three-point win over Oklahoma. Conner Frankamp is averaging 5.9 points and 2.6 assists.
Three teams trending down
1. South Carolina: Suffered first loss of the season Monday against Seton Hall. That was a week after leading scorer and rebounder Sindarius Thornwell was indefinitely suspended. The Post and Courier reported he was arrested in May on charges of possession of marijuana and driving under a suspended license.
2. Iowa State: Lost three of its last four games, including a 14-point road loss against rival Iowa. The Cyclones aren’t shooting well and only scored four fast-break points against the Hawkeyes.
3. Princeton: Out to a 4-5 start after losing two starters to injury. Both Henry Caruso (toe) and Hans Brase (knee) are expected to miss the rest of the season.
Welcome to the first edition of the college basketball blue bloods update, where I’ll take a quick weekly glance at the top-10 teams in the country.
Some of the top teams are battling injuries (Duke, North Carolina) and others are rising high after big wins (UCLA, Gonzaga).
Without further ado, we’ll take a look at this week's top teams (based on the Associated Press poll):
The defending national champions made a statement at the beginning of the season with a road victory against then-No. 15 Purdue. It’s not easy to win on the road and most of the top teams don’t schedule games like that. But the Wildcats have, more or less, picked up where they ended last year. They’ve won their last six games by 10 points or more.
Plus some of their top talent is playing better than ever. Josh Hart recorded the team’s first triple-double in more than 30 years against St. Joseph’s with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the last six games.
Record: 9-0. Next: Saturday vs. Notre Dame in New Jersey.
The Bruins made a big jump in the polls with a big road win over Kentucky, 97-92. It was the most points allowed by Kentucky in the John Calipari era. UCLA is a young team, but freshman point guard Lonzo Ball (14.6 points, 9.3 assists per game) leads the way in the run-and-gun attack. The Ringer had a nice feature on Ball’s impact on UCLA.
The main beneficiaries of UCLA’s run-and-gun offense are TJ Leaf (17.2 points, 9.4 rebounds per game), Isaac Hamilton (18.1 points), Bryce Alford (15.3 points) and Aaron Holiday (12.9 points). The Bruins have scored at least 88 points in all but two games this year.
Record: 9-0. Next: Saturday vs. Michigan.
The Jayhawks have made 54-of-96 three-pointers in the past four games, and are ranked ninth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage. Hard to compete against the Jayhawks when they are shooting that well.
Record: 8-1. Next: Saturday vs. Nebraska.
Not the result of a cupcake schedule, the Bears own some big time wins, including a 76-61 victory over Xavier. Matt Tait wrote more about them in his weekly Big 12 roundup.
Record: 8-0. Next: Wednesday vs. Southern.
At long last, two of Duke’s three injured freshmen made their collegiate debut in the past week. Jayson Tatum has played well in two games, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds. With a smooth jump shot, he’s shooting 9-of-20 from the floor. Marques Bolden is only playing limited minutes, averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.0 minutes per game. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s hopeful that the final freshman, Harry Giles, will return before Christmas.
The addition of the freshman only makes an elite Duke squad even better. The Blue Devils beat No. 21-ranked Florida in New York, 84-74. But it never felt like Duke wasn’t in control throughout the contest. Left-handed sharpshooter Luke Kennard is absolutely on fire, combining for 64 points on 22-of-32 shooting in the past two games. On the flip side, Grayson Allen is still recovering from a toe injury. He sat out against Maine and only scored six points against Florida in 35 minutes.
Record: 9-1. Next: Saturday at UNLV.
Despite a loss against UCLA, which ended a 42-game winning streak inside of Rupp Arena, the Wildcats won’t have much of a chance to hang their heads with road games against North Carolina and Louisville looming later this month.
Among their top freshman De’Aaron Fox has made the biggest impact through the first nine games. Fox is averaging 15.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists a night. He had a triple-double — 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — against Arizona State last week, which was only the second triple-double in program history. Along with Fox, freshman Edrice Adebayo is averaging 12.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, while Malik Monk has added 19.3 points on 48 percent shooting.
Record: 8-1. Next: Sunday vs. Hofstra.
7. North Carolina
The Tar Heels ripped out an 83-74 victory over future KU opponent Davidson on Wednesday, but coach Roy Williams was not happy. “We sucked,” he said afterward. They haven’t been playing their most crisp basketball, suffering a 10-point road loss at Indiana last week.
But a bad game for North Carolina is a lot different than a bad game for most schools. Following a trip to the NCAA title game, Justin Jackson leads the Tar Heels with 16.4 points per game. Second-leading scorer Joel Berry (14.8 points) missed the Davidson game with a sprained left ankle.
Record: 9-1. Next: Sunday vs. Tennessee.
Every year it seems like Gonzaga gets a little bit better. This season is no different. The ‘Zags just demolished Washington (with stud freshman Markelle Fultz) at home by 27 points Wednesday. It was the first time that Washington traveled to Gonzaga’s home floor in 10 years.
Nigel Williams-Goss, a Washington transfer, is the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 points per game, adding a team-best 4.7 assists. Otherwise it’s pretty balanced with seven players averaging between 7.9 points and 13.7 points a night. The Bulldogs also own wins against Florida, Iowa State and Arizona.
Record: 9-0. Next: Saturday vs. Akron.
After a season-opening victory over the Jayhawks, the Hoosiers have lived up to their ranking outside of a road loss against IPFW. That includes a home win against North Carolina and taking care of business against everybody else.
James Blackmon Jr. is leading the way with 16.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Robert Johnson, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant are all averaging double-figure point totals, though Anunoby has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle.
Record: 7-1. Next: Saturday vs. Houston Baptist.
The Blue Jays picked up a strong 15-point road win over rival Nebraska on Wednesday (KU’s next opponent). On one hand, their 77-62 victory was their lowest point total of the season, which speaks volumes to how good this offense is playing. Creighton beat North Carolina State and Wisconsin earlier in the year.
The top players in Creighton’s potent offense are Marcus Foster (Kansas State transfer), who is averaging 18 points per game and Maurice Watson Jr., who is averaging 13.4 points and 8.9 assists. ESPN’s Dana O’Neil wrote a nice feature on Foster, who admitted, “I got cocky. I thought I had it,” after a strong freshman season that ultimately led to his dismissal.
Record: 9-0. Next: Friday vs. Longwood.
Three teams trending up
1. Louisville: Following three-point loss to Baylor a few weeks ago, beat Purdue at home.
2. Wisconsin: On a four-game winning streak, which includes victories over Syracuse and Oklahoma.
3. Cincinnati: Earned an overtime road win at Iowa State last week. Travels to Butler on Saturday.
Three teams trending down
1. Virginia: Lost by nine points at home against West Virginia last week.
2. Arizona: Dropped two of past four games (Butler and Gonzaga), both of which were at neutral sites. Little depth with injuries and Allonzo Trier is still ineligible to play.
3. Xavier: First two road games of the season ended in losses to Baylor and Colorado.
Heading into Tuesday’s game against Duke, one of the biggest questions for the Kansas Jayhawks was figuring out how they would slow down junior guard Grayson Allen.
One of the most prolific scorers in the nation, Allen was held in check — 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting in 38 minutes.
It was only the fourth time in Allen’s last 39 games that he was held below 15 points. He shot 26.7 percent from the field (1-of-7 from deep), which was his lowest field goal percentage since a Dec. 19, 2015 loss to Utah in overtime (3-of-18, 16.7 percent).
The Jayhawks, of course, threw a number of defenders at Allen. They started with Frank Mason III, who gave up a few inches but knows how to hound ballhandlers. But when Mason picked up his second foul within the first four minutes, it was a credit to all of the other guards for not allowing Allen to ever find his rhythm.
A look at KU’s defense while guarding Allen:
Frank Mason - 11 minutes, 0-5 shooting.
Mason picked up two fouls in the first four minutes, including a dead-ball foul on a baseline out of bounds play where he tried to go around a screen from Chase Jeter.
Allen missed two shots in the first half, including a drive to his right where Carlton Bragg challenged him at the rim on a wild layup shot. Bragg also helped in transition, forcing Allen to pass to a three-point shooter. Allen also tried a catch-and-shoot three that hit the front of the rim.
In the second half, Bragg and Lucas helped out well on a couple of pick-and-rolls, plus Mason did well denying passes to Allen. He missed three shots, including one open look where he lost Mason and ran to the corner for an open three-point attempt.
Lagerald Vick - 16 minutes, 3-4 shooting
Vick ran through screens and did a fantastic job of staying in front of Allen in the first half. He made Allen work for his opportunities, getting only one open look after running through a screen and then juking Vick on a pump fake.
On pick-and-rolls, Lucas helped Vick by forcing passes with strong rim protection. Allen’s only points were on a drive to his right, going with a reverse layup after he got a step on Lucas by not using his screen from Amile Jefferson.
Vick guarded Allen for the final six minutes — except for the final possession — and gave up five points after getting caught on a back screen, then Allen drove past him for a layup with a minute left.
Devonte' Graham - 6.5 minutes, 1-4 shooting
Graham allowed one drive following a shot fake that forced Landen Lucas to come out and help, giving Chase Jeter an easy dunk. Then he slipped while closing out on another play, giving Allen an open layup.
Allen didn’t challenge Graham much. There was one baseline out of bounds play where he drove left but was met by Bragg in the middle of the lane and missed on a layup. At the end of the first half, Allen lost Graham on a handoff at the top of the arc, drove to his left but was challenged and blocked at the rim by Mitch Lightfoot, suffering an apparent calf injury on the play.
Svi Mykhailiuk - 2.5 minutes, 0-1 shooting.
It was kind of lost because Frank Jackson hit a game-tying three with 15 seconds left, but Mykhailiuk covered Allen on Duke’s final possession after players had to matchup with whoever was next to them. Allen tried to drive on Mykhailiuk with a crossover, but lost the ball on the drive and was forced to pass back out to the perimeter.
Josh Jackson - 1.5 minutes, 0-0 shooting
When Jackson was at his best offensively in the second half, he guarded Allen and did a nice job staying in front of the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
*Note: There was one possession in the second half where nobody picked up Allen in transition. Allen had an open look but missed an open three from the wing.
The Kansas Jayhawks certainly did themselves no favors with their schedule, traveling several time zones to play two top-10 teams in the nation within a span of five days.
The good news: There might not be a better time to play top-ranked Duke this season. The No. 7 Jayhawks will face a team that's at much less than full strength during the Champions Classic around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
The Blue Devils are without three freshmen in their highly-regarded recruiting class because of injuries.
Of course, even with some injuries, Duke is still Duke. There’s a high-scoring backcourt led by All-American junior Grayson Allen, who is averaging more than 20 points per game. Along with Allen is emerging sophomore Luke Kennard, senior Matt Jones and freshman point guard Frank Jackson.
And then there's a guy in charge named Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in NCAA history.
But if there's a good sign for the Jayhawks, Duke misses its three star freshmen in the frontcourt. The Blue Devils returned fifth-year senior Amile Jefferson, who missed 27 games last year with a broken foot and received a medical redshirt. After that, it’s a bunch of question marks. In the first two games, Duke leaned on sophomore Chase Jeter, who wasn’t strong enough to hold a steady spot in the rotation last year.
Plus, there's not many regular season events that can produce great matchups like the Champions Classic each year.
Interesting note: Duke has won 45 of its past 68 games (66 percent) when both teams have been ranked in the top 10.
Series history: Duke leads, 7-3. The last time these two schools met was in the Champions Classic in Chicago in 2013, which the Jayhawks won, 94-83. It was KU’s lone win in the history of the Champions Classic.
No. 5 — G Luke Kennard | 6-6, 202, soph.
One of the most improved players for the Blue Devils, Kennard is averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists through two games. He’s shooting 57 percent from the floor (12-of-21) and is 4-of-8 from deep.
The left-handed sharpshooter connected on 52.8 percent of his shots from inside the three-point line last year (86 of 163). Plus he’s a phenomenal free-throw shooter, making 88.9 percent last year.
The Franklin, Ohio native had some shooting slumps during his freshman season, but averaged a strong 1.03 points per possessions, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He makes smart decisions with the ball and is equally strong with jump shots and driving to the rim.
Kennard ended his prep career as the second highest scorer in Ohio state history with 2,997 points, only trailing former Ohio State guard Jon Diebler.
QUOTE: “He doesn’t have to force me to play him,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the team’s first exhibition game. “He’s played great. I think, to be quite frank with it, he’s played the best overall since we started practice.”
No. 3 — G Grayson Allen | 6-5, 202, jr.
Beloved by Duke fans and despised by opposing fan bases, Allen is one of the most prolific scorers in the country. He’s a preseason All-American and the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
Through two games, Allen has picked up where left off last season. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
A skilled driver, especially with his right hand, Allen took 32.6 percent of his shots at the rim last season, according to hoop-math.com. He’s only taken 14.3 percent of his shots at the rim in Duke’s two games.
He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, 11 of 28 (39.3 percent), but knows how to earn trips to the free throw line, where he’s shooting 81.3 percent (13 of 16).
Highlighted Duke’s 2015 national championship with 16 points in 21 minutes.
QUOTE: “I feel quicker,” Allen told Sports Illustrated, noting he dropped 10 pounds in the offseason. “I’m not walking into the gym feeling sluggish. That’s going to be big — if I’m able to stay fresh game to game.”
No. 13 — G Matt Jones | 6-5, 204, sr.
His hamstring tightened up in Duke’s first exhibition game, but there hasn’t been any lingering effects. In two games, he’s averaged 11 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Jones, who has a slower release compared to most shooters, shot 41.5 percent from behind the three-point line last year (76-of-183). He’s started slow this season at 28.6 percent (4-of-14).
Duke’s best on-ball defender, Jones usually draws the assignment of the opposing team’s top guard. He’s a big reason the Blue Devils held their first two opponents to an average of 55 points on 16.2 percent shooting from deep.
Jones only played four minutes when the Blue Devils played Kansas in the 2013 Champions Classic. He was scoreless, missing a three-pointer and two free throws.
QUOTE: I’m really excited about my growth,” Jones said. “I feel like I’ve became a man just through all the ups and downs that I’ve been through. As far as my game goes, I’m more confident than ever but mentally I feel like that’s where I’ve had my biggest growth spurt and that’s what I hang my hat on.”
No. 2 — F Chase Jeter | 6-10, 230, soph.
Jeter earned his first two career starts this season, averaging seven points, five rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. He set career highs with 11 points and eight rebounds in the season opener against Marist.
He was at the bottom of Duke’s rotation last season. He didn’t have enough strength necessary to battle inside for layups or play strong post defense without fouling.
The Las Vegas native took 73.7 percent of his shots at the rim last year, but only had a 60.7 field goal percentage on those shots, per hoop-math.com. This season, he’s improved those numbers to 83.3 percent shots at the rim and he’s made 80 percent.
His father, Chris, played basketball at UNLV and was a reserve big man on the 1989-90 national championship team.
QUOTE: “I’m finally coming into my own here at Duke,” Jeter said. “I always knew I could do this and it’s just finally happening for me now. It’s much different than last year for me, being able to get in and be composed and have that type of mindset to be relaxed out there on the court.”
No. 21 — F Amile Jefferson | 6-9, 224, r-sr.
Jefferson is Duke’s glue guy that does the dirty work, is an extra coach’s voice on the court and helps all of his teammates play better. He missed the final 27 games last year with a right foot fracture and the Blue Devils certainly missed his presence.
Back on the court following a medical redshirt season, Jefferson is averaging 10 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks per game. He’s shot 7-for-11 from the floor.
One of the best offensive rebounders in school history, Jefferson entered this season ranked sixth on Duke’s all-time career list with 277 offensive boards.
An efficient scorer in the post with a steady dose of dunks and layups, he ranks second in Duke history in field goal percentage (.624). He only trails Carlos Boozer, who shot .631 from the floor.
When Duke played Kansas in the Champions Classic in 2013, Jefferson scored 17 points in 26 minutes, making 7 of his 9 shots. He added two rebounds, one assist and one turnover.
QUOTE: “He’s just evolving. He’s a really good basketball player, and he doesn’t have a position,” Krzyzewski said at the team’s media day. “If he gets a rebound, he can bring it up the court and he’d be our so-called point guard. He can make really good decisions and he can defend multiple positions, and he’s a great guy to lead our full-court pressure.”
No. 15 — G Frank Jackson | 6-3, 205, fr.
After Derryck Thornton transferred at the end of last season, Jackson became the de facto point guard — though he’s played off of the bench in the first two games and he’s more of a scoring guard.
In his first two collegiate games, Jackson has shown the same level of scoring that made him so successful in high school. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in 25 minutes, adding a total of five rebounds, six assists, four steals and five turnovers. He was named the ACC Freshman of the Week.
Jackson is shooting 50 percent from deep, making 5 of his first 10 attempts this year.
His father, Al, was appointed to state senator in Utah. He resigned in July to move to Virginia for a new job.
QUOTE: “Frank did a great job of that tonight coming off the bench and playing with a verve, lifting our team up,” Jefferson said after Saturday’s game. “He’s crafty, he’s quick and he understands the spacing of the floor for where he needs to be to be most advantageous.”
No. 12 — F Javin DeLaurier | 6-10, 220, fr.
Quietly hiding in Duke’s star-studded freshmen recruiting class, DeLaurier impresses with his athleticism.
In Duke’s first two games, he was the second player off of the bench. But he only played a few seconds in the first half against Grand Canyon, so it’s really a six-man rotation.
The Shipman, Va., native has scored eight points in 23 minutes, shooting 4-of-4 from the floor. He’s added nine rebounds and six fouls.
His mother, C’ta, earned Atlantic 10 Tournament MVP honors in 1993 while playing for Rutgers.
No. 30 — C Antonio Vrankovic | 7-0, 261, soph.
He appeared in five games last year, only in blowouts. But injuries have forced him into the front-court rotation. He doesn’t have a polished offensive game, but can use his height to grab rebounds.
A Delray Beach, Fla., native, Vrankovic has scored seven points in 24 minutes during Duke’s first two games, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing two assists. He’s only made 40 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com.
His father, Stojiko, played five seasons in the NBA and won Olympic silver medals in 1988 and 1992 with Yugoslavia.
No. 41 — F Jack White | 6-7, 215, fr.
From Australia, White made a name for himself during international play. He averaged 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 11 games at the FIBA U-19 World Championships.
During the first two games of the season, White has played sparingly. He’s scored eight points in 16 minutes, make six of his eight free throws.
No. 0 — F Jayson Tatum | 6-8, 205, fr.
Out with a sprained foot that he suffered in a preseason practice/showcase for NBA scouts.
"We've got to be careful not to get these guys coming back too soon," Krzyzewski said. "Jayson was doing great. I think we put him in practice a little too soon, and I think that hurt him. We're just going to shut those guys down for a while."
No. 20 — C Marques Bolden | 6-11, 245, fr.
- Out with a lower-leg injury that Krzyzewski said was “too difficult to explain. … There wasn’t an event (that caused it). Sometimes you wake up, and it's something you didn't notice."
No. 1 — F Harry Giles | 6-10, 240, fr.
After suffering two major knee injuries during high school, Giles underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October. It’s expected he will take the longest to return to the court among the three injured freshmen.
In a nice story by ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, Giles is hoping to play in his friend’s memory.