At the beginning of every college basketball season, Kentucky reloads with a talented crop of star freshmen. Check. Then there’s usually at least a couple of holdovers from the previous season, hoping to improve their NBA draft stock. Not this year.
Calling this team young would be an understatement. Eight freshmen. Three sophomores. Zero seniors. Of course there’s plenty of talent, but they’ve shown their youth in narrow wins over Utah Valley and Vermont heading into Tuesday’s Champions Classic matchup against Kansas (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in Chicago.
The Wildcats (2-0) are ranked seventh in the nation, so it’s expected they will figure out their early-season woes in a hurry. Wenyen Gabriel returns with the most experience and he only played 26 minutes in four NCAA Tournament games last spring.
“They want to be coached,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in the preseason. “They want to listen. They just are young; and it's hard to be patient. I told them, look, guys. If I've got to start getting meaner, I will. But we've got to start making this gradual climb.”
The Wildcats have a 4-2 record in the Champions Classic, suffering their lone loss in 2013. But Calipari expects his team to learn plenty about themselves against the Jayhawks, just like they did in their first two games.
“We’ve got to stay together,” freshman point guard Quade Green said. “That’s what young teams do; they stay together. Once we stay together, I don’t think nobody can beat us.”
Fun fact: Under John Calipari, Kentucky has a 50-22 record against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. When both teams are ranked in the Top 10, Calipari has coached the Wildcats to a 13-7 mark.
Series history: Kentucky leads 22-8. The Jayhawks won in Lexington last year, 79-73, during the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Frank Mason and Josh Jackson combined for 41 points.
BREAKING DOWN KENTUCKY
No. 5 — F Kevin Knox | 6-9, 215, fr.
Highlighting Kentucky’s latest star-studded freshman class, Knox has the height and measurable of a forward but the skills of a shooting guard. He’s more likely to shoot threes and slash to the rim than do many post-up moves with his back to the basket. Through two games, Knox hasn’t been at his best. He’s averaging 11.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 26 percent shooting from the floor. He’s only made 2 of 8 3-pointers. But coach John Calipari was encouraged that Knox made a late 3-pointer in the team’s win over Vermont because he’s still looking for a player who will take over in crunch time.
Knox’s dad, Kevin Knox Sr., was a receiver at Florida State, winning a national title in 1993. Knox Sr. was a sixth-round NFL draft pick in 1994 and played one season with the Arizona Cardinals.
- “I’m not a big talker or yeller or anything like that,” Knox said. “I talk on defense a little bit, but I’m not the type that’s gonna yell every time I score or nothing like that. I’m really quiet on the court.”
No. 3 — G Hamidou Diallo | 6-5, 198, r-fr.
Diallo joined the Wildcats in January last season, but didn’t participate in any games. He went through the NBA draft process before opting to return to school. He impressed scouts with his 6-foot-10 wingspan and 44.5-inch vertical leap.
An improving shooter, Diallo leads Kentucky with 17 points per game while making 48.3 percent of his attempts. According to hoop-math.com, nearly two-thirds of his shots are jumpers inside of the 3-point arc.
No. 25 — F PJ Washington | 6-7, 236, fr.
Fresh off Kentucky’s first double-double performance of the season — 17 points and 10 boards vs. Vermont — Washington is averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds in the first two games. He’s struggled at the free-throw line, making only six of his 13 freebies.
Calipari challenged Washington to play with more motor throughout the preseason. After his double-double Sunday, which included stretches where the offense ran through him, Calipari said, “PJ was a beast, finally.”
No. 0 — G Quade Green | 6-0, 180, fr.
A point guard from Philadelphia, Green will likely have the ball in his hands to start the offense in the final minutes of close games. In two games, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 2.5 assists while shooting 40 percent from the field.
- "It's hard to fill everybody's shoes that have come through here, but I've got my own shoes to fill," Green said.
ONE THING KENTUCKY DOES WELL
Protect the rim. The Wildcats haven’t played good man-to-man defense in their first two games, struggling to stop penetration with freshmen defenders. “If our guards can’t stay in front of people, we’ll get beat by 30,” Calipari said.
Fortunately for Kentucky, there are some shot blockers behind its guards. Wenyen Gabriel has four blocks in two games, while Nick Richards has three.
ONE AREA KENTUCKY STRUGGLES
The Wildcats are one of the tallest teams in the country, but they haven’t shot the ball well. As a team, they are making just 42.6 percent of their shots with one out of every five shots coming from behind the 3-point line.
With a lack of ball handling (1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio), they haven’t been able to set up their wings and forwards for easy baskets.
MEET THE COACH
John Calipari is in his ninth season at Kentucky. He was an assistant KU from 1982-85, leaving one season before Bill Self became a grad assistant under Larry Brown.
Once Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009, he’s coached the Wildcats to a 3-2 record vs. KU. In the Champions Classic, Calipari is 5-1.
Kansas by 4.5. Obviously, the Wildcats have been underwhelming in their start to the season, dropping a few slots in the polls despite winning both games. One of the keys for the Jayhawks will be their defense from Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk, and perhaps Marcus Garrett, against Kentucky’s oversized freshmen wings.
My prediction: Kansas 79, Kentucky 67. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 1-0.
Before Kansas announced the suspension of forward Carlton Bragg on Thursday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted to make it an emphasis for his guards to throw the ball into the low post.
Now it could become even more important for the Wildcats heading into Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena (5:15 p.m., ESPN).
It certainly wasn’t the week that the Jayhawks had planned heading into one of their most high-profile games of the season with a suspension and other off-the-court issues.
But when the ball is tipped in the air, it will still be a matchup of two top five teams in the country — both eager to put losses behind them from earlier this week. The Wildcats suffered a two-point road loss to Tennessee on Tuesday when there were too many careless turnovers and they didn’t shoot the ball well.
With Bragg out, will the Wildcats put even more emphasis on throwing the ball inside of the paint?
“I don’t know. I’m just worried about how we’re playing,” UK coach John Calipari told reporters Friday. “We don’t know what they are going to do. They may go zone. They may go triangle-and-two. They may trap the post. They may go small and us go (small).
“At this stage, I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us.”
One of the biggest differences between this Kentucky team and one of the top freshmen-dominated squads in the past is the speed of the offense. According to KenPom, the Wildcats’ average possession lasts only 14.3 seconds, which is the ninth-fastest offense in the nation and the fastest in the Calipari-era.
“Their three guards are exceptional, and certainly they go from defense to offense probably faster this particular year than just about anybody in college basketball,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Interesting note: Under Calipari, Kentucky owns a 36-7 record following losses.
Series history: Kentucky leads 22-7. KU owns a 1-7 record in Lexington, including a 1-4 record inside of Rupp Arena. The last time KU won there was in 2005.
Vegas says: Kentucky by 5.
No. 0 — G De’Aaron Fox | 6-3, 187, fr.
Projected as the sixth pick in Draft Express’s latest NBA mock draft, Fox is averaging 16.2 points on 48 percent shooting. That includes a horrendous 7-of-39 mark (18 percent) from the 3-point line.
He leads the Wildcats with 118 assists to only 43 turnovers, and he’s snagged a team-best 32 steals. His 2.74 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks 34th in the country. He’s known as one of the fastest point guards in the country.
When the Houston native drives to the rim, he’s converted on 69 percent of those opportunities, according to hoop-math.com.
His mom, Lorraine Harris-Fox, played basketball at Arkansas-Little Rock. He said he chose the No. 0 because he feels like you should fear no one. His nickname is “Swipa.”
QUOTE: “No one can guard him off the dribble,” teammate Derek Willis said. “He beats every defender. He's too quick. When he sets his mind-set of attacking and getting to the rim that opens up everything for everyone.”
No. 5 — G Malik Monk | 6-3, 200, fr.
The SEC’s leading scorer, Monk is averaging 21.9 points per game, which ranks 13th in the nation. No player coached under John Calipari has ever averaged more than 21.2 points in a season. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 83 percent at the free throw line.
From Lepanto, Ark. (pop. 1,893), Monk has scored in double digits in each game this year, including a 47-point outburst against North Carolina. He’s scored at least 24 points in three of the last four games. Draft Express has him seventh in the latest NBA mock draft.
Monk is one of the best spot-up shooters in the country. According to Synergy Sports, more than a third of his points come through catch-and-shooting scenarios.
His older brother, Marcus, played college football and basketball at Arkansas and was drafted by the Chicago Bears.
QUOTE: "Man, he's put in his time,” UK coach John Calipari said. “He's mastering his craft. We had a great practice film session. I go up to my office and I shower and I look back and he and Isaiah Briscoe are like in a full body sweat getting a workout in. That's what we need to see.”
No. 13 — G Isaiah Briscoe | 6-3, 210, soph.
In 18 games, Briscoe is averaging 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in 30.9 minutes per game. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field and ranks second on the squad with 76 assists this year.
He is averaging 8.3 points in the team’s last four games, which includes a scoreless outing against South Carolina in 29 minutes.
Briscoe recorded a triple-double against Ole Miss in December, only six games after De’Aaron Fox accomplished the same feat. They are the first pair of teammates to register triple-doubles in the same season in SEC history.
One of his sisters, Iasia, played basketball at Syracuse. He’s of a cousin of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.
QUOTE: “When I think of Kentucky,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said, “the heart and soul of that team is Briscoe. If you asked me who am I most worried about, I’m worried about him. He makes it happen.”
No. 32 — F Wenyen Gabriel | 6-9, 213, fr.
Averaging 6.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Gabriel is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 32 percent from the 3-point line. On defense, he has 24 blocks in 20 games.
Gabriel is hitting the glass harder than ever this season. In the past four games, he’s recorded 38 rebounds. He had a combined 34 rebounds in his previous 10 games.
Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Gabriel moved to Cairo, Egypt when he was just two weeks old because of Sudan’s civil war. After living in Egypt for two years, Gabriel’s family was granted refugee status by the United Nations and they moved to New Hampshire, as detailed by the Lexington Herald Leader.
Pronunciation: when-yen. His sister, Karima, played basketball at Boston College. One of his sisters died in infancy about a year before Gabriel was born. So he was given the name Wenyen, which translates to “wipe your tears” in his native Dinka language.
QUOTE: “When he has his confidence going, when he’s bouncing and talking on defense, everything just starts to flow,” Fox said. “If he keeps doing what he’s doing, it’s tough for people to beat us.”
No. 3 — F Edrice “Bam” Adebayo | 6-10, 260, fr.
Earned the nickname “Bam,” when he flipped a coffee table as a toddler while his mother was watching “The Flintstones.” Living up to his nickname, he has 62 dunks through 19 games. Anthony Davis owns the Calipari-era record with 92 slams.
Adebayo has made 21 of his last 24 shots. He’s shooting 62.4 percent from the floor this year, averaging 13.5 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds (3.0 offensive boards per game). According to hoop-math.com, he’s taken 69 percent of his shots this year at the rim for layups/dunks.
He leads the Wildcats with 34 blocks this season, which ranks sixth in the SEC.
Pronunciation: ah-duh-BUY-o. He spent most of his childhood in a single-wide trailer, which was featured in a Sports Illustrated story this week.
QUOTE: “I think he’s too nice and too unselfish,” assistant coach Kenny Payne said. “I really do. I think that if he had a little bit of DeMarcus Cousins’ mentality, he changes the dynamics of this team. Every game I’m telling him, ‘Take over the game for us. Dominate the game for us.’”
No. 35 — F Derek Willis | 6-9, 228, sr.
In 20 games (five starts), Willis is averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 36 percent from deep (21-of-59). More than half of his shots are from behind the 3-point line.
Willis has scored in double digits in three of the team’s last six games. And he’s recorded at least five rebounds in the last three outings.
He has Native American heritage from his mother’s side of the family.
QUOTE: "That's the thing in my head now, it's not missed shots or doing stuff like that," Willis said. "It's messing up on defense, not grabbing rebounds, stuff I know I can do. I need to stay more consistent and help the team out much more."
No. 25 — G Dominique Hawkins | 6-0, 191, sr.
In 16.9 minutes per game, Hawkins is averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds on 34.5 percent shooting. But he’s extremely strong with the ball, dishing 43 assists to only eight turnovers.
Perhaps the most athletic player on the Wildcats’ roster, Hawkins boasts a team-best 44.5-inch vertical leap. In the team’s preseason combine, he had a team-high 16 repetitions on the 185-pound bench press.
QUOTE: “Being patient is the key,” Hawkins said. “I never know when my moment is going to come, and I’m always ready for it. Every time I get that moment, I usually do the most I can, try to do my best, and it usually works out well for me. So I probably should thank the man above that I’m always playing so well when it happens.”
No. 15 — F Isaac Humphries | 7-0, 255, soph.
Humphries is averaging 3.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He has more offensive rebounds (38) than defensive rebounds (37). He’s shooting 49 percent from the floor.
The Sydney, Australia native ranks fourth on the team with 16 blocks this season. He’s only played double-digit minutes in two of the last six games.
Suiting up for Australia, he helped his U17 National Team to a silver medal at the 2014 FIBA world championship. He led his squad with 18.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
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.