Everything you need to know to catch up on college basketball post-CFB Playoff

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NO ONE IS GOOD THIS YEAR

College basketball does not have a dominant team this season. For the first time since 1948, there were no undefeated Division I basketball teams on New Year’s Day. With the exception of the American – where neither Cincinnati or Wichita State seem likely to lose unless it is to each other – the preseason favorite in every power conference has already taken at least one loss in league play.

I do not like to use the word parity in college basketball, because the idea that teams from low- and mid-major conferences can compete with the biggest and best programs in the country is ludicrous.

I do, however, think that it is more accurate to say that the gap between the best teams in the country and the rest of the field is as small as I can ever remember it being. For my money, Villanova and Michigan State are the two-best teams in the country and both are flawed. Duke and Arizona are probably the two most-talented teams in the country and neither of them want to defend. Beyond that, we’re talking about, who, the likes of Texas Tech, or Virginia, or Purdue, or West Virginia?

There is a reason that, as of today, 14 top five teams have lost to unranked opponents this season.

Don’t expect that trend to change. (Rob Dauster)

TRAE YOUNG IS MUST-SEE TV

Consider this my official pitch to make Trae Young’s nickname “Unprecedented.”

Oklahoma’s 6-foot-2 freshman point guard is currently averaging 29.4 points and 10.2 assists per game. No one has done that since at least 1992-93, as far back as Sports-Reference’s database goes. His usage rate (39.8) and assist rate (55.6) are the highest-eve in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2004. He leads the country in both points and assists per game. No one’s ever done that.

He’s also been the catalyst of Oklahoma’s rebound season, getting the Sooners to 12-2 after they won just 11 games in all of last season. Young’s done it with flair, too. The Steph Curry comparisons are probably unfair…but they kind of make a lot of sense. Young will shoot from anywhere past halfcourt and plays with creativity and vision that you maybe see once in a generation.

He’s amazing. He’s unreal. He is Unprecedented. (Travis Hines)

DUKE’S DEFENSE IS STILL A DISASTER

This has been the knock on the Blue Devils for the last four or five years. Ever since Coach K fully embraced becoming a one-and-done factory – and ever since college basketball did away with the freedom of movement rules – Duke has yet to find a way to make themselves an elite defensive team.

Outside of a three-week run in March of 2015 when a mediocre Duke defense turned into one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen in the college ranks, it has been a consistent theme with this group.

And this year is no different.

As of today, the Blue Devils rank outside the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. They may be the most dominant offensive team in the country, one that can pound the ball in the paint and dominate the offensive glass, but they’ve yet to give up fewer than 89 points in an ACC game this season. Until that changes, Duke can no longer be called a national title contender.

You can’t win six games in March if you cannot stop anyone. (RD)

Jalen Brunson (Elsa/Getty Images)

VILLANOVA DIDN’T MISS A BEAT

It’s really been an amazing few years for VIllanova. The Wildcats have been a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament every year since 2014, won the national title in 2016, won their first 14 games to start last year and have spent time rank as the No. 1 team in the country this year. That’s the kind of consistent excellence that only the top-tier programs can even dream of. Villanova has been living it.

Jay Wright has gotten superlative performances from Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges this season to fuel one of the country’s most potent offenses. The defense isn’t elite, but it’s more than good enough to keep the Wildcats afloat should their offense sputter in small doses. Once again, Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. If Jay Wright gets a second national title, the discussion of his position in the all-time coaches conversation is going to be interesting. (TH)

THE SEC IS REALLY GOOD, AND THE TITLE RACE IS A GLORIOUS DISASTER

The SEC might very well be the best conference in college basketball this season. I’m not sure how many teams are actually going to make the NCAA tournament from the conference this season, but I do think that, two weeks into conference play, there are at least three teams with a losing record that will be dancing: Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M.

The latter is probably the best team in the conference this season, but the Aggies have yet to play a league game with anything close to resembling a full roster. When D.J. Hogg isn’t suspended, Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson are not injured and Robert Williams is playing like a lottery pick, they’re dominant. We haven’t seen that A&M team in a long time.

And that is how the likes of Florida and Auburn have climbed to the top of the league. The Gators are wildly inconsistent and rely far too much on the three ball, while Auburn – like Arkansas and Tennessee – is one of these teams that seems to thrive more on effort than on raw talent, while Alabama has yet to find a way to strike a balance between being a good team offensively and defending the way they defended last year.

Hell, even Georgia and Mississippi State have looked like they might be able to flirt with an at-large bid.

The name you didn’t hear yet, however, is Kentucky.

Which leads me to my next point … (RD)

KENTUCKY IS STILL TRYING TO FIT THEIR PIECES TOGETHER

There are flashes where Kentucky looks like a team that has the horses to make a run at a national title.

Beating Louisville by 29 points was one of those times. Their win over Virginia Tech was one of those times. There were flashes against LSU, and Georgia, and Tennessee, but for the most part, those moments are just flashes.

The issue isn’t necessarily on the offensive end, either. The Wildcats have done a pretty good job on that end. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a go-to scorer, Quade Green has opened things up with his ability to impact a game and Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel are actually making threes at a pretty good clip.

The problem actually seems to be defensively, where Kentucky isn’t elite. They’re good, 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but 17th nationally isn’t good enough for a team that has some limitations on the other end.

Kentucky needs to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams and they have the athletes to do so. What they don’t always have, however, is elite toughness and the kind of defensive instincts you want them to have.

Kentucky is growing and learning and improving. You can see it. But they still have a ways to go before we can start talking about them as a title contender. (RD)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

KANSAS IS NOT THE BIG 12 FAVORITE

Kansas has won 13 Big 12 titles in a row, so they’re probably the betting favorite right now, but when you look at the resumes, it’s hard not to surmise that Texas Tech is the team to beat in the conference. The Red Raiders’ only loss came to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden, and now they already own a win over the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and beatdowns over Baylor and Kansas State.

The computers love Texas Tech – KenPom has the Raiders ranked fourth – and the eye test gives the same impression. In Lawrence, Chris Beard’s team was the tougher, more disciplined and more cohesive group on the court for basically the full 40 minutes. That almost never happens in Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech is elite defensively, pretty darn good offensively and have a star in Keenan Evans. They’ve got a ton of experience and plenty of talent, too. The Red Raiders are legit. And the best team in the Big 12.

But they’re not alone atop the league. West Virginia has been terrific, became the first team to truly slow down Trae Young and are still waiting on getting Esa Ahmad back. Oklahoma … well they have Trae Young. Even TCU looks like a team that will make some noise in the title race. (TH)

VIRGINIA IS RECESSION-PROOF, AND THE BEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Virginia has suffered a lot of losses in the last couple years. Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes all moved on. A drawback from this recent run of success wouldn’t be all that surprising. But the Cavaliers look to be as strong as ever.

Obviously, it’s the defense. Tony Bennett’s team ranks No. 1 in adjusted defense on KenPom thanks to opponent effective field goal percentage of 42.4, a 23 percent turnover rate and strong defensive rebounding.

At Virginia, the system is the star. The pack-line defense has excelled year after year under Bennett. The Cavs control pace – they rank outside the top-300 in both offensive and defensive length of possession – and dictate nearly every aspect of the game. The roster may turn over, the All-Americans may graduate and their games may be boring, but Virginia is proving they’re just going to keep winning regardless. With a 14-1 overall record and a 3-0 mark in the ACC, Virginia is just doing Virginia’s thing.

THE PAC-12 IS NOT GOOD

Arizona has been an unqualified disappointment. Arizona State has lost some shine. UCLA is fine. USC, Oregon and Utah are whatever. And those are the highlights this season for the Pac 12.

The league is really stinking up the joint this year.

Six Pac 12 teams (Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State, Colorado and Cal) are ranked outside the KenPom top-100. Of the other power conferences, only the ACC has multiple teams fitting that distinction with two. The Big East and SEC – the SEC! – have none. And Pac 12 has six. Six.

It’s really been a rough run for the league since its last high point of late in the last decade. Last year, Oregon was the league’s first Final Four participant since UCLA in 2008. Maybe the Wildcats or Sun Devils get back there in a few months, but anything short of that is going to keep the conversation very much about what’s wrong with the Pac 12. (TH)

THERE MAY NOT BE AN AT-LARGE BID FROM OUTSIDE THE POWER CONFERENCES

The way that it looks right now, the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, the WCC and the Missouri Valley could all end up being one-bid leagues this season. Rhode Island and Gonzaga will probably be worthy of at-large bids if they don’t end up getting the automatic bid from their conference. Nevada and Saint Mary’s will be in the mix.

But what if URI and Gonzaga both win their league tournaments? What if Saint Mary’s doesn’t pick up a win over Gonzaga this season? What if Nevada doesn’t put together a résumé worthy of an at-large?

All of those things are pretty likely to happen.

And if they do, every one of the available at-large bids will end up in the hands of power conference teams.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: No. 7 Wichita State, No. 8 Texas Tech lose

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It’s hard to argue with the performance that J.P. Macura had on Saturday. No. 11 Xavier went into Newark and knocked off No. 19 Seton Hall, 73-64, behind 27 points, five boards and three assists from Macura.

This win was particularly important for Xavier, who remain just a game out of first place in the Big East and in great position to make a run at getting a top three seed, which would mean they likely won’t have to play Villanova until the Big East title game. The loss is the second in a row for Seton Hall and the their third loss in four games.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards finished with 22 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers as the No. 3 Boilermakers blew out Iowa on the road.
  • MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman finished with 24 points and seven boards, including a personal 7-0 run with three minutes left to help No. 10 Kansas remain in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 70-67 win over Baylor.
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: Brown finished with 28 points as Auburn erased a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off Georgia 79-65 and remain within a game of first-place in the SEC.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: In a win over No. 24 Kansas State, TCU’s second-straight win over a ranked team, Wade went for 20 pints, six boards, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Houston landed themselves their first marquee win of the season as they pounded No. 7 Wichita State in Houston, 73-59. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points and four assists, putting the Cougars in a position where earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is feasible. There is still plenty of work left to do, but this is the start they needed.

The bigger question mark, however, is Wichita State, who also lost at home to SMU this week. The Shockers are nowhere near as good as many expected them to be. Their offense isn’t good enough to make up for the fact that they aren’t guarding anyone.

GAME OF THE DAY

Trae Young went for 48 points, 34 of which came after halftime as the Sooners erased a 19-point deficit, but thanks to a Kendall Smith three at the end of regulation, this game went into overtime. Young had shots at the buzzer in regulation and in overtime to win the game and missed both, as the Pokes escaped with an 83-81 win.

Young needed 39 shots to get those 48 points. We went through whether or not that is too many shots for him here.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Iowa State, who can’t guard anyone and is probably the worst team in the Big 12 this season, knocked off No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-52. The Red Raiders have now lost three of their last four games – all of which came on the road – after winning at Kansas. Texas Tech is also now just 1-3 in the four games since Zach Smith broke his foot, but they also beat Baylor by 24 points and won at Kansas when Smith played 10 total minutes.

So you explain Texas Tech to me. Because I don’t get it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

The Florida Gators moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC thanks to a 66-64 win at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. It was hardly a pretty game – Florida shot 33 percent from the floor and 6-for-30 from three – but the Gators were able to hang on thanks to a questionable no-call in the final seconds.

No. 20 Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, 67-58, but missing out on a commitment from Zion Williamson wasn’t the only bad news of the day. Star forward Donte Grantham went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. He averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards. Losing him would be disastrous for the Tigers.

No. 14 Arizona had to rally down the stretch, but the Wildcats did. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the second half at Stanford, the Wildcats survived as Dorian Pickens missed a three at the buzzer. The win puts Arizona all alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench as No. 1 Villanova blew out UConn in Hartford, 81-61.

No. 13 Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both won, meaning that the Gaels still hold a one game lead over the Zags in the WCC. Nevada knocked off Boise State, giving the Wolf Pack a two-game lead in the Mountain West.

At this point, Pitt barely counts as ACC competition. But they are and No. 5 Duke beat them 81-54 tonight.

Jevon Carter went for 22 points and eight assists as No. 6 West Virginia knocked off Texas, 86-51. The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Mountaineers pulled away late.

The star of the day for No. 12 Cincinnati was Gary Clark, who finished with 14 points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks, in an 86-60 win over East Carolina.

Luke Maye went for 17 points and 11 boards to lead four players in double figures as No. 15 North Carolina held on to beat Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech, 80-66.

It ended up not being much of a game when the Big Ten invaded Madison Square Garden as No. 22 Ohio State put a beating on Minnesota, 67-49. Minnesota lost Jordan Murphy to an ankle injury in the game as well.

You Make The Call: Did Kentucky’s P.J. Washington get fouled?

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There was a controversial finish to Florida’s 66-64 win over No. 18 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.

Florida had taken a 45-37 lead on the Wildcats before Kentucky fought back, eventually pulling ahead before the Gators surged back in front. A pair of threes and a missed front-end set up a situation where the Wildcats had the ball, down 66-64, on the final possession of the game, leading to this play:

P.J. Washington drives to the rim and appears to get hit in the head by Jalen Hudson. Hudson initially gets his hand on top of the ball, but as Washington’s momentum carries him, Hudson rakes Washington across the face and pushes his head back with his elbow.

It’s not intentional, but the contact is clearly there.

Did the referees blow this call?

If they did, the call could end up determining the SEC regular season champion. Entering Saturday, both Kentucky and Florida were tied for the league lead at 5-1 in the conference. They play again on the season’s final weekend in Gainesville.

Norvell helps No. 13 Gonzaga bounce back to beat Santa Clara

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and No. 13 Gonzaga bounced back from its first conference loss of the season to beat Santa Clara 75-60 on Saturday night.

Josh Perkins added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, Rui Hachimura scored 16 points and Killian Tillie had 12. Johnathan Williams had nine points and eight boards for Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1 West Coast Conference), including his 400th career rebound.

Two days after a 74-71 home loss to Saint Mary’s that ended Gonzaga’s six-game winning streak, the Bulldogs had trouble shaking the pesky Broncos (7-13, 4-4) until Norvell found his stroke after halftime.

Norvell made pair of 3s, a short jumper and a layup in the first 7 ½ minutes of the second half, scored on an offensive rebound as part of a 12-0 run, and then made a fast-break one-handed dunk to put the Bulldogs up 75-41.

It was Gonzaga’s 17th consecutive win over the Broncos and improved coach Mark Few’s record to 40-4 against Santa Clara.

KJ Feagin scored 21 points for the Broncos.

Unlike the first game between the teams this season, when Gonzaga built 27-point lead by halftime on the way to a win in Spokane, Santa Clara kept it close early despite struggling from beyond the arc.

The Broncos missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts but were tied with 8 ½ minutes left in the first half following Josip Vrankic’s driving layup that had the crowd at Leavey Center roaring.

Part of the problem for Gonzaga was the Bulldogs’ inability to keep Feagin from getting to the basket. He had 12 points in the first 20 minutes, made three layups and tipped in his own miss to help Santa Clara close within seven at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have not lost back-to-back games this season and looked good after a somewhat slow start. Norvell provided a huge boost but the Zags also got another big game from Hachimura, who has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.

Santa Clara: Coming off a win at San Francisco, the Broncos made a splash in the first half at home to keep things interesting. They never had the Bulldogs on their heels, but it was a much better effort than their first meeting.

No. 10 Kansas rallies late to beat Baylor, 70-67

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self has relied on a four-guard lineup all season, one that is designed to attack the basket aggressively, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

He was fortunate one of those four guards stepped up Saturday night.

Malik Newman scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the final minutes, bailing out the rest of his sluggish teammates, and Baylor turned the ball over on the last inbounds play as the No. 10 Jayhawks escaped with a 70-67 victory that kept them atop the Big 12.

“We were lucky,” Self said, “to have one guy out there putting defense on its heels.”

The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1 Big 12) trailed 67-61 with 2:05 to go before Newman went on his scoring binge, giving them the slimmest of leads again. The Bears (12-7, 2-5) had a couple of chances after that, but Manu Lecomte missed a 3-pointer and a layup attempt high off the glass with three seconds left.

Devonte Graham added a pair of free throws before Baylor squandered a chance at the final shot.

“(Newman) put us on his back and all we needed was to get those stops,” Graham said, “and we did.”

It was the Jayhawks’ 11th consecutive win over the Bears, who have never won in 16 tries in Lawrence. It was also the closest Baylor has come during any of those games.

Graham finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Udoka Azubuike had 14 points and seven boards, but he was just 4 of 11 from the foul line and missed two crucial ones late.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. had 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out for Baylor. Nuni Omot added 14 points and Lecomte had 10, though he was 3 of 12 from the floor and 1 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

“Very frustrating. We’re as good a team as them. We know we can beat them,” Lecomte said. “They’re a really good team. They never give up. Next time we have to make sure we keep that lead.”

Allen Fieldhouse has been Baylor coach Scott Drew’s personal house of horrors — the closest he had come to winning had been the Bears’ 73-68 loss last season. And when the Jayhawks opened the game by making their first seven shots and taking an 18-5 lead, it looked as if this one would be no different.

It took Drew burning through nearly all his timeouts to settle Baylor down.

Shots eventually stopped falling for Kansas as the Bears picked up their defensive pressure, and their deficit dwindled to 32-26 before a late flurry left them in a 38-27 halftime hole.

Kansas began the second half determined to get Azubuike the ball in the paint, and he made good on his first couple of chances. But when he failed to execute a few times in a row, Self greeted him during a timeout with, “Are you kidding me?” — spiced up with an extra word.

The Jayhawks still led 52-47 midway through the second half when Baylor went on a 16-4 run.

Omot started it with a bucket in the paint, but it was seven free throws by the senior forward that did the real damage. Lual-Acuil’s basket with 4:39 left gave Baylor a 61-56 advantage.

The Bears scored on nine consecutive possessions down the stretch.

Newman finally turned the momentum, though. He converted a three-point play and a nifty drive on a run-out, then knocked down another basket to give Kansas a 68-67 lead with a minute left.

“When the game is on the line, Coach always says that players make plays,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and we came out with a win.”

HONORING JO JO

Kansas honored two-time All-American Jo Jo White with a video tribute before tipoff. The seven-time NBA All-Star, whose jersey hangs from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, died Tuesday at the age of 71.

BYE, BYE BILLY

Kansas freshman Billy Preston signed with a pro team in Bosnia on Friday, ending any chance the five-star prospect will play for the Jayhawks. Preston had been held out all season while the school looked into the finances of the car he was driving during a November accident.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor has lost its last five games to the Jayhawks by a combined 20 points, no doubt adding to Drew’s frustration. Six of the Bears’ seven losses this season have come against ranked teams.

Kansas has won five straight to grab ahold of the Big 12 race, though none of them have been very comfortable. The Jayhawks’ winning streak has been by a combined 18 points.

Zion Williamson’s commitment gives Duke perhaps its best recruiting class ever

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Zion Williamson ended his recruitment and committed to Duke during a ceremony in his high school on Saturday night. The five-star forward from Spartanburg, SC is the most popular high school basketball player since LeBron James, drawing tens of millions of YouTube views and sellout crowds around the country to watch him play.

Landing a top-five prospect and a 6-foot-6, 275-pound forward like Williamson is a huge get for the Blue Devils. It’s also a bit of a shocker to see Duke win this recruiting battle for Williamson as in-state Clemson was considered by many to be the favorite to keep the local star at home. Williamson became a legend in South Carolina, playing to giant crowds, winning multiple state titles and constantly getting recognized in public.

The local stardom turned national and eventually international. Drake got a customized Williamson jersey at one point. When Williamson went to Italy for the Adidas Eurocamp he was recognized there on the street. Millions of people witnessed Williamson’s Las Vegas showdown with LaVar and LaMelo Ball at the Adidas Summer Championships.

And although Williamson is a top-five talent who should help make Duke a better team in the ACC, he gives them perhaps their best recruiting class of all time. Williamson joins R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Tre Jones in the Class of 2018 recruiting haul. Many scouting services have some combination of Barrett, Reddish and Williamson as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 prospects in the country. Jones isn’t far behind and still in the top ten.

Watching Barrett, Williamson, Reddish and Jones play together is going to be absolutely fascinating on so many levels. It’s four playmakers who are all talented with the ball in their hands and Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all potential multi-positional players.

The basketball community has plenty of debates about how Williamson’s NBA stock will play out and how his intriguing skill level will be used at the college level. Watching Williamson live is like seeing a Pro Bowl defensive lineman who explodes off the ground for violent dunks. He’s been compared to throwback players like Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley.

What position will Williamson play? Will Williamson be at his best with the ball in his hands on offense? How will Williamson’s inconsistent perimeter jumper look? Will that perimeter jumper allow Williamson to play on the wing? Can Williamson power through bigger players at the college level? A man among boys at the high school level, Williamson will face legitimately-sized competition at every turn next season.

Duke is going to be riveting to watch no matter where Williamson plays. Williamson could wind up being a star at the college level who has legitimate NBA question marks. The Blue Devils have a potential all-conference player on their hands. We won’t know how Williamson truly looks until he’s fully in-shape and running with an offense that has been suited to help him succeed. Since Williamson has been battling injuries for his senior season, he hasn’t been at his best basketball shape all season. But once Williamson gets healthy and dialed in, he could be one of college basketball’s most fascinating case studies in recent memory.

The Blue Devils have a shocking amount of talent once again next season. It could be their best recruiting class ever — which is really saying something for a Coach K team in the one-and-done era. Now how will it all come together?