Feast Week Primer: Get prepped for all the Thanksgiving college hoops you can handle

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And so begins one of the best weeks of the college basketball calendar.

For the next seven days, we’ll get afternoon hoops, wild finishes late into the night and a nice pivot to make from tilting fantasy football on Thanksgiving. Bet a few Maui overs and use the PK80 as a cover to get away from that one uncle that always wants to talk politics. 

It’s a foolproof move. 

And I’m here to get you ready for all you need to know about this week in basketball.

What makes this week particularly intriguing this year is that there are not only a handful of tantalizing events, but those events feature teams and programs that still have quite a bit to prove. With very few exceptions, this is going to be the first chance that we get to see some of the best teams in the country play competition they didn’t pay for. 

It’s almost time for the morning tip-off in Maui.

Lets’s dive into these tournaments, breaking them down event by event, from the most intriguing to the snooze-worthy:

BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS

  • WHEN: Wed-Fri
  • WHO: No. 3 Arizona, No. 5 Villanova, No. 19 Purdue, Tennessee, SMU, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky
  • WHERE: Paradise Island, Bahamas

FAVORITE: This is tough, as Villanova and Arizona both look like top five teams with a legitimate claim to being the best team in college basketball. No one in the country is playing better than Allonzo Trier is right now, and the size the Wildcats have inside – senior center Dusan Ristic and potential No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton – would be a nightmare for NBA teams to deal with, let alone a program like Villanova that has thrived with undersized guys.

That said, Philly’s Wildcats have looked the part early on. Jalen Brunson is flat-out one of the best point guards in college basketball and maybe the most indispensable player in the country. Villanova has the perimeter pieces to stretch Arizona out and, if Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo continue their hot start, Villanova can win that game.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Is it crazy to think that Purdue is better after having lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA? Maybe, but the Boilermakers have certainly looked like the second-best team in the Big Ten. What you may not realize about this group is that they can play big if they need to – hello, Isaac Haas – but with Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias on the roster, they can matchup small with anyone. With the way they shoot, anyone can get beaten on any given night. This is their chance to make a statement nationally.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: It’s easy: Arizona vs. Villanova. Whenever there is a chance to get two top five teams squaring off, we need to hope that it will come to fruition.

THE STUD: Ayton is arguably the best prospect in college basketball, and Brunson is every media member’s favorite quintessential point guard, but Trier is the best player in this event. He’s scored 90 points in three games this season while taking 40 shots. That’s pretty good.

PREDICTION: Villanova squeaks past Purdue but cannot handle Arizona’s size inside.

PK80 VICTORY

  • WHEN: Thu-Sun
  • WHO: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 North Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma, Arkansas, UConn, DePaul, Portland
  • WHERE: Portland

FAVORITE: Even after their loss to Duke last week, Michigan State is my pick to win the national title. Much of this depends on whether or not Miles Bridges is healthy – he sprained his ankle on Sunday night – but the Spartans should have enough talent to get them to the title against a field that is intriguing but just doesn’t have the kind of high-end talent that can pick them off.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Everyone?

This is what makes this bracket so appealing to me. We don’t really know anything about most of these teams. North Carolina is rebuilding their front line, and while the early returns have been impressive, they haven’t come against programs of a similar caliber. Oklahoma, and specifically Trae Young, have been very impressive through their first two games of the season, but they didn’t really play anyone. The same can be said for Oregon, who is currently sitting at 3-0 in the SWAC. Arkansas and UConn both have team with veterans on the roster and talent on their perimeter, but neither of them have done much of anything to date. How this tournament plays out will be quite illuminating.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: I want to see either Oregon or Oklahoma get a shot at Michigan State. Both the Ducks and the Sooners have looked terrific, and I think both have a shot of finishing within the top three of their league. Getting a test against one of the best would help determine just how good they could end up being.

THE STUD: Miles Bridges is the stud of this event, while Luke Maye has been North Carolina’s best player in Joel Berry II’s absence, but the guy to watch here is Trae Young. He’s a terrific passer that loves to fire up heat checks from 28-feet and Lon Kruger has given him the reins of the offense. You’ll enjoy watching him play.

PREDICTION: The Spartans get it done. What’s more intriguing to me is who actually gives them a run for their money.

Miles Bridges (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

PK80 MOTION

  • WHEN: Thu-Sun
  • WHO: No. 1 Duke, No. 8 Florida, No. 17 Gonzaga, Texas, Butler, Stanford, Ohio State, Portland State
  • WHERE: Portland

FAVORITE: Duke. They’re the best team in the country right now, and I’m not sure there is anyone in this event that is going to have the horses to run with them if Marvin Bagley III is healthy.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: To me, it’s Texas. We know Gonzaga is going to have something of a rebuilding year with everything they lost from a national runners-up, and Florida is Florida. They are who they are: Good enough to be in the mix, probably not good enough to be considered a Final Four contender. Texas, however, is the team that really intrigues me. The addition of Mo Bamba to their front line changed their defense and adding Matt Coleman has made them more difficult to guard in the half court, but they also added Dylan Osetkowski, and he’s been terrific. It’s far too early to make any sweeping claims on the Shaka Smart era, but he’s in year three, his two best players may end up leaving after this season and he’s yet to really do anything. This is the year to make some noise. Can they do it?

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: I think Texas might be the second-best team in the Big 12. Let’s see them get a shot at Duke in the semifinals.

THE STUD: It’s gotta be Bagley. Grayson Allen is Grayson Allen. As good as Mo Bamba is, watching defensive-minded centers is only so entertaining. Bagley, however, is the guy with the potential to be a franchise-changing draft pick and the one player in this event that is always going to be must-see TV.

PREDICTION: Duke gets it done. They’re just better than everyone else in this field.

HALL OF FAME CLASSIC

  • WHEN: Mon-Tue
  • WHO: No. 23 UCLA, No. 25 Baylor, Creighton, Wisconsin
  • WHERE: Kansas City

FAVORITE: At this point, I think Baylor is probably the best team in this event, although this field is as balanced and as difficult as any to predict. Manu Lecomte is playing as well as any guard in the Big 12 right now, and the next-man-up mantra that Scott Drew has developed within the Baylor program seems to be paying dividends. UCLA is probably the most talented team, and Creighton and Wisconsin both have potential all-americans on their roster, but for my money Baylor is the team to beat.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: With everything swirling around the UCLA program right now, the Bruins are in danger of having the bottom fall out of their season. Having players get arrested overseas for shoplifting while getting ready to play games is bad enough, but the Bruins now have to deal with the media circus that is LaVar Ball vs. Donald Trump. LaVar will be on CNN on Monday night to discuss this war of words less than an hour after UCLA’s game against Creighton finishes.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: We got it in the first round, as we were not only gifted an uptempo battle between UCLA and Creighton but we’ll also get to see the Badgers go toe-to-toe with Baylor. Ethan Happ vs. Jo Lual-Acuil is a better matchup than you probably realize.

THE STUD: It would be easy to say Lecomte, or Happ, or even Marcus Foster here, but I’m going to go with Foster’s teammate, Creighton guard Khyri Thomas. I’ve long held Thomas in very high regard given his ability to shoot the three and lock-up defensively, and he’ll have a chance to showcase that on a national stage tonight.

PREDICTION: Baylor beats Creighton in the final, UCLA goes 0-2 and LaVar Ball is still the topic of conversation.

Lavar Ball (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

NIT SEASON TIP-OFF

  • WHEN: Thu-Fri
  • WHO: No. 22 Seton Hall, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island
  • WHERE: MSG

FAVORITE: It’s probably Seton Hall. The Pirates have yet to really get things going this season, particularly with Angel Delgado on the interior, but they are tough and they are old and they are loaded with New York City guys playing their final season of college basketball. This will be something of a homecoming for Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, and I expect them to play like it.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Virginia fans are all over my mentions since I don’t have the Cavaliers ranked in my top 25. I’m not convinced that a win over a down-VCU program on the road makes the Wahoos one of the best teams in the country. They are, as is my colleague Raphielle Johnson. Win this tournament, and we’ll talk.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Seton Hall vs. Virginia. If you don’t like defense, don’t tune in. That game may not crack 60 points, but it will feature two potential Sweet 16 teams.

THE STUD: Angel Delgado is probably the best player in this tournament, but I’m most exited to see what will happen should Kyle Guy of Virginia get squared off with Seton Hall’s perimeter defenders.

PREDICTION: I think Virginia wins this tournament if they can get past Vanderbilt. I think The ‘Dores matchup much better with the pack-line defense than Seton Hall does.

MAUI INVITATIONAL

  • WHEN: Mon-Wed
  • WHO: No. 6 Wichita State, No. 13 Notre Dame, VCU, Marquette, Michigan, LSU, Cal, Chaminade
  • WHERE: Maui

FAVORITE: At this point, it has to be Wichita State. I wrote a column last week on how we need to put the Shockers into the discussion as the best team in college basketball, and I truly believe that. But the only NCAA tournament team that they’ve beaten in the post-Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker era is Dayton in last year’s tournament. This is their chance to do just that, although the field leaves a little something to be desired.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Technically, it’s Wichita State, but since we’ve talked enough about them I’m going to go with Michigan. The Wolverines have not looked good through the first 10 days of the season. They are going through some issues at the point, and Charles Matthews is still figuring out what he’s going to be asked to do by John Beilein. I thought this was a team that could compete for the top four in the Big Ten. That looks like a bad take so far.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: If we don’t get a matchup between Wichita State and Notre Dame in the title game, it will be a massive disappointment. Those are two top 15 teams in college hoops, and there would be nothing better on the Wednesday night of Thanksgiving weekend than seeing them face-off in Lahaina Gymnasium for the Maui crown.

THE STUD: Bonzie Colson. If you’ve never seen this kid play, you have to tune in. He’s not only one of the best players in college hoops and a legitimate National Player of the Year contender, but he’s also one of the most unique players I’ve ever come across.

PREDICTION: Wichita State wins a thriller over the Irish in the final.

Landry Shamet (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL

  • WHEN: Thu-Fri
  • WHO: No. 15 Xavier, Arizona State, Kansas State, George Washington
  • WHERE: Las Vegas

FAVORITE: Xavier has been very good early on this season, landing one of the most impressive wins of the year to date when they went into Wisconsin and knocked off the Badgers. There is a reason they are ranked where they are ranked.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Arizona State has started off the season quite well, as they are sitting at 4-0 on the season with a back court that has looked unguardable at times. There are two players on their roster – Tra Holder and Shannon Evans – averaging more than 20 points and six assists while shooting better than 46 percent from three. Yikes.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: We know Xavier is good. We’re not quite sure if Arizona State is good, but they sure have looked good. Let’s get them facing off in the final, for the good of America.

THE STUD: Trevon Bluiett. He may be the best scorer in college basketball – he’s yet to finish with less than 25 points in a game this season – and he’s one of the heavy favorites to win Player of the Year as of today.

PREDICTION: Xavier gets the job done. As impressive as Arizona State has been, I think their guards will struggle with the size and length of Xavier’s back court.

ADVOCARE INVITATIONAL

  • WHEN: Thu-Sun
  • WHO: No. 24 West Virginia, Missouri, St. John’s, Oregon State, Nebraska, UCF, Long Beach State, Marist
  • WHERE: Orlando

FAVORITE: I’m going to go with West Virginia here simply because I think that West Virginia’s loss to Texas A&M had more to do with circumstance and matchup than anything else, but I’m not sure there is a favorite. To me, this is the tournament we’ll learn the most from because …

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: … all six of the high-major programs in the event have something to prove. West Virginia got their tails kicked in the highest-profile game on the season’s opening night. Was that a fluke? We don’t know if or when Missouri if going to get Michael Porter Jr. back, or if they’re any good with him. UCF looked like a potential top 25 team heading into the season and then proceeded to get decimated by injuries. They’re playing key games for their NCAA tournament standing in their own back yard. I think St. John’s and Oregon State are going to be good this year, but we won’t know until we see them in this event. And with Nebraska, we’re trying to figure out if Tim Miles has a team that’s good enough to keep him employed.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Are we assuming that Porter, who has been dealing with a leg injury, is healthy? If so, I would love to see him square off with West Virginia. If not, then St. John’s has a back court – Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds – that is talented enough to give the Mountaineers press fits. That game would be sloppy, but it would be so much fun.

THE STUD: It’s Porter. He’s a top five player in the sport and the potential No. 1 overall pick. He also might not play, in which case West Virginia’s Jevon Carter would probably take the title of ‘best player in the event.’

PREDICTION: This is tougher to predict than you think, but I’m going to go with St. John’s. I think the talent is there for them to make their statement this weekend.

WOODEN LEGACY

  • WHEN: Thu-Sun
  • WHO: No. 21 Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, Harvard, Georgia, St. Joseph’s, Washington State, Cal State Fullerton, Sacramento State
  • WHERE: Anaheim

FAVORITE: Randy Bennett has done an unbelievable job building up the Saint Mary’s program and developing the kind of continuity that most mid-major coaches only dream of. The Gaels return quite a bit from last season’s team, including star big man Jock Landale, and badly need to add some quality wins to their name. Like Gonzaga in years past, Saint Mary’s still needs to prove themselves, even if they are the favorite to win the WCC.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Is San Diego State really going to be a contender in the Mountain West? Is the Mountain West anywhere near being a multi-bid league? Can the Aztec program survive the departure of Steve Fisher? We’re not going to get those answers this week, but a strong performance may slow down the torrent of questions.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Two of the ten best big men in college basketball will be in Anaheim for this event, and the world will be done a disservice if we don’t get to see Yante Maten of Georgia take on Landale in the title game.

THE STUD: While the easy answer is Landale, the truth is that it is Maten. Both are terrific players that deserve far more attention than they’ve gotten.

PREDICTION: Saint Mary’s wins the title, and does it in relatively easy fashion.

EMERALD COAST CLASSIC

  • WHEN: Fri-Sat
  • WHO: Maryland, TCU, St. Bonaventure, New Mexico
  • WHERE: Niceville, Florida

FAVORITE: At this point, I think it’s Maryland. The Terps have been impressive through four games, as Anthony Cowan looks like he may be an upgrade from Melo Trimble, Kevin Huerter seems to have taken a step forward and the freshman class of the Terps has played well. And they still haven’t gotten Justin Jackson right yet.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: No one is going to take TCU seriously until they do something to make us take them seriously. It’s TCU, and while they were a fringe top 25 team heading into the season, they’re still TCU. Winning this event would certainly put them on the map.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Maryland vs. TCU is the best final that could happen, but I’m going to go with the first round battle between the Terps and St. Bonaventure. Specifically, Jaylen Adams vs. Anthony Cowan at the point, because …

THE STUD: … Adams is the best player in this event. He’s a legitimate NBA prospect that, when paired with Matt Mobley in the back court, makes the Bonnies one of the most dangerous teams in the country.

PREDICTION: TCU brings home the title after St. Bonaventure does them the favor of picking off Maryland behind a 30-burger from Adams.

LEGENDS CLASSIC

  • WHEN: Mon-Tue
  • WHO: No. 16 Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Oklahoma State
  • WHERE: Barclays Center

FAVORITE: The Aggies are the default favorite here seeing as they are the only team that looks destined to get to the NCAA tournament.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Oklahoma State has been the trendy pick to finish last in the Big 12, and Pitt has been an absolute disaster during the Kevin Stallings tenure, but my pick here is Penn State. If the Nittany Lions are truly going to be in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid – that’s not the craziest thing in the world, given the talent on their roster – they need a good showing here. And at the very least a win over Pitt in the opening round.

MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Texas A&M vs. Penn State? Does anyone really need to see that?

THE STUD: Big Bob Williams. He is the Aggies best prospect even if he’s not their best player. He will be the guy that will draw NBA scouts to this game, as he has a chance to be a lottery pick.

PREDICTION: If the Aggies don’t cruise to a title in these two games, it’s time to be worried about my pick of them winning the SEC.

No. 25 Cincinnati sends Mississippi State to 1st loss 65-50

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — No. 25 Cincinnati had plummeted to the fringe of the rankings and needed a confidence boost. The Bearcats got it against a previously unbeaten team.

Jacob Evans III had 24 points and eight rebounds as Cincinnati recovered from its back-to-back losses and handed Mississippi State its first defeat, 65-50 on Tuesday night.

The Bearcats (8-2) were coming off losses to crosstown rival Xavier and Florida that dropped them from No. 11. They ended the slump with a solid defensive showing against the Southeastern Conference’s last unbeaten team, blocking 11 shots.

“We needed to get this win for us to build our confidence and get this thing back on track,” Evans said.

Mississippi State (8-1) was off to its best start since 2003-04. The Bulldogs struggled to make shots in their first game against a ranked team. They missed 10 straight in the first half and 14 in a row in the second as Cincinnati blew open a close game.

“I think we took a multitude of things away from them,” said Kyle Washington, who added 16 points. “We knew what we wanted to do on defense. We were locked in on how they played well as a team. We just wanted to take all of that away.”

Aric Holman matched his career high with 18 points and had 10 rebounds for Mississippi State, which shot a season-low 30 percent from the field. The Bulldogs weren’t ready for Cincinnati’s defense.

“We lost the game tonight because of our inability to attack that zone,” coach Ben Howland said. “We were standing way too much, not enough ball movement, not enough cutting and getting the ball inside.”

Cincinnati has won 31 straight home games , the longest streak in the nation. The Bearcats are playing this season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University while their on-campus arena is renovated. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs can’t get that breakthrough win against a ranked team. They have dropped 18 in a row against teams in the Top 25. Their last such win was 67-57 over Arizona on Nov. 18, 2011.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ offense was stymied during the losses to Xavier and Florida. Cincinnati shot 41 percent from the field against Mississippi State but scored 22 points off 14 Bulldogs turnovers.

“This was a defensive victory, no question about it,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We’re still searching on offense a little bit at times.”

DRY SPELLS

Mississippi State went nearly 7 minutes without a field goal in the first half, managing only one free throw, as Cincinnati took control. The Bulldogs’ 14 straight misses in the second half helped Cincinnati pull ahead by 19 points. The Bulldogs shot 45 percent or better in their eight wins, including four games at 50 percent or better.

FIRST TRIP

It was the first road game for Mississippi State, which was picked to finish 12th in the SEC preseason poll. Howland figured it will help get the Bulldogs ready for conference play.

“Cincinnati is like an upper-echelon SEC team, so it’s very similar,” Howland said.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

Cronin on the back-to-back losses: “I was just concerned about the guys’ confidence level. It’s hard to shield them from the social media and the outside world. Young people live in that world, and I’m sure the sky was falling in that world because we lost a few games.”

UP NEXT

Mississippi State plays at UT Martin on Saturday.

Cincinnati plays UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, a rematch against the team that knocked the Bearcats out of the NCAA Tournament 79-67 in the second round last season.

POSTERIZED: Jericho Sims throws down dunk on Duncan Robinson

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Playing without leading scorer Andrew Jones, who’s out of the lineup after suffering a fractured wrist, Texas got off to a slow start in the first half of its game against Michigan Tuesday night.

Freshman forward Jericho Sims did his best to provide a spark, as the 6-foot-9 Minnesota native rose above Michigan’s Duncan Robinson to throw down a vicious alley-oop dunk.

Sims has a couple inches on Robinson in the height department, and the running start Sims managed to get rolling to the basket didn’t help Robinson’s chances of stopping the dunk either.

Delgado keys No. 15 Seton Hall over Saint Peter’s

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (AP) — After playing solid defense in a win over Virginia Commonwealth last Saturday, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard knew that his 15th-ranked Pirates had to keep up the pressure against old-time New Jersey rival Saint Peter’s.

“I thought if we could get them a little out of a rhythm, we’d be in good shape,” Willard said after his team held the Peacocks to just one field goal among their first 12 shots in an easy 84-61 win at the old Walsh Gym on the campus of Seton Hall.

“We played a little zone to make it difficult for them to shoot,” Willard said. “I loved the way we came out and played defensively.”

The Pirates’ stifling defense enabled them to take an 8-0 lead and cruise from that point on. Seton Hall managed to push Saint Peter’s farther and farther away from the basket with every possession.

“It was the same intensity that we had against VCU,” Willard said.

“Saint Peter’s likes to be able to run their own stuff and we didn’t let them do it,” said senior forward Angel Delgado, who scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, the 57th time in his career that Delgado has registered double figures in both categories. “We pressed. We played zone. They couldn’t run anything.”

“I think we set the tone defensively,” said senior Desi Rodriguez, who continued his fine play with 17 points. “We were able to close out, defend their shots and we were able to make some runs.”

Khadeen Carrington added 11 points and five assists, as Seton Hall (9-1) raced out to an early lead and never looked back, winning for the 20th time in the last 21 meetings against the Peacocks (4-5).

Davauhnte Turner scored 13 points and Nick Griffin had nine to pace Saint Peter’s.

After Elijah Gonzales drained a 3-pointer to pull the Peacocks within 35-23, the Pirates scored the last seven points of the first half, capped by a layup by Delgado with 42 seconds remaining, giving Seton Hall a commanding 42-23 halftime lead. Rodriguez paced the Pirates with 11 first-half points.

Seton Hall scored the first four points after the break to take a 46-23 lead.

Freshman Myles Cale nailed a long 3-pointer, then threw down a monstrous windmill dunk off a steal to push the lead to 61-38, causing Saint Peter’s to call another timeout with 10:29 left.

Seton Hall held a commanding 43-27 advantage on the boards.

Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne came away impressed with the Pirates.

“We had Terry Dehere (Seton Hall’s all-time leading scorer) in for a practice and I said to him that this was the best Seton Hall team since he was there,” Dunne said. “I don’t get overly impressed by watching other teams, but I’m impressed with these guys. They have all the pieces. They play unselfishly and share the ball. They’re legit. It wasn’t like we lost to a bad team. We just got stopped by them from the start.”

OLD-TIME RIVALRY

It was the 88th meeting between the New Jersey rivals, dating to 1931-32. Seton Hall leads the all-time series 64-24 and has won 20 of the last 21 meetings. Saint Peter’s lone win in recent years came in 2013, winning 83-80 in overtime. The programs met every year since the 1949-50 season before taking a one-year hiatus last year.

SENIOR LEADERSHIP

The Pirates are the only Division I team to have three players who have scored 1,000 or more points during their career and all three (Rodriguez, Delgado and Carrington) all reached double figures Tuesday night.

FAMILIAR TERRITORY

Dunne was an assistant coach at Seton Hall from 2001 through 2006 under then-head coach Louis Orr.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

It was the 57th time in Delgado’s Seton Hall career that he collected double figures in points and rebounds, the top figure in the nation. Delgado led the nation in rebounding last season, grabbing 13.1 per game. Delgado is the only active Division I player with more than 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.

NATIONAL RANKING

The Pirates’ No. 15 ranking in the latest AP Poll is the highest for the program since Jan. 9, 2001.

THE BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: Tuesday night marked Seton Hall’s 26th consecutive win against non-conference teams at home. The Pirates improved to 422-142 inside Walsh Gym on the Seton Hall campus. Seton Hall plays its home games at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Saint Peter’s : The young Peacocks return only one key player, graduate student Nick Griffin, from the team that won 23 games and captured the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship last year. Fellow graduate student Nnamdi Enechionya was also a member of that team that tied the school record for wins in a season.

UP NEXT: The Pirates travel down the New Jersey Turnpike to take on state rival Rutgers in Piscataway on Saturday in the Garden State Hardwood Classic.

The Peacocks stay on the road and head to LIU Brooklyn on Sunday at the Barclays Center.

What’s Wrong With Kansas?: After losing back-to-back games, are the Jayhawks still contenders?

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Kansas entered 2017-18 as a preseason top four team, the consensus favorite to win their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title and a contender to make a return to the Final Four and win Bill Self his second national title.

It made sense.

The Jayhawks had an All-American running the show at the point in Devonte’ Graham. They had a former McDonald’s All-American slotted to start alongside him, while two top 20 recruits – sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston – anchored a front line that was not deep but that did provide some quality size. There were some easily identifiable issues, but what team didn’t have easily identifiable issues?

In short, there was no real reason to think that Kansas would not be able to do what they always seem to do.

And yet here we are, on Dec. 12th, and the Jayhawks are coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time in four years. That was the year that the Jayhawks lost at Colorado and at Florida with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid on the roster. You have to go back all the way to Nov. 2005 to find the last time that the Jayhawks lost consecutive games that were not on the road. That year, they lost their first two games in the Maui Invitational, and after dispatching Chaminade in the seventh-place game, came back to Lawrence to lose at home to Nevada.

What happened here?

How is it that we all thought would be so good, that looked so dominant for stretches early on this season, lost back-to-back games in the manner that they did?

1. KANSAS DOES NOT HAVE NEARLY ENOUGH BODIES

You cannot talk about Kansas without first mentioning that the Jayhawks are playing with seven scholarship players right now. We’ve been through this over and over again, so I won’t spend too much time on it, but ignoring this problem would be like blaming Goodyear for your flat tire while ignoring that you drove your car directly into a pothole.

As it currently stands, the only players that Bill Self has available to him off the bench are sophomore Mitch Lightfoot and freshman Marcus Garrett. Lightfoot is a stretchy four that should be playing sparingly at this point in his development; he’s being asked to provide 15 minutes a night as the only big man on the roster other than Azubuike. Garrett is a top 50 recruit that has a chance to be a good player and a valuable contributor down the road, but right now he’s not quite ready to provide quality minutes playing, at times, the small-ball four role Josh Jackson played last season.

This is a problem that could get solved by the end of the month. Sam Cunliffe, a transfer from Arizona State that averaged 9.5 points last season, will be eligible for the second semester. At the very least, he’ll provide another shooter, another athlete and five more fouls on the perimeter. The issue is whether or not Preston or high school senior Silvio De Sousa will get eligible. Preston is still sitting out as Kansas and the NCAA work through who paid for the car Preston crashed last month. De Sousa needs to get a high enough test score to graduate and be eligible to enroll early.

Preston should help provide offensively – more on that in a second – while De Sousa would essentially be another big, physical body that can give the Jayhawks rebounding, rim protection and five more fouls.

Both are necessary.

Devonte’ Graham (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

2. KANSAS NEVER REPLACED THE TOUGHNESS THEY LOST WITH JOSH JACKSON AND FRANK MASON III

I discussed this with Jeff Goodman on the most recent episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast. (See below.)

There has never been a player better suited to being a small-ball four in college than Josh Jackson. Let’s for get, for a second, that he was a 6-foot-8 two-guard that could block shots, rebound the ball, make threes and create off the bounce as well as most college point guards. He was also a winner, competitive as all hell and unafraid of the contact and physicality that comes with playing in the paint in the Big 12.

The same can be said for Frank Mason III, who was a pitbull of a point guard. He, too, was uber-competitive and unafraid of a fight, figuratively speaking.

The Jayhawks not only had two alphas on last year’s roster, both of those alphas were all-americans-turned-NBA players. Jackson was the No. 4 pick in the draft while Mason, a second-rounder, looks to be the best rookie point guard in an organization that also drafted De’Aaron Fox.

Who does Bill Self turn to to find that kind of mental and physical toughness?

Devonte’ Graham is a leader in his own way, but he’s not Mason and he doesn’t lead by example the way either of those two did. Svi Mykhailiuk is not tough enough to handle playing the four the way Jackson did. He was barely tough enough to handle the on-ball pressure Arizona State put on him on Sunday. Lagerald Vick is tough, but he’s also a role player and a spot-up shooter that stands all of 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He’s not replacing Jackson at the four. Malik Newman isn’t the answer. Mitch Lightfoot certainly isn’t the answer.

There isn’t an answer, far as I can tell.

(Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

“This is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here,” Self told reporters on Monday.

There are two places where that lack of toughness has manifested itself.

It starts on the defensive end of the floor, where Kansas arguably lost their two-best perimeter defenders in Jackson and Mason. Graham and Vick are plus-defenders, but Graham has, in the past, been at his best when he’s chasing an off-guard around screens and denying him the ball, and Vick needs to guards wings; he’s just not big enough to defend in the paint.

Svi is not a good defender. Period. Newman is somewhere between average and not good himself. Combine that lack of perimeter defense with the fact that Azubuike has to limit how aggressive he is as a shot-blocker because of foul issues, and you get a team that can absolutely be exploited by opponents that can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Arizona State – with their trio of dynamic playmakers in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin – will make some of the nation’s best defensive teams look silly. Washington also has some better-than-you-think slashers on their roster.

It’s a major problem.

“I’m not ready to accept that that’s the best we’ve got, but it’s pretty embarrassing to keep looking at the tape afterward and say this is what we don’t have,” Self said. “We’ve been saying it now the entire year, at least from a defensive and competitive standpoint. Maybe we need to do something to shorten the game. Maybe we need to do something to figure out a matchup zone to play or something like that.”

The other place the toughness issue arises is in the ability of the Jayhawks to protect the ball. They gave up roughly a dozen points against Arizona State with pick-six turnovers, and most of those were simply an issue of getting their pocket-picked by an aggressive perimeter defender.

That leads to a bigger discussion, because …

Malik Newman (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

3. KANSAS ONLY HAS ONE PLAYER THAT CAN CREATE A SHOT

That’s Devonte’ Graham.

He is, legitimately, a top ten player in college basketball and a top four point guard in the sport, depending on what you think of Jalen Brunson, Joel Berry II and Trae Young.

But he’s also the only guy that you can trust to make a play for himself, or to make a teammate better by creating a shot for him. Svi is a spot-up shooter that can, upon occasion, attack a close-out. Vick is also a spot-up shooter than can attack a close-out. Azubuike can finish a lob and score off of an offensive rebound, but for the most part he is a catch-and-dunk big man. Put another way, you’re not giving him the ball on the block and expecting him to be able to draw a foul or score. Lightfoot isn’t really an offensive threat, and Garrett isn’t really ready.

That leaves Newman, and he was supposed to be the guy that made the difference this season. Except … he’s not the guy we thought he was in high school. In four games against high-major competition, Newman is averaging 8.8 points, shooting 37.5 percent from inside the arc, 29.2 percent from three and attempting 60 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc. The most damning stat, however, is that in 129 minutes of action in those four games, Newman has attempted two free throws.

Two!

And he’s not the only one at fault in that regard.

There are just two teams in college basketball that, based on free throw rate (FTA/FGA), get to the free throw line less than Kansas does: Jackson State and Sam Houston State, and they don’t even have the benefit of playing buy games where they are all-but guaranteed to get a friendly whistle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

There are a few things that lead to that stat:

  • Kansas does not have penetrators that look to put the ball on the floor and get fouled.
  • Kansas does not have post presence that can draw fouls.
  • When Kansas does get the ball into the paint, it quite often ends up being some form of a lob for a dunk, which is not the easiest way to draw fouls.
  • The perimeter players on the Kansas roster all want to be shooters.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Svi shoots 46.2 percent from three. Vick shoots it at 45 percent. Newman is knocking down 40.5 percent of his threes while Graham is hitting 40 percent of his attempts.

The problem is what happens when teams chase them off the three-point line.

Washington did it. They did everything they could to keep Kansas from getting open three-point looks, to the point that, in their 2-3 zone, they Vick – at the high post – to play 2-on-1 with Azubuike against their middle defender. Vick scored 28 points and had seven assists, and – it’s going to sound crazy – when I say this, but he was exposed in that game:

Svi was exposed in the same way against Arizona State, who dogged him with smaller, quicker defends and forced him into a 3-for-14 shooting night while turning the ball over four times:

 

This is something that I think Billy Preston can help solve. He is a bucket-getter. He’s not exactly Perry Ellis, but he is a guy that can ably fill that hybrid-four role that Self loves to use. He’s the guy that can get a post touch, force a double, draw a foul, get a defense moving. He’s the guy that can be the pressure release for guards that are getting swarmed. He’s the guy that can make a team pay if they don’t want to guard him at the high-post of a 2-3 zone.

And who knows when, or if, he’ll actually play this season.

I’m officially worried about this Kansas team, more so than I am with Duke or Arizona.

It’s too early to make any predictions regarding the Big 12 title streak, but if Kansas does not get the reinforcements that they so desperately need, it will soon be time to have a serious conversation about whether or not the Jayhawks are the best team in the Big 12.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s time to put Trae Young at No. 1

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: The way the college basketball Player of the Year award is given out is generally pretty simple: Unless there is a player on a good team – i.e. a top four seed – having an insane, outlier season, the award is given to the best player that is on the roster of a team that is a national title contender.

That rule has proven true in every year of the one-and-done era.

  • 2017: Frank Mason won and played for No. 1 seed Kansas.
  • 2016: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine split the award. Oklahoma was a No. 1 seed and reached the Final Four. Michigan State was a No. 2 seed and entered the tournament as the favorite to win it all.
  • 2015: Frank Kaminsky was a No. 1 seed with Wisconsin.
  • 2014: Doug McDermott averaged 26 points for No. 3 seed Creighton.
  • 2013: The only name on this list that doesn’t quite fit perfectly, Trey Burke starred for Michigan, who was a No. 4 seed that year. But they also spent much of the season ranked No. 1, reached the Final Four and finished as a top five team on KenPom.
  • 2012: Anthony Davis won as the star of Kentucky’s title-winning team.
  • 2011: Jimmer Fredette won as Jimmer-mania swept the college basketball world and BYU finished as a No. 3 seed.
  • 2010: Evan Turner beat out John Wall for most of the awards. Ohio State was a No. 2 seed and Kentucky was a No. 1 seed.
  • 2009: Oklahoma finished as a No. 2 seed after Blake Griffin returned for his sophomore season and dominated.
  • 2008: The year before North Carolina won the national title they finished as a No. 1 seed as Tyler Hansbrough won the Player of the Year award.
  • 2007: Kevin Durant averaged 26 points and 11 boards for Texas as the Longhorns entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed.
  • 2006: J.J. Redick was playing for No. 1 seed Duke, and he was almost beaten out by Adam Morrison, who averaged 28.1 points for No. 3 seed Gonzaga.

That’s why Trae Young has not topped our Player of the Year rankings yet this season.

Because there wasn’t much evidence that he was on a team with a shot of getting a top four seed. I’m still not convinced that is any sort of lock, but as of today the Sooners are now sitting at 7-1 on the season and ranked in the top 25. If they win at No. 3 Wichita State this weekend, that will change. Even if they don’t, playing in a league that is as good as the Big 12 appears to be – no one in the conference ranks lower than 63rd on KenPom – will mean that their computer numbers will get and stay inflated once league play starts.

But here’s the other part of it: Young’s season is such an outlier than the rules may not matter. Assuming he stays on his current pace (I can’t imagine that he actually will, but he might) he’ll do things that have not been done for 27 years, and that may never have been done before. Young is currently averaging 28.8 points and 8.8 assists. The last player to do that was Loyola Marymount’s Terrell Lowery back in 1990-1991.

And as far as I can tell, no player – at least not in the KenPom era, so please correct me if I’m wrong here – has ever posted his level of efficiency on the insane amount of usage he gets in the Oklahoma offense:

2. MARVIN BAGLEY, Duke: Bagley posted another double-double on Saturday, finishing with 15 points and 12 boards as the Blue Devils took a loss against Boston College, but what was most concerning about that performance was that he took four shots in the second half and three of them were three-pointers. That doesn’t diminish the start that he has had to the season, where he took over down the stretch in wins over Florida, Texas and at Indiana.

3. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Tra Holder has been the best player for the most surprising team in college basketball this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.6 boards while shooting 46.3 percent from three on more than six attempts per game. He had 29 points and seven assists in a win at Phog Allen on Sunday. He put up 40 points on Xavier. He’s having a tremendous season.

4. MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges came to the forefront on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic, and in the process took over the lead as Villanova’s Player of the Year option. Read all about that here.

5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Ho hum, it was another week with a pair of 25-point performances for Bluiett. He’s now scored at least 25 points in six of 10 games this season.

6. DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall: Rodriguez has turned into Seton Hall’s best player this sason. Last weekend, he had 17 points, seven boards and four assists in a blow-out win over VCU.

7/. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: West Virginia has completely turned things around after that embarrassing start to the season. Carter has been the catalyst. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 6.0 assists, 5.4 boards and 3.8 steals and just put 23, 10 and seven on Virginia.

8. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: Colson’s Notre Dame team took a couple of hits in the last month, but he’s still putting up impressive numbers and is an improved defensive presence. Now if he can only find a way to start making threes at a better clip again.

9. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: Murphy fell this week and will continue to drop in these rankings for the same reason that I had a hard time putting Trae Young at No. 1 before this week. Minnesota needs to stop losing games.

10. LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: Maye makes his way back into these rankings. He’s averaging 19.9 points and 10.5 boards for the Tar Heels this season, but he really struggled against Michigan State. I need to see Maye play more teams of that ilk before fully buying in.

ALSO CONSIDERED: DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona; JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; D.J. HOGG, Texas A&M; DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona