College Basketball Broadcaster and Reporter
The heavyweight showdowns really revved up this past week college basketball, and the beautiful thing about that is it only gets better with a jam-packed slate for Thanksgiving week. Between the Phil Knight Invitational, the Maui Invitational, and the Battle 4 Atlantis alone, there’s no shortage of potential big-time showdowns that will allow us to get a better gauge of where teams stand.
We’ll start with Sunday, as Kentucky visited Gonzaga in one of the most highly anticipated games of the season, not to mention a matchup between Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme. The Zags responded, and this was not much of a game in Spokane, as Mark Few’s team took a 16-point lead by halftime and rolled to an 88-72 win. Julian Strawther showed why he’s pegged as Gonzaga’s key breakout guy, going for 20 points and 14 rebounds, one of three Zags to score at least 20.
The takeaway, though, isn’t about Gonzaga. We know the Zags will be a factor, even after suffering a road loss to a high level Texas team earlier in the week. The main takeaway is that the Wildcats look nothing like the national championship contenders we thought they could be. Sure, it’s early, but in the losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga, the Wildcats shot 13-for-50 from beyond the arc. Their guard play hasn’t been good enough, and Tom Izzo and Few have outcoached John Calipari.
Sahvir Wheeler, although he’s a very good distributor, is not a shooting point guard. The guys he’s setting up to make shots, CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves, went 3-for-13 from downtown in Spokane. Not only have the Wildcats lost, but reigning National Player of the Year Tshiebwe showed that there’s a bit of a disconnect as well.
It is early in the season, and Kentucky should have a talent edge over most opposing backcourts. But the Wildcats’ on-court execution has been off. As much as Kentucky owns the recruiting world, the results have to show when the games arrive. Two years ago? An NCAA Tournament absence. Last season? A first-round exit in a historic loss to Saint Peter’s. So far? A disappointing start, and if history is an indicator, that does not bode well for Big Blue Nation’s title hopes.
Gonzaga’s physicality was impressive Sunday night, as the Bulldogs outrebounded Kentucky 39-29 and Timme went for 22 points and seven boards. Rasir Bolton scored a team-high 24 points and was a revelation for a team that’s looking to answer some questions about its guard play. That’s a great sign.
With that, here’s my updated Top 15!
1. Houston (5-0)
Last week: 1
2. North Carolina (4-0)
Last week: 3
The latest installment of Armando Bacot’s numbers is ridiculous: The preseason All-American had 19 points and 23 rebounds in Sunday’s win over James Madison. Things get real this week at the Phil Knight Invitational. The Heels meet Villanova or Iowa State on Friday and could get Michigan State, Alabama or UConn in the final.
3. Virginia (4-0)
Last week: 13
4. Texas (3-0)
Last week: 11
Chris Beard said he hit the grand slam in the transfer portal by bringing in the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tyrese Hunter from Iowa State. The sophomore posted 26 points and the Longhorns hit 13 3-pointers in a statement win over Gonzaga.
5. Kansas (4-0)
Last week: 9
Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris showed championship mettle in the win over Dukewhile Grady Dick showed why he’s one of the best freshmen in college basketball. Kansas headlines the Battle 4 Atlantis this week with NC Statethen Dayton or Wisconsin. They could meet Tennessee, BYU, USC or Butler in the title game.
6. Creighton (4-0)
Last week: 7
The Jays have four averaging in double figures, and Ryan Nembhard has 27 assists to just two turnovers through four games. Creighton meets Texas Tech on Monday at the Maui Invitational and could draw Arkansas on Tuesday in the semifinals.
7. Gonzaga (3-1)
Last week: 2
Timme is 93-8 over the course of his career. The loss at Texas drops the Zags down, but the Horns weren’t losing to anyone on Wednesday night. The 24-point performance on Sunday by Bolton could be major for Mark Few’s team if he can keep rising. The PK85 Legacy arrives this week and a matchup with Duke could happen in Sunday’s final.
No. 8 Indiana (4-0)
Last week: 12
The Hoosiers earned a statement win at Xavier behind Trayce Jackson-Davis30 points and backed up preseason projections that they will be the class of the Big Ten.
No. 9 Arkansas (3-0)
Last week: 10
Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV is averaging over 18 points per game through three games. Things get real for the Razorbacks this week at the Maui Invitational.
No. 10 Michigan State (3-1)
Last week: Unranked
Toughest schedule in America? It’s just getting started for the Spartans, but to win back-to-back games over Kentucky and Villanova deserves a top-10 ranking when many others have simply scheduled cupcakes. The key for Izzo? Four players scored in double figures in both wins over the Wildcats. Offensive balance is present in East Lansing.
No. 11 Baylor (4-1)
Last week: 5
Baylor went 1-1 at the Main Event, falling to Virginia but beating UCLA. We are still buying stocks in the Bears because Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer are a ridiculously good duo. They combined for 50 points and eight triples in Sunday’s win over the Bruins.
No. 12 Duke (3-1)
Last week: 8
The Blue Devils needed to play a game like Tuesday against Kansas. It was a moment they realized how good they could be, and they just brought Dariq Whitehead back into the fold. Freshman seven-footer Kyle Filipowski is averaging 15 and 11 per game. The Blue Devils meet Oregon Statethen either Xavier or Florida at the Phil Knight Legacy this week. They could draw Gonzaga in the final if everything goes according to plan for them.
No. 13 San Diego State (3-0)
Last week: 14
The Aztecs have won over BYU and Stanfordand Brian Dutcher has an X-factor in TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 16.0 points per game. SDSU meets Ohio State in the Maui Invitational on Monday, then will see Arizona or Cincinnati.
No. 14 Arizona (3-0)
Last week: Unranked
Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo have combined to average 37 points and 17 rebounds through three contests. The Wildcats can create nightmares for opponents in the paint. We will find out much more about Tommy Lloyd’s team this week at the Maui Invitational.
No. 15 Illinois (4-1)
Last week: Unranked
Even after a 1-1 week in Las Vegas, I’m still buying this more versatile Illini team to be Brad Underwood’s best in March. Transfers Terrence Shannon Jr., Matthew Mayer and Dain Dainja are all performing, and Coleman Hawkins is a workhorse.
Team of the Week: Virginia
It’s been a tragic week at the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers played for UVA football players Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry, who were fatally shot after a field trip to see a game in Washington. A week after the tragedy, Tony Bennett’s program won a championship in their honor, taking home the Main Event title with wins over Baylor and Illinois. In Sunday’s win over Illinois, a 13-0 second-half surge led the Hoos to victory. Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner combined for 51 points in the 70-61 victory. After last year’s NCAA Tournament absence ended a streak of seven straight Big Dance trips, it felt like with all the experience UVA welcomed back that they would be one of the best teams in college hoops. It has shown, and the Cavaliers have a real argument to be the ACC favorite.
Player of the Week: Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois
Sure, he may have taken a step back in Sunday’s loss to Virginia, but the Texas Tech transfer’s performance against UCLA on Friday was still enough for us to give him the top individual honors. In the 79-70 win over the Bruins, Shannon scored 29 points on 8-of-9 from beyond the arc to go along with 10 rebounds. It was as efficient and impressive as any performance that we’ve seen in college basketball so far this season. He is a game-changer for Brad Underwood’s team.
Coach of the Week: Kevin Willard, Maryland
On Sunday at Mohegan Sun, the Terps were the teams hoisting the trophy, blowing out the Hurricanes and Billikens to win the championship and extend their strong start. Willard, who previously elevated Seton Hall into a winner, is the first Maryland coach to start 5-0 in his debut season. He has Donta Scott playing the best basketball of his career. Scott combined for 49 points and 13 rebounds in the Tip-Off games while shooting 17-of-25 (68%) from the floor, surpassing 1,000 career points in the process. Julian Reese and Hakim Hart have both developed their skill sets while transferring Jahmir Young and Donald Carey have been quality additions.
Mid-major Team of the Week: College of Charleston
For the first time in program history, the College of Charleston won the Charleston Classic. Pat Robinson III came up clutch with 14 points, including the game-winner, and Ante Brzovic added 15 points off the bench as the Cougars took down Virginia Tech, 77-75, to claim the title in their home city. Head coach Pat Kelsey, formerly at Winthrop and as an assistant at Xavier and Wake Forest, has a team that has played its way into being in the at-large conversation out of the Colonial Athletic Association if they can keep rolling and avoid stumbling in conference play. The Cougars are 5-1, having beaten Davidson, Colorado State and the Hokies. Their only loss came to North Carolina. This team is balanced and deep, with Wofford grad transfer Ryan Larson as a big-time leader.
Conference of the Week: Big Ten
The league won six of eight matchups with the Big East in the Gavitt Games. Iowa looked excellent behind Chris Murray’s 29 points in a win over Seton Hall, and the Hawkeyes are just outside our Top 15. Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue also came out with wins in the conference challenge. It’s not just the teams we expected, but Maryland has surprised everyone out of the gates with a Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship. The Nittany Lions have a superstar in Jalen Pickett, and they are 5-1. The Spartans have surprised, too, and Illinois looks like a dangerous team that can cause more matchup problems this season.
Overall, the Big Ten is 50-7. You can’t argue with that record.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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