Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe combined for 43 points, 11 assists and seven boards while De’Aaron Fox posted Kentucky’s first triple-double since Chris Mills in 1988 as the No. 1 Wildcats rampaged all over Arizona State in the Bahamas, 115-69.
It was a total and complete mismatch, one that I’m sure Bobby Hurley regretted scheduling five minutes into the first half. (At least he got to spend some time in the Bahamas, right?)
Anyway, it’s hard to take all that much out of this performance – it wasn’t a fair fight, more on that in a second – but there were a couple of promising signs. For starters, the Wildcats hit 11 threes as a team on a night where Malik Monk was just 3-for-10 from beyond the arc. Isaiah Briscoe hit both the threes he attempted. De’Aaron Fox hit the only three he attempted. That duo was a combined 2-for-21 from beyond the arc on the season heading into Monday night.
And, frankly, it was good to see Isaiah Briscoe out on the floor. He had missed some two games as he worked through a back injury he suffered against Duquesne.
But beyond that, this was just another is a series of pummelings that the Wildcats have handed out this season. They haven’t won a game by less than 21 points this season, and that came against Michigan State in the Champions Classic. They’ve broken 100 points in each of their last three games. The Michigan State win was the only time they failed to score at least 87 points.
This team is a machine.
And that has Cal somewhat concerned.
“We need close games to see — alright, who and how do we finish a game?” Calipari told fans before the game. “Who do we finish with and how do we finish? Who can make the play? Who cannot — absolutely not — be in the game? But, until you’re in a close game you don’t know. Believe me, I don’t want these kind of scores. At times, I’d like us to shoot 32 percent and win. Like, just god awful, can’t make a shot and still win the game.”
He’s got a point.
Kentucky’s non-conference schedule is somewhat back-loaded. They play No. 11 UCLA on Saturday. They get UNC in Vegas on Dec. 17th and Louisville in the Yum! Center on the 21st before kicking off SEC play at the end of the month. The thinking is that the Wildcats will get their early tests out of the way and Cal will have a feel for what players will be in what roles by the time the tough games come around.
Well, that hasn’t exactly worked.
The Wildcats will be tested on Saturday when UCLA, led by Lonzo Ball and a high-octane offense, comes to town.
For now, Kentucky fans should just enjoy the highlights:
No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.
Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.
Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.
Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.
Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.
Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.
No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.
Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.
On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.
Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.
There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.
Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.
Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?
Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).
Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.
Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.
Monday, Nov. 28
Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.
AP Poll: Villanova, Kentucky remain atop the rankings
Enechionyia led Temple to a pair of massive wins over ranked teams this week, as the Owls left New York with the Preseason NIT title. Against No. 25 Florida State in the semifinals, Enechionyia finished with 16 points, eight boards and six blocks and followed that up with 22 points, 12 boards and five blocks in a win over No. 19 West Virginia.
What made those performances even more impressive and important was the fact that the Owls had entered the tournament with two ugly losses already on their résumé. It’s never too early to start thinking about what needs to get done to win an at-large bid, and with the American looking like it won’t be stockpiled with quality wins and a loss to New Hampshire already hanging over their head, this was something Temple desperately needed.
They were good, too
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: The Gamecocks sure were impressive this week, beating No. 25 Michigan and No. 18 Syracuse. Thornwell was the guy that led the way, averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 boards and 4.0 assists.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was the best player on the floor for the Bears in their run to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. His best performance came against No. 24 Michigan State, when he had 26 points and 12 boards.
Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry outplayed Jawun Evans in a blowout win over Oklahoma State then put 22 points, three assists and three boards up on No. 16 Wisconsin.
Bryson Scott, Fort Wayne: Scott, native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that started his career at Purdue, had 18 points, 12 boards, three assists and three steals as the Mastadons beat Indiana in Fort Wayne. That’s a good day.
Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists as the Irish dispatched Northwestern and Colorado en route to the Legends Classic title.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
The Bears entered the season as a team that no one was paying attention to and have since gone on to be arguably the most impressive team in the sport to date. After their performance winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, if the NCAA tournament were to start today, Baylor would be the No. 1 overall seed. That’s mostly because they’ve played a lot of good teams already and other teams haven’t yet, but to date, this is who Baylor has beaten: No. 13 Oregon, VCU, No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville, the latter of which came after the Cardinals built a 22-point lead in the first half.
And here’s the best part: Scott Drew is doing all of this with a team full of over-achievers. Remember all that talk about how Drew couldn’t coach and all he could do was recruit? Well, this team is mostly made up of three-star prospects with a few four-star guys sprinkled in.
They were good, too
Gonzaga: The Zags won the Advocare Invitational and picked up wins over No. 21 Iowa State and Miami to make it happen.
Fort Wayne: How about the Mastadons, who knocked off No. 3 Indiana in Fort Wayne!
Butler: The Bulldogs landed an upset of their own this week, as they picked off No. 8 Arizona to win a tournament in Las Vegas.
UCLA: The Bruins finally faced a test and passed with flying colors, taking home the Wooden Legacy title.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish went 3-0 this week, which included the Legends Classic title.
1. North Carolina deserves to be mentioned with the best teams in the country: The Tar Heels improved to 7-0 on the season with four wins in Hawai’i this week, including a 15-point win over No. 16 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational title game. Much was made of the departure of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson this offseason, and while the Tar Heels found themselves in the national title game less than eight months ago, it’s not a stretch to say that this team has played as well as – if not better – than last year’s team did.
Joel Berry II has looked like North Carolina’s next great point guard. Justin Jackson is playing well on the wing while Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley have combined to average 39.0 points and 22.4 boards between them. The Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from three. They’ve hit for 100 points twice, cracked 90 in three other games and have, just once, scored less than 83 points. That came in the Maui title game against the notoriously-slow Badgers.
“UNC is just too big and too fast,” said a coach who has scouted the Tar Heels. “They just kill you on the break and score in bunches.”
2. Melo Trimble is college basketball’s best closer: When Melo was a freshman, he developed a reputation for being a guy that always, always, always made the big shot or the big play in the critical moment. That’s why Maryland, who was not all that talented that year, was able to finish with a better seed in the NCAA tournament than the last year’s team, which was a preseason favorite to win the title.
It looks like this year is going to be a repeat of his freshman season. The Terps moved to 7-0 on the season with a 69-68 win over Kansas State on Saturday night. Five of those seven wins have come by single digits, and Trimble has made critical plays down the stretch in all five. On Saturday, he scored eight of Maryland’s last ten points, including two layups in the last 20 seconds to erase a three-point deficit. Against Richmond, he had nine points in the last 1:30 and overtime. Against Georgetown, he had 11 points in the last 3:31, including four points in the final 11 seconds. And against Towson, he had 12 points and two assists in the final ten minutes, as Maryland erased 13-point deficit.
In the wins over Towson, Georgetown and Kansas State, Trimble scored the winning points in the final minute.
Three game-winners in three weeks is pretty good.
3. Is this Virginia’s best defensive team?: We’ve long known that Tony Bennett’s teams are great on the defensive end of the floor, but has he ever had a team that has been defending this well? Through six games, they’ve yet to give up more than 52 points. Their opponents are averaging just 41.3 points and shooting just 31.7 percent from the floor, and that includes games against Iowa – who mustered just 41 points against the ‘Hoos – and Providence. Yale, who scored 98 points in a win at Washington, scored 38 points at Virginia.
“Best defense I have ever seen,” said a coach that played against UVA this season. “They are like boa constrictor, just make you work so damn hard for everything. They wear you out with their offense, too, so when you actually get an open shot, it doesn’t go in.”
Think about this stat for a second: In the 15 seasons that KenPom.com has been in existence, the lowest ever points-per-possession recorded by a defense had been 0.843 PPP, which was done by Stephen F. Austin in 2012. The record-low for a high-major team was 0.847 PPP by the 2015 Kentucky team that started out the year 38-0. Through six games this year, Virginia is allowing just 0.708 PPP.
4. Louisville isn’t winning much if they can’t figure out how to shoot: The Cardinals have one of the nation’s elite defenses this season, but that defense is only going to get them so far if they cannot find a way to score. Through five games, the Cardinals rank 287th in effective field goal percentage. They’re making just 32 percent of their threes and 65.2 percent of their free throws. The biggest culprits? Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel. Snider and Adel are both shooting under 30 percent from the floor on the season; Mitchell is under 40 percent.
This team does everything else well. They don’t turn the ball over, they get to the offensive glass, they’re one of the nation’s best defensively, but until they can find a way to score consistently – and find a go-to guy – they’ll be very beatable once teams figure out how to beat their defense.
Just like Baylor did on Friday.
5. Deonte Burton showed his importance to Iowa State in Orlando: Burton averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 boards and 1.5 blocks in Iowa State’s 73-56 win over Miami and their 73-71 loss to No. 11 Gonzaga this week. The Cyclones have no size this season. The 6-foot-5 Burton is their starting power forward, and he spends time playing the five as well. If Iowa State is going to be as good as they expect to be this year, Burton is going to have to play the way that he did this week, taking advantage of mismatches against bigger defenders offensively while holding his own in the paint on the defensive end of the floor.
Burton was not great in the first two weeks of the season. When Iowa State looked their best this week, Burton was the best player on the floor. That’s not a coincidence.
SET YOUR DVR
No. 18 Syracuse at No. 16 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Michigan State at No. 6 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
No. 17 Purdue at No. 10 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
No. 4 North Carolina at No. 3 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
No. 14 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
No. 19 West Virginia at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 9 Xavier at No. 20 Baylor, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 11 Gonzaga at No. 8 Arizona, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
1. Villanova (6-0, Last week No. 1): The Wildcats hold steady at No. 1 this week as they weren’t tested.
2. Kentucky (6-0, 2): The more we watch Michigan State the less impressive that win looks for Kentucky. They’ll get UCLA at home on Saturday. We’ll know a lot more then.
3. Kansas (5-1, 4): The Jayhawks cruised right along with a title in the CBE Classic and a blowout win over UNC Asheville.
4. Duke (6-1, 5): Grayson Allen left a game because his foot was bothering him and it looks like none of the three injured freshmen will be available against Michigan State on Tuesday. We won’t know just how good Duke is for a while longer.
5. North Carolina (7-0, 6): There’s an argument to be made that North Carolina has been the most impressive team in the country this season. They haven’t won a game by fewer than 15 points yet.