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.