Tony Woods, Travis Wear

No. 21 Oregon moves into first in the Pac-12 with win at No. 24 UCLA

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It’s time for us to start taking Oregon seriously.

That much is obvious now that the Ducks have handed both Arizona and UCLA their only losses in the Pac-12 this season. On Saturday, Dana Altman’s team went into Pauley Pavilion and knocked off the Bruins 76-67 behind 18 points from Tony Woods and 12 points and 11 boards from Arsalan Kazemi.

And while it’s simple mathematics to say that Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 — they’re in first place, they don’t have a loss in league play, and they have now handed Arizona their first loss of the season and beaten UCLA in Pauley — there is more to it than that.

The Ducks are the most balanced team in the conference, with five guys averaging between 10.1 points and 11.8 points. Their sixth-leading scorer, Arsalan Kazemi at 8.6 points-per-game, is also their leading rebounder, averaging 9.5 boards. They have the Pac-12’s deepest and most versatile front line, and a pair of freshmen guards in Damyeon Dotson and Dominic Artis that are as underrated as any back court in the country.

But was most impressive about their win over UCLA was the way Oregon was able to gain control by grinding it out defensively.

Much has been made of UCLA’s transition to a team that thrives in, well, transition. Ben Howland has embraced the talent level and lack of defensive desire of the players on his roster, opting to allow his blue-chip recruits to get out and run the floor at will. And in the second half, Oregon took the lead when they held the Bruin’s scoreless for more than six minutes during the second half. UCLA shot just 37.9% from the floor in the second half.

And they also happened to expose a potentially fatal flaw for the Bruins: the interior. Woods and Kazemi combined to shoot 13-16 from the field. The Wears, who played 53 minutes combined, had all of five rebounds, just two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. We knew that UCLA had some question marks with the defections in their front court. On Saturday, we got a glimpse of just how that can be exploited.

The Ducks are for real this year, and it looks like they will be here to stay.

POSTERIZED: Monmouth bench mob goes insane after huge dunk

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Monmouth has arguably been the most entertaining team in college basketball through the season’s first three weeks.

Let’s start with the obvious: They’re a mid-major outfit with a 5-foot-8 point guard that headlines a talented back court, one good enough to have notched upsets at UCLA and, this week, over No. 17 Notre Dame and USC at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

It’s pretty incredible, to be honest. They’ve managed to amass one of college basketball’s best resume despite being a MAAC program with a grand total of four NCAA appearances in their luxurious history.

But what makes this team so much fun isn’t just that they can’t seem to stop beating high-major competition, it’s that, in the process, their bench mob has become one of college basketball’s best.

Want some proof? Watch what happens after this Deon Jones poster dunk:

And here’s the wild part: that wasn’t even close to the best thing the bench did this week.

This was:


But there’s so much more.

Like, for example, the three arrows:

The touchdown pass:

The bench poster:

The heart attack:

They … caught a fish?

And, finally, the ‘OH SHHHHHHHHHHHH’:

Wichita State’s 0-3 week makes chances for at-large bid small

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We’ve reached the nightmare scenario for Wichita State.

Having entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Missouri Valley, a top 15 team and a legitimate threat to reach a Final Four, after two weeks, the Shockers are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament altogether.

That’s not hyperbole, either.

Wichita State fell to 2-4 on the year after getting mollywhopped by Iowa in the 7th-place game of the Advocare Invitational. They ended up in the 7th-place game because they lost to USC and Alabama in the opening two rounds. The Hawkeyes look like the might be able to eke out an at-large berth if things fall the right way for them, but USC and Alabama are projected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Even Iowa would do well to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

Individually, none of those three losses are particularly terrible, and that’s before you factor in that all-american point guard Fred VanVleet sat out the trip to Orlando with a bad hamstring. They were also without back up point guard Landry Shamet in the tournament and it’s unknown when they’ll actually get Anton Grady back to full stretch. That matters to the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ll factor it in when they determine where the Shockers will be seeded, or if they will even get an invite.

But throw in the loss at Tulsa from the first week of the season, and the Shockers are now 2-4 on the season.

And unlike the rest of the preseason top 25 — unlike the rest of the nation’s high-major programs — Wichita State won’t have a chance to load up on quality wins during league play. The Valley is better than we probably realized (more on that in a second), but it’s not like there are going to be a myriad of top 50 wins for the taking.

Look at Georgetown, for example. They Hoyas went 1-3 in the first week of the season, a stretch that included a home loss to Radford. But they also play in a conference where they’ll get home-and-homes against the likes of Villanova, Butler and Xavier.

The Shockers need to do their damage during the non-conference. They need to get the bulk of their resume put together before Valley play starts. Assuming they do win the rest of their non-league games, we’re not exactly looking at a daunting profile, either. The Shockers still have to visit Saint Louis and Seton Hall and host UNLV, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico State. UNLV and Utah should look like quality wins on Selection Sunday, but the rest of them?

Wichita State is putting themselves in a position where they may end up needing to win the Missouri Valley tournament just to get into the Big Dance, and the problem is that the Valley looks like it is really going to be tough this season. Northern Iowa notched a win over North Carolina already this year. Illinois State gave Maryland a fight and entered the season as a favorite to upset the Shockers. Evansville has two of the league’s five best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.

They’re not waltzing through that conference by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s not exactly what VanVleet and Ron Baker had in mind when they decided to return to Wichita for one final season.