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Blue bloods with Bobby: Jan. 3

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) splits the TCU defense on his way to the bucket during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) splits the TCU defense on his way to the bucket during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas by Nick Krug

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:

1. Villanova

None by Villanova MBB

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.

2. Baylor

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.

3. Kansas

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.

4. UCLA

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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.

5. Gonzaga

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.

6. Kentucky

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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.

8. Duke

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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.

9. Louisville

None by Jeff Greer

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.

10. Creighton

None by NCAA March Madness

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:

Top players

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Reply 2 comments from Bobby Nightengale The_muser

Blue bloods with Bobby: Dec. 22

The Kansas defense tries to rip away a ball from Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Kansas defense tries to rip away a ball from Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. by Nick Krug

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:

1. Villanova

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.

2. UCLA

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.

3. Kansas

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.

4. Baylor

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.

5. Duke

None by Jessika Morgan

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.

6. Kentucky

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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.

7. Gonzaga

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

None by CBS Sports CBB

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.

9. Creighton

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.

10. Louisville

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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.

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