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.
At long last, the college basketball season has finally arrived.
And for No. 3-ranked Kansas, there’s no easing into the season. As everybody (who hasn’t been hiding out in an election day bunker) knows, the Jayhawks open against No. 11 Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday in Honolulu (8 p.m. CT, ESPN).
The Hoosiers are fresh off a run to the Sweet 16 and bring back a strong core of returners. It starts with 6-foot-10 sophomore Thomas Bryant, who would’ve likely been a first-round pick in the NBA draft if he declared last spring. He averaged 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Then there’s James Blackmon Jr., one of the top scorers in the Big 10, returning from injury and OG Anunoby, who probably enters the season with as much hype as any up-and-comer in the country.
The biggest question for the Hoosiers is how they will replace their superstar point guard Yogi Ferrell. They don’t have a natural point guard that can take over games like he did, so they will be relying on several players to bring up the ball and avoid turnovers.
Interesting note: This is the first time the Jayhawks are starting a season away from Allen Fieldhouse in the Bill Self era.
Series history: Indiana leads, 7-6. The two schools last played in 1995 in Kansas City when the Jayhawks won 91-83.
If you’ve missed it, KUSports.com’s Matt Tait and Nick Krug are out in Hawaii providing great coverage of the Jayhawks ahead of their game against Indiana.
No. 2 — G Josh Newkirk | 6-1, 195, r-jr.
A transfer from Pittsburgh, Newkirk will play in his first game after sitting out for all of last season. As a sophomore, he averaged 5.9 points and 2.7 assists.
In two exhibition games, Newkirk scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 51 minutes with one turnover. He added 11 assists, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.
At Pitt, Newkirk’s stats took a dip in his sophomore season. The Raleigh, N.C., native dropped his three-point field goal percentage from 43.4 percent as a freshman to 30.1 percent. He also increased his turnover rate from 19.6 percent to 21.7.
The Raleigh, N.C., native underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee on May, 6, 2015.
QUOTE: "You can see his athleticism has improved tremendously," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "He's got a friend here that coaches high school in Pittsburgh, known him for 25-plus years, and he said, I don't even recognize this Josh Newkirk, which that's a great compliment. And he goes up and dunks. He wasn't doing that.”
No. 4 — G Robert Johnson | 6-3, 195, jr.
In two exhibition games, Johnson has recorded 20 points (8 of 17 shooting, 3 of 11 from deep), eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and five turnovers.
He underwent ankle surgery in the offseason after the injury forced him to miss five of the team’s final seven games, including the Hoosiers’ Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina.
Starting in 22 games last year, Johnson improved in several categories, especially three-point percentage (39 percent to 45 percent), rebounds (2.9 per game to 3.3), assists (79 to 94) and turnover rate (24.2 percent to 22.9 percent).
Johnson is the most experienced player on the team with 55 career starts.
QUOTE: “It was a tough process,” he said on recovering from his ankle injury. “But I’m glad I had the support system around me to be able to do the best that I could.”
No. 1 — G James Blackmon Jr. | 6-4, 200, jr.
One of the top scorers in the Big 10, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points per game last year before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in late December. He tested the NBA draft waters, but announced his decision to return in May.
Cleared for practice in September, Blackmon scored 25 points in 49 minutes on 8 of 18 shooting (2 of 10 from deep) with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two turnovers in Indiana’s two preseason games.
Blackmon made 77 three-pointers as a freshman (38.7 percent), which set a freshman record at Indiana. He improved his percentage to 46.3 percent last year before his knee injury ended his year.
The junior was named to the preseason All-Big 10 team, voted by media members. In 46 career games, he’s scored in double figures 37 times.
The Marion, Ind. native was the eighth leading scorer all-time in Indiana high school history. His father, James Sr., played at Kentucky.
QUOTE: Blackmon has received plenty of criticism for his defense, or lack thereof, and he’s made it a focus throughout the offseason. About the criticism, Blackmon said, “When you hear stuff like that, you want to show your best and I feel like I will do that this season.”
No. 3 — F OG Anunoby | 6-8, 235, soph.
After averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds last year, Anunoby is predicted to be one of the next breakout stars in college basketball as a dominant two-way player. He was named to the preseason All-American list by the Sporting News.
Anunoby has led the Hoosiers in their two exhibition games, scoring a team-best 41 points on 16 of 21 shooting (7 of 11 from behind the arc) in 53 minutes. He added 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks and six turnovers.
In the NCAA Tournament last year, Anounoby averaged 7.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. He drew plenty of praise for his defense against Kentucky guard and eventual lottery pick Jamal Murray, blocking two shots on the perimeter. Along with his 6-8 height, the Ringer says he has a 7-6 wingspan and compares his versatility to Kawhi Leonard.
Anunoby is 16th in Draft Express’s latest NBA mock draft. The biggest reason is his advanced statistics and the potential for this season. He ended last year with last season with an effective field goal percentage of .625 and his turnover rate dipped to 13 percent in Big 10 play.
QUOTE: “He can guard multiple positions,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “You can put him on a point guard, you can put him on a four-man. With his ability to cover ground and take away a shot and take away a drive, that’s all great and stuff you talk about with young players in close out drills, but there aren’t many guys who can do that. He can do that.”
No. 31 — F Thomas Bryant | 6-10, 255, soph.
A third-team All-Big Ten selection last year, Bryant is a preseason All-American with plenty of extra accolades.
During Indiana’s two preseason games, Bryant totaled 26 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, one block and six turnovers in 52 minutes.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore from Rochester, N.Y., made a Big 10-leading 68 percent of his shots last year and 71 percent of his free throws, adding 5.7 rebounds per game. He scored 17 points in the second half against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Throughout the offseason, Bryant worked on his footwork to defend on the perimeter and work on his face-up shooting, including some shots from the three-point line.
QUOTE: “I just felt like I needed to stay another year to develop more,” Bryant said of his decision to return to Indiana for his sophomore season. “I didn’t want to go (to the NBA combine) and give a bad impression. I thought it would be good for me just to stay here, just continue to get back into work and get better.”
No. 13 — F Juwan Morgan | 6-8, 230, soph.
Morgan underwent offseason shoulder surgery after playing through a separated shoulder since high school.
He averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game as a freshman. In the first preseason game against Hope College, he posted seven points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Similar to Anunoby, Morgan is capable of guarding several positions on the court. He can also play point guard on offense, playing the position as a freshman in high school until he had a seven-inch growth spurt.
QUOTE: “People don’t understand how good Juwan is,” Bryant said. “He works so hard in practice. He’s one of the reasons why I’ve been getting better. When the season comes, people will be surprised at what Juwan can do.”
No. 11 — G Devonte Green | 6-3, 186, fr.
Scored 17 points in 13 minutes in the first preseason game. Was scoreless in 11 minutes in the second game.
He played AAU basketball alongside Thomas Bryant with the PSA Cardinals.
Green averaged 20.3 points per game in high school, shooting 42 percent from deep.
His older brother, Danny, played at North Carolina and is a starter for the San Antonio Spurs.
No. 20 — F De’Ron Davis | 6-10, 240, fr.
Led the Hoosiers with eight offensive rebounds in two preseason games.
He received a scholarship offer from Indiana in the eighth grade. He missed summer workouts because of academic issues, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Davis was the all-time leader in blocked shots in Colorado high school history.
No. 0 — G Curtis Jones | 6-4, 175, fr.
Ranked No. 69 in the nation by Rivals, Jones played at Huntington Prep and was a teammate of Thomas Bryant. He averaged 20 points per game.
In two exhibition games, Jones has scored eight points in 30 minutes on 2 of 6 shooting.
No. 21 — F Freddie McSwain Jr. | 6-6, 215, jr.
McSwain is a JUCO transfer from Neosho County Community College, where he earned first-team All-Jayhawk Conference honors while averaging 14 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Had eight rebounds in eight minutes in the second preseason game against Bellarmine.
McSwain was limited throughout fall practices with a knee injury.
No. 15 — G Zach McRoberts | 6-6, 200, r-soph.
McRoberts sat out all of last season, leaving Vermont to go to school at Indiana. He joined the basketball team as a walk-on.
His older brother, Josh, played at Duke and plays in the NBA for the Miami Heat.
Two years ago, McRoberts averaged 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds at Vermont. He shot 49 percent from the floor.