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Getting to know: Villanova basketball

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) talks with media members on Thursday, March 29, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) talks with media members on Thursday, March 29, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

There’s plenty of similarities between Kansas and Villanova. Two All-American point guards. Two of the best offenses in the country. Two coaches who have won national titles. A pair of 1 seeds.

With a spot in the national championship game on the line, Villanova (34-4) will play its third straight Big 12 opponent at 7:49 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Wildcats advanced to the Final Four with double-digit victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech.

The Wildcats have three players who played in their 2016 national title victory: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges. Back in the Final Four, they will lean on those three players for their experience.

“To get this far, all the teams that are here, you have a laser focus, you have an ability to prepare for different opponents,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “If you don't, someone's going to catch you along the way. … This group reminds me of our group in '16 in that way.”

Villanova has won nine straight games including a Big East Tournament title.

Fun fact: The Wildcats are six 3-pointers shy of setting the NCAA single-season record for made 3s in a season. They’ve made 436 this season, only trailing VMI in 2007.

Series history: The series is tied 3-3, but Villanova has won the last two meetings. In the 2016 Elite Eight, the Wildcats won 64-59 on their way to an eventual national title. The two programs will begin a home-and-home series next year, playing Dec. 15, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

BREAKING DOWN VILLANOVA

TOP PLAYER

No. 1 — G Jalen Brunson | 6-3, 190, jr.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) slaps hands with Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) slaps hands with Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

Named the national player of the year by the Associated Press, Brunson is near unstoppable on offense with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor and post up smaller guards. He’s averaging a team-best 19.2 points with 4.6 assists. From the 3-point line, he’s made 41.4 percent of his shots.

Brunson, from Lincolnshire, Ill., has scored in double figures in every game this season. According to hoop-math.com, Brunson shoots 71 percent around the rim, a very high mark for a guard, and 52 percent on mid-range jumpers. His dad, Rick, played basketball at Temple and spent nine seasons in the NBA, while his mom played volleyball at Temple.

In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 17.5 points on 49 percent shooting (8 of 19 from 3) with 4.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and only nine turnovers in four games.

  • "He's a machine. His work ethic is crazy,” teammate Eric Paschall said. “This is when I knew Jalen was like a robot: It was earlier this year. We had a lift. We had a tough practice. We already shot. It was like 9 o'clock at night. I was tired. And he was like, 'OK, I'm going to go shoot again.' Seeing that inspires all of us."

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 25 — G/F Mikal Bridges | 6-7, 210, r-jr.

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) drives against Villanova forward Dylan Painter (42) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) drives against Villanova forward Dylan Painter (42) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

The top NBA Draft prospect in the Final Four, Bridges is averaging 17.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. He leads the Wildcats in steals (58) and free-throw percentage (84.8), while ranking second in blocks (41). With a 7-foot wingspan, Bridges shoots 43.6 percent from the 3-point arc.

Bridges, a first-team all-Big East selection, redshirted during his freshman season, adding 25 pounds and becoming more explosive. He’s scored 20 or more points in seven of the team’s last 12 games.

In the NCAA Tournament: In four games, he’s totaled 64 points on 19 of 44 shooting with 20 rebounds and three blocks.

No. 14 — F Omari Spellman | 6-9, 245, r-fr.

West Virginia's Sagaba Konate, right, defends a shot by Villanova's Omari Spellman during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional semifinal, Friday, March 23, 2018, in Boston.

West Virginia's Sagaba Konate, right, defends a shot by Villanova's Omari Spellman during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional semifinal, Friday, March 23, 2018, in Boston.

A unique center because of his ability to shoot 3s, Spellman has connected on a team-high 44.6 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Averaging 10.8 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds, Spellman was named the Big East’s freshman of the year.

Spellman dropped about 45 pounds since he arrived on campus, refocusing on his eating habits. He sat out all of last season as an academic redshirt. According to hoop-math.com, he only takes 29 percent of his shots at the rim, using his ability to shoot to pull opposing centers out of the lane.

In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 9 of 19 from the 3-point line, Spellman is averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds.

No. 10 — G Donte DiVincenzo | 6-5, 205, r-so.

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo, center, drives between Texas Tech's Justin Gray, left, and Keenan Evans, right, during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston.

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo, center, drives between Texas Tech's Justin Gray, left, and Keenan Evans, right, during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston.

Playing off of the bench but earning starter’s minutes, DiVincenzo brings immediate energy to the floor. He ranks third on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game, shooting 38.5 percent from the 3-point line. The Wildcats’ backup point guard, he ranks second in steals (42) and second in assists (133).

In the NCAA Tournament: In 100 minutes, DiVincenzo has recorded 44 points, 16 assists and 20 rebounds on 9 of 21 shooting from the 3-point line.

No. 4 — F Eric Paschall | 6-9, 225, r-jr.

Kansas basketball director of student-athlete development Fred Quartlebaum and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, both from Hobbs Ferry, N.Y., reunite at Final Four weekend, before the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats in the 2018 national semifinals.

Kansas basketball director of student-athlete development Fred Quartlebaum and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, both from Hobbs Ferry, N.Y., reunite at Final Four weekend, before the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats in the 2018 national semifinals. by Courtesy photo

A threat to shoot from the 3-point line or slash to the rim, Paschall is averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s a talented defender, helping slow down Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans on ball screens in the Elite Eight. He played his freshman season at Fordham, earning 2015 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors.

In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 11 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1 steal through four games.

No. 5 — G Phil Booth | 6-3, 190, r-jr.

Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) looks to make a move against Villanova forward Dylan Painter (42) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) looks to make a move against Villanova forward Dylan Painter (42) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

Known as the team’s top perimeter defender, Booth has matched up with West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans in the last two games. A 39 percent shooter from the 3-point line, he’s averaging 10.3 points. He fractured a bone in his right hand earlier this season, missing seven games. The Wildcats lost games to St. John’s and Providence without him. His dad played college basketball at Coppin State and his mom played at Bowie State.

In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 7 of 21 from the field, Booth has posted 25 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists in 116 minutes.

ONE THING VILLANOVA DOES WELL

The best offense in the country, according to most metrics, Villanova is extremely efficient. With patience and strong execution, the Wildcats shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line and 49.9 percent from the floor. They have three players shooting 41 percent or better from deep, reaching 80 or more points in six of their last eight games.

ONE AREA VILLANOVA STRUGGLES

With limited depth, the key is to force the Wildcats into foul trouble. It’s nitpicking with a team that has four losses, but in each loss they’ve had at least one starter foul out. Outside of how the officials whistle the game, the Wildcats usually don’t force a ton of turnovers because they play with a seven-man rotation. During the NCAA Tournament, opposing teams are averaging 12.2 turnovers.

MEET THE COACH

Villanova head coach Jay Wright watches over his practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright watches over his practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

In the Final Four for the second time in the last three years, Jay Wright has turned Villanova into one of the programs in the country. In his 17th season with Villanova, Wright has guided his team to four straight 30-win seasons with a national championship in 2016.

Prior to his time at Villanova, Wright coached at Hofstra for seven seasons. He won back-to-back American East titles in his final two years, exiting in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

VEGAS SAYS…

Villanova by 5. The Jayhawks will face a team that plays a lot like they do, which probably makes them as tough of a matchup as they’ve had all season. But the Jayhawks didn’t matchup well against Duke and they found a way to crush a much taller and athletic team on the glass. The key will be finding a third player to step up alongside Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham. Nova will score its points but can KU keep up? I usually wouldn’t think so, but the Jayhawks have proven me wrong several times this year.

My prediction: Kansas 78, Villanova 77. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-16.

Kansas vs. Villanova matchups

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Charles Barkley: Bill Self never gets the credit he deserves

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches over the Jayhawks' practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches over the Jayhawks' practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

San Antonio — When Charles Barkley looks around college basketball, one of the most impressive feats that stands out to him is the Kansas basketball program’s streak of 14 straight Big 12 titles.

Considering the one-and-done era, all of the transfers and just the challenge of staying consistent, Barkley believes coach Bill Self deserves more credit than he’s received across the country.

It’s not that Self hasn’t been recognized for his achievements. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in September. But Barkley, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion, respects the way he coaches and is amazed at all of his success.

“As great of a coach as (Kentucky’s John) Calipari is, he’s not as consistent as Self has been,” Barkley said. “What he’s accomplished is incredible. They’re both great coaches, but I just don’t think (Self) gets the credit he deserves.”

Barkley said he doesn’t know Self well, but he’s a fan of the way he talks to players without sugarcoating anything. Self called the Jayhawks “soft” after a couple of losses this season.

Blaming a “corrupt AAU” system for hyping up players, Barkley says it’s a reason there are so many transfers across college basketball.

“Nobody wants to compete anymore, ‘Well if I’m not playing, I’m transferring,’ ” Barkley said. “It’s a different culture now.”

Said Self in an earlier press conference Friday: “You know, I guess our society has changed a little bit. Stating the obvious, I don't think, is really calling anybody out, because to be honest with you everybody could see what I saw.”

Barkley, who is predicting a Villanova win over Kansas in Saturday’s semifinal, is intrigued by the battle between All-American point guards Devonte’ Graham and Jalen Brunson.

The NBA on TNT analyst doesn’t believe the two point guards will guard each other. In his eyes, Brunson is too strong when he posts up and Graham is too quick for Brunson in the open court.

Grant Hill, the former Duke star, was a color analyst alongside Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery for KU’s games against Clemson and Duke in Omaha. After watching Graham play for a couple of games, he’s confident that Graham will find a way to impact the game whether it’s scoring, passing or just his leadership.

"He may not have put up the gaudy numbers but he has an impact," Hill said of Graham. "He’s felt when he’s out there."

Watching Malik Newman explode for 32 points in the Elite Eight, scoring all of the team’s 13 points in overtime, Hill said it was “one of the great performances that I’ve seen.”

Matching up against Villanova, Hill believes the Jayhawks need one player to step up offensively alongside Newman and Graham, highlighting Svi Mykhailiuk or Lagerald Vick.

“Villanova is a tough team and they are well disciplined,” Hill said. “They’ve been here on this stage, their core guys. But Kansas is more than capable and I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”

The Jayhawks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and Barkley believes that Self’s coaching record speaks for itself, no matter how the rest of the weekend ends up.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s only won one national championship.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, a lot of coaches never won a championship,’ ” Barkley said. “Winning that many (conference) championships in a row is incredible, I mean flat out incredible.”

Reply 2 comments from Roger Ortega Bryce Landon

Blue bloods with Bobby: Nov. 28

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' direction after an Oakland turnover during the first half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' direction after an Oakland turnover during the first half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Feast week certainly lived up to the hype with some excellent non-conference games across the country through midseason tournaments. The PK80 tournament in Portland was a nice touch for Nike schools, giving college basketball a chance to shine during college football season.

Welcome to this season’s first edition of the college basketball blue bloods update, where I’ll take a quick bi-weekly glance at the Top 10 teams in the country.

Without further ado, we’ll take a look at this week's top teams (based on the Associated Press poll):

1. Duke

None by Justin Russo

It’s a shame Marvin Bagley III didn’t have an opportunity to play much in the Champions Classic because of an eye injury, but he’s more than made up for it. Facing Texas and Florida in back-to-back games, Bagley combined for 64 points and 30 rebounds.

On a team with a lot of freshmen, Bagley, who reclassified in August, looks a level above everyone else. How do you stop him? “I have no idea,” Florida coach Mike White said at halftime Sunday. The Blue Devils have lots of room for improvement, especially defensively, but they’ve shown a lot of poise for such a young team in crunch time.

Record: 8-0. Next: Wednesday at Indiana.

2. Kansas

The Jayhawks scored 100-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since January 2003 in wins over Texas Southern and Oakland. Despite playing with limited depth, they are shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line and limiting turnovers.

All five starters are averaging at least 12 points per game, while Devonte Graham ranks second in the nation with 9.2 assists a night.

Record: 5-0. Next: Tuesday vs. Toledo.

3. Michigan State

None by ESPN Stats & Info

Miles Bridges was a little banged up, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from taking first place in their bracket of the PK80 tournament. In a 63-45 victory over North Carolina, the Spartans held UNC to 24.6 percent shooting, its worst percentage in school history.

In three games against DePaul, UConn and UNC, the Spartans held their opponents to 28 percent shooting, including a 21 percent mark from the 3-point line. That will make up for some of their own troubles on offense, averaging 17 turnovers per game.

Record: 5-1. Next: Thursday vs. Notre Dame.

4. Villanova

How good was Villanova’s defense in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis? Playing against Northern Iowa, the Wildcats didn’t allow any free throws in a 64-50 victory. On offense, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are averaging more than 18 points per game.

A little unrelated to Villanova’s undefeated start to the season, the Wildcats will face Kansas in a home-and-home series beginning in 2018.

Record: 6-0. Next: Wednesday vs. Penn.

5. Notre Dame

None by Notre Dame MBB

Coach Mike Brey let loose in the Maui Invitational, standing on the sidelines in a t-shirt and shorts with tennis shoes for each game. After the Irish won the championship game, he returned to the locker room shirtless. Nothing wrong with having fun after a win.

As far as play on the court, 6-foot-6 senior Bonzie Colson has certainly lived up to the hype. In wins over Chaminade, LSU and Wichita State, Colson produced 60 points and 30 rebounds with only two turnovers. Martinas Geben made the game-winning free throws to complete a comeback against the Shockers, 67-66.

Record: 6-0. Next: Thursday at Michigan State.

6. Florida

The Gators were a few minutes away from being the talk of college basketball for a week. But they couldn’t hold off Duke in a 87-84 loss in the championship game of their PK80 bracket, showing their fatigue in the second half. Fatigue might be the only thing that can stop that spectacular offense, which is averaging 99.5 points per game.

Junior guard Jalen Hudson is averaging 21.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza had 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds vs. Duke with a bruised rib, swollen right elbow and a right shoulder contusion. Tough team to beat.

Record: 5-1. Next: Dec. 4 vs. Florida State

7. Kentucky

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox (5) puts up a three over Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center.

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox (5) puts up a three over Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center. by Nick Krug

Following the Champions Classic loss against the Jayhawks, the Wildcats have started to improve offensively with wins against mid-major teams. They still haven’t had a 3-point shooter emerge, which makes it hard to space the floor, but freshman Kevin Knox is averaging a team-best 16.1 points per game.

Record: 6-1. Next: Saturday vs. Harvard.

8. Wichita State

The Shockers showed their poise in a win over Cal in the Maui Invitational, storming back from an 18-point deficit in the first half. It’s even more impressive because they are still playing without Markis McDuffie, last season’s top scorer and rebounder who is recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot.

Wichita State lost in the Maui title game to Notre Dame, surrendering a 14-point lead, but coach Gregg Marshall has to be a little encouraged by a strong start to the season. Conner Frankamp is averaging 9.8 points and 2.4 assists on 30 percent shooting from the 3-point arc.

Record: 4-1. Next: Tuesday vs. Savannah State.

9. Texas A&M

The Aggies went on the road and picked up a dominant win over then-No. 10 ranked USC, 75-59. A future opponent on KU’s schedule in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Texas A&M has crushed teams with its defense. Opponents are only shooting 23.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Five players are averaging at least 10 points per game, while 6-9 junior forward DJ Hogg runs the show with a team-best 16.8 points a night. "We had a bad year last year so they're still a little asleep on us," Hogg said.

Record: 6-0. Next: Thursday vs. UT Rio Grande Valley.

10. Miami

Through the first five games of the season, Miami has won four of them by at least 20 points. The Hurricanes will have one of the biggest games of the week when they play host to Minnesota in the ACC/Big 10 challenge on Wednesday.

Record: 5-0. Next: Wednesday at Minnesota.

Three teams trending up
1. Minnesota (7-0): If you missed it, the Golden Gophers beat Alabama in one of the most bizarre games in college basketball history, playing the last 10 minutes 5-on-3 because Alabama’s bench was ejected during a near brawl, plus a foul out and ankle injury. But credit the Gophers for leading in the game before the craziness happened behind star forward Jordan Murphy.
2. Arizona State (6-0): The Sun Devils beat a ranked Xavier by 16 points in the Las Vegas Invitational. Tra Holder scored 40 points on 22 shots, proving himself as one of the best players in the Pac-12.
3. Baylor (5-0): Playing in Kansas City last week in the Hall of Fame Classic, the Bears left with wins against Wisconsin and Creighton. Manu Lecomte is averaging 19 points.

Three teams trending down
1. Arizona (3-3): One of the most talented teams in the country looked lost in the Battle for Atlantis. Deandre Ayton is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but the Wildcats’ defense is atrocious.
2. Northwestern (4-2): Playing in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, Northwestern was demolished by Texas Tech, 85-49. Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll.
3. Stanford (3-5): Not a good start to the season for the Cardinal, which lost all three games in the PK80 to Florida, Ohio State and Portland State. Reid Travis is the bright spot, averaging 21.4 points and 7.3 boards.

Reply 2 comments from Gerry Butler Phil Leister

Blue bloods with Bobby: Jan. 11

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) hangs for a shot between Baylor forward Rico Gathers (2) and guard Al Freeman (25) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) hangs for a shot between Baylor forward Rico Gathers (2) and guard Al Freeman (25) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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:

1. Baylor

None by Chris Stone

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.

2. Kansas

None by Kansas Basketball

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.

3. Villanova

None by FS1

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.

4. UCLA

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.

5. Gonzaga

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.

6. Kentucky

None by Kentucky Basketball

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.

7. Duke

None by TotalProSports.com

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.

8. Creighton

None by Creighton Basketball

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

None by WVU Men's Basketball

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.

None by Nevada Basketball


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.

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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

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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

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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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Blue bloods with Bobby: Dec. 15

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:

1. Villanova

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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.

2. UCLA

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.

3. Kansas

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.

4. Baylor

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.

5. Duke

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.

6. Kentucky

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.

None by Whitney Shankland

Record: 10-1. Next: Saturday vs. Kentucky in Las Vegas.

8. Gonzaga

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.

9. Indiana

None by Indiana Basketball

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.

10. Creighton

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.

Reply 4 comments from Bobby Nightengale Zabudda Crimson_bluescottco

Blue bloods with Bobby: Dec. 8

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):

1. Villanova

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.

2. UCLA

None by UCLA Basketball

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.

3. Kansas

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.

4. Baylor

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.

5. Duke

None by Mike Schmitz

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.

6. Kentucky

None by Five-Star Basketball

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.

8. Gonzaga

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.

9. Indiana

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.

10. Creighton

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.

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