A new No. 1. An influx of fresh names for the top-10, passing some familiar faces trudging out as they piled in. Those are some of the leftovers from the glut of Thanksgiving week tournaments, and the operative question in college basketball could well be this:
What’s up with . . . ?
That can be bad or good, by the way. Here’s a collection of both.
What’s up with Houston?
Start with the No. 1 ranking for the first time in nearly 40 years, back to the dunking days of Phi Slama Jama. That bunch made its name with offense that had the grandstands roaring and the rims rattling. These Cougars have pushed to the top with the hard labor of defense, leading the nation in their 6-0 start by allowing 47.3 points a game and a 29.1 shooting percentage. Opponents have put up 150 3-pointers against Houston and missed 120 of them. Maybe it’s somehow fitting that the Cougars’ last win before moving to No. 1 was a 49-44 ugly duckling with Kent State in which they shot 32 percent and had 23 turnovers. Another verse of Houston finding a way, no matter how ragged. “Lots of teams can’t win when the ball doesn’t go in,” coach Kelvin Sampson said.
So now they can deal with the mixed bag of the top ranking; a sense of recognition matched with suddenly becoming the biggest target of all. December will bring Saint Mary’s, Alabama and trip to Virginia. That might be the game of the decade for connoisseurs of defense.
“Because of the questions we will get asked, we have no choice but to embrace it, and we should,” Sampson said. “It’s a great accomplishment, don’t run from it.
“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this, but remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it, you’re just renting it because someday, somebody else is going to be No. 1.”
Houston is that somebody now. As for why there’s a vacancy . . .
What’s up with North Carolina?
It would appear nothing is going to come easy for the Tar Heels. They plodded through five wins against lesser foes, never quite looking like the top-ranked juggernaut they were supposed to be. The assumption was they would find another gear. But not consecutive losses in Portland.
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They let go of a seven-point lead in the last five minutes and were beaten by Iowa State 70-65. That was followed by the Sunday marathon with Alabama; a 103-101 defeat in the first four-overtime game North Carolina has played since 1976. If the Tide had any clear advantage, it was the 47-14 gap in bench points. The Tar Heels pretty much went with six players, and four were on the floor for at least 48 minutes. Caleb Love needed 36 shots to get 34 points, the most attempts by a North Carolina player in a game in 58 years. Michael Jordan never put up that many.
One concern seems to be defense. The Tar Heels are giving up 75 points a game, 302nd in the nation. Another problem, cited by coach Hubert Davis, is late shot clock execution on both ends.
“I’m a positive guy. I like being positive,” Davis said. “I know we left this tournament 1-2 but why would I be discouraged about the way we competed and played? That would be negligent on my part to walk away thinking this was a disappointment. Second of all, it’s only November. I think we have a lot more to go.”
They plunged from No. 1 to No. 18 so what happens now? They have to be weary but they can’t even go home to recover. They’ll be flying straight from Oregon to the Midwest, because look who’s next on Wednesday.
What’s up with Indiana?
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The 6-0 and No. 10 Hoosiers are on a tear. Their 55.9 shooting percentage is the second best in the nation and their average winning margin of 29.5 is the best among Power Five teams. All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis is shooting 76 percent and averaging 19 points. Indiana seems uncommonly deep, with a gap in bench scoring so far of 218-73. And the Hoosiers’ only real test so far — an 81-79 win at Xavier — looks even better now, given the way the Musketeers beat Florida and pushed both Duke and Gonzaga in Portland.
What’s not to like about Indiana? “Come Wednesday,” coach Mike Woodson said, “we’ll know where we are.”
The thing is, the Hoosiers aren’t even the hottest team in their own state.
What’s up with Purdue?
It might have been one of the greatest weekends in recent Purdue athletics history. On Saturday, the football team beat Indiana to clinch its first trip ever to the Big Ten Championship Game. Then there was the basketball team in Portland.
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Thursday, it was 80-68 over West Virginia, leading for all but 23 seconds. Friday, the Boilermakers blew past Gonzaga 84-66 with 32 points in the last 9:22. Sunday, they shut down Duke 75-56, holding the Blue Devils scoreless the final seven minutes. That made them the first team since UCLA in 1968 to win back-to-back neutral site games against top-10 opponents by at least 18 points. Three quality opponents, three wins by a combined 49 points. No wonder Purdue has NASA-launched its way from preseason unranked to No. 5.
“The most unique player in the country,” Duke’s Jon Scheyer said. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”
Edey’s coach understands. “People have got to deal with him,” Matt Painter said. “They can talk about it, they can scheme, they can do a lot of things. But if you go talk to the individuals that have to guard him, it’s just something you don’t see; that kind of skill and that kind of physical strength in college basketball.”
So in three weeks, Purdue has become a top-10 team with a player-of-the-year candidate. About the two latest victims of the Edey Effect . . .
What’s up with Gonzaga?
In three of the past six seasons, the Zags had one or two defeats for the entire year. They just took two in November, by 19 points to Texas and 18 to Purdue, and had to rally from eight down in the last 6 /2 minutes against Xavier to avoid a third. The normally impeccable offense noticeably stalled against the Boilermakers, managing only 40.3 shooting, not to mention getting outrebounded 46-31. They coughed up 93 points to Texas and were outscored 42-30 in the paint by Xavier.
And Monday, they dropped out of the Associated Press top-10 for the first time in 85 polls, falling to No. 14.
Cause for concern? Probably not. Gonzaga cannot thrive with Timme alone. Several Zags are having to adjust to newer roles with more responsibility and this on-the-job training is being done against what Mark Few said might be the toughest non-conference schedule in Gonzaga history. The Zags have already played Michigan State, Texas, Kentucky (disposing of the Wildcats by 16), Purdue and Xavier. Just ahead is a reenactment of the 2021 national title game with Baylor, Kent State (who just played Houston to five points), Washington and Alabama. The combined record of those nine teams currently is 45-12.
The Xavier comeback might turn out to be something of a crossroads. Facing an unthinkable third loss in 12 days, Gonzaga went 6-or-6 from the floor and 9-for-12 from the free-throw line in the final 6:09 to win 88-84. We’ll find out more about the Zags. As we will . . .
What’s up with Duke?
Certainly not the shooting percentages. The Blue Devils were 5-for-40 from the 3-point line in their losses to Kansas and Purdue, missing their last 13 shots overall against the Boilermakers. Also noticeable was the 42-31 Purdue rebounding dominance. “They just out-toughed us,” Blue Devil Kyle Filipowski said.
But Scheyer has not had all his new pieces in place for his first team because of injury. Talented youth is not automatically an upper crust team, not even at Duke. Certainly, alarm bells are not going on like they are at another blueblood . . .
What’s up with Villanova?
This is not the recommended way to extend a honeymoon. Kyle Neptune’s first team is 2-5, and Villanova hasn’t seen that kind of start in 31 years. It gets worse the closer you look. The Wildcats have been down double digits six games in a row — that includes Portland and Delaware State — and during the current four-game losing streak, have led for only 12:32 of 160 minutes.
They have tried getting relief by firing away from the outback. It hasn’t worked so well. Villanova has put up 137 shots from beyond the 3-point arc in those four consecutive defeats. The Wildcats have missed 97 of them, making barely 29 percent.
The faithful are not used to this. In Jay Wright’s last nine years, Villanova averaged 5.9 losses a season. This team is close to that in November.
Still, it can always be worse . . .
What’s up with Louisville?
Or maybe that should be, how far down can it go? The Cardinals are 0-6 for the first time in more than 80 years, and the string of losses includes a 70-38 battering by Texas Tech, the lowest point output for a Cardinal team since 1948. One particularly ugly area has been taking care of the ball, Louisville has 105 turnovers and 46 assists.
“I can walk away and be doom and gloom, but I have to look at this and figure out a way to get this team better and get this team for these young men to go out and get a win,” said first-year coach Kenny Payne. Now here comes the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a date with a surging opponent . . .
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What’s up with Maryland?
The Terps have breezed past six opponents, winning every game by at least 16 points and trailing only 3:32 out of 240 minutes so far. Kevin Willard is the first coach in history to start his Maryland career 6-0. The Terps could be called the fastest riser on the East Coast. Except . . .
What’s up with Connecticut?
Guess the first team in the nation to get to 8-0 this season? Yep, UConn. The men, not the women. They’re 5-0.
The Huskies had a lovely trip to Portland, thank you, plowing over Oregon by 24 points, Alabama by 15 and Iowa State by 18. Three routs of respected names, and only four lead changes all weekend. The Huskies have not played a single-digit game yet, and they put an exclamation point on their Portland tournament by not only mashing Iowa State — the team that had just beaten No. 1 North Carolina — by 18 points but crushing the Cyclones in rebounding 48-19. And so, once unranked, now they’re No. 8. They are deep and balanced, and combined with Creighton and Xavier, give the Big East a very beefy look, even with Villanova’s woes.
But there are other fast starters out there, too . . .
What’s up with Arizona?
Nooooobody has been lighting up scoreboards or finding the basket like the 6-0 Wildcats, leading the nation with their 97.5 points a game and 60-percent shooting. It’s been that way since the beginning, when they had 30 assists on 38 field goals against Nicholls. Or when they made all 22 free throws against Utah Tech. Same thing against the big boys, too. In winning the Maui tournament by beating Cincinnati, San Diego State and Creighton, they shot 69 percent in the second half and missed only 27 shots after halftime. They’ll be at Utah later this week, and meet Indiana soon after that. If current stats hold, that would be a match of the two best-shooting teams in the nation.
As for conspicuous achievement at the other end of the floor . . .
What’s up with Tennessee?
There was that early stumble against Colorado but the Vols got well in the Bahamas, winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by holding Butler, USC and Kansas to 36.9 percent shooting. The 64-50 win over the No. 3 Jayhawks not only snapped Kansas’ 17-game winning streak but was Tennessee’s fourth consecutive victory over a top-5 opponent going back to last season.
But not everyone got the quick start it expected . . .
What’s up with Dayton?
The Flyers began the season in the top-25 and a popular choice as a mid-major to watch, but have suffered frightful stretches to go 3-4. They let a 12-point lead slip away in a loss to UNLV, went 4-for-27 from the 3-point line to be edged 43-42 by Wisconsin even though the Badgers shot only 23.7 percent, were overwhelmed by a 17-0 second-half run by North Carolina State and blew a 23-point lead to lose in overtime to BYU.
One mid-major to notice . . .
What’s up with Portland?
The 5-4 Pilots were included in the crowd of luminaries at the Phil Knight tournament and showed they belonged. They played North Carolina tough, beat Villanova and had two shots to win at the end against Michigan State after trailing by 12 points with just over three minutes left. A program that has not seen the NCAA tournament this century matched three programs that own 11 national championships.
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One admirer was a West Coast Conference colleague. Gonzaga’s Few, who said, “I’m hoping it helps the national media to understand instead of just writing that we’re going to go undefeated (the in the league) every year, these schools are tough outs.”
And finally . . .
What’s up with the latest rankings?
Let’s hear it for the Lone Star State in the Associated Press poll. Houston No. 1, Texas No. 2, Baylor No. 6. Who said it’s a football state? And notice where the blueblood neighborhood has moved. Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State and UCLA, all in a row from Nos. 17-21. So it goes after a week that changed the narrative of the college basketball season.