Heading into the start of Big Ten play, Nebraska was in a bad way.
They had lost six of their last eight games, included in that group a home loss to Gardner-Webb. It was bad enough for Tim Miles that Nebraska’s notoriously gregarious head coach instituted a self-imposed twitter ban … on himself.
And that was before they found out they would be playing the rest of the season without Anton Gill.
But then they opened up conference play by going into Assembly Hall and knocking off Indiana. It wasn’t a fluke, either. The Huskers earned that win by outplaying the Hoosiers. They followed that up by going into College Park on Sunday and knocking off Maryland. That wasn’t a regular win, either, as Nebraska erased a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes and closed the game on a 14-0 run.
What that means if you’re scoring at home is that Nebraska, who is now 9-6 on the season, is currently sitting at the top of the Big Ten standings at 2-0 with a pair of road wins on their résumé.
Oregon: The Ducks had themselves quite the week, beating No. 2 UCLA on a buzzer-beater before knocking off No. 22 USC in blowout fashion. Not only did they hand both of those programs their first loss of the season, but Oregon also got their all-american Dillon Brooks back playing like an all-american.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies made a statement of their own this week, giving No. 5 Duke a beatdown in Blacksburg on Saturday afternoon. Buzz Williams has a good team this season, one that hasn’t gotten the credit for how good they’ve been. This is the kind of win that will make people take notice.
Villanova: At this point, Villanova pretty much has to be considered the favorite to repeat as national champions, right? On Saturday, they went into Omaha in one of the loudest buildings in college basketball and knocked off a top ten Creighton team. The Wildcats never seemed to get rattled if it wasn’t Josh Hart making the big plays, it was Jalen Brunson scoring 11 straight points. This team isn’t perfect, but I don’t know if there is a team in college basketball that’s closer than them.
Arizona: The Wildcats, who are still playing without the services of Allonzo Trier 15 games into the season, handled their first road trip of the Pac-12 season flawlessly, dispatching both Cal and Stanford in fairly pedestrian fashion. Arizona is not on the same level as Oregon or UCLA in the Pac-12 at this point, but given everything that they’ve dealt with this season, I’m not sure there’s been a more impressive team performance than what Sean Miller’s club has done.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets were supposed to finish at the bottom of the ACC this season. They still might do just that. But that won’t change the fact that, on Saturday, Georgia Tech upset No. 9 North Carolina in their ACC opener.
College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1
1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.
2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.
3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.
4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.
5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.
But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.
Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.
6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.
7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.
8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.
9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.
10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.
11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)
DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech
Five Things We Learned This Week: Oregon’s back and the ACC is weird
That was Oregon’s statement, their warning to the rest of the country that their early season struggles and health issues were behind them.
I was as high as anyone on the Ducks back in September, but I was in the same boat as everyone else after they lost to Baylor and lost to Georgetown and struggled to beat the likes of Boise State and Alabama and UConn. I wasn’t going to believe in the Ducks as a title contender until they proved they can be a title contender.
They did that this weekend.
Which means that I’m back on board.
2. The ACC was really weird this weekend: And it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon.
Let’s start with the obvious: Each of the top four teams in the league took a loss during the first week of conference play. No. 6 Louisville lost at home to No. 12 Virginia, who proceeded to lose at home to No. 20 Florida State. No. 5 Duke got blown out at Virginia Tech, a lot that should tell you there are more issues in Durham than just Grayson Allen’s tripping problems. No. 9 North Carolina lost at Georgia Tech, who, along with Boston College, were supposed to be the league’s bottom-feeders this season.
Should I mention that Boston College blew out Syracuse on Sunday?
And frankly, this is probably going to be the norm in that conference this season. The teams we all thought were going to struggle to win more than a couple of league games, Boston College and Georgia Tech, both look much more dangerous than they did a month ago. Duke, the juggernaut that was supposed to truck-stick everyone opponent they faced, is clearly at a crossroads of their season. UNC, UVA and Louisville all have flaws. Florida State and Notre Dame are beatable.
The kicker? There are 12 teams in the league that are good enough to push for an at-large berth. It’s the most cliché piece of coach-speak there is, but there are no easy games or off-nights in the ACC this season.
3. Is Louisville the best team in the league?: I know this sounds crazy five days after Louisville got embarrassed at home by Virginia, but the thing to remember with Louisville is that Virginia is just about the worst possible matchup for them. Styles make fights in college hoops, and what Louisville does well gets taken away by what Virginia is the best in the country at.
And considering that, in the last two weeks, Louisville sandwiched that loss to Virginia with a win over Kentucky and a win over Indiana in Indiana, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this team is peaking. Quentin Snider played the best game of his career in the win over Kentucky. Donovan Mitchell played the best game of his career in the win over the Hoosiers. Deng Adel was very good in both. The early-season struggles of those three players is why there are doubts about the Cardinals.
Should I mention that as Louisville is starting to peak, Duke is a mess and North Carolina is losing to Georgia Tech?
Honestly, I think the correct answer is that there isn’t a “best team in the ACC”, but Louisville has as good of a chance to win the regular season title as anyone.
4. The Big Ten was weird this weekend, too: It wasn’t quite as weird as the ACC was, but after the first week’s worth of Big Ten games it’s pretty clear that the league is going to be tougher to peg than we thought. It starts with Nebraska, who entered league play having lost six of their last eight games and who will enter next week having won at Indiana and at Maryland, two teams that look like they’ll be in the NCAA tournament in March. Then there is Minnesota, who had a 12-1 record during non-conference play and proceeded to lose to an under-manned Michigan State team at home in overtime before beating No. 15 Purdue on the road in overtime.
Wisconsin is quiet clearly the best team in the Big Ten, but before this weekend, I think most observers would have told you that Purdue and Indiana aren’t all that far behind the Badgers. Maybe that’s wrong.
5. Is it time to start calling Villanova the favorite to win it all?: Our Travis Hines was in Omaha for that game and penned an excellent column on this very subject. I won’t totally repeat it here, but I will say this: The freshmen at Duke, Kentucky and UCLA have been as hyped as any freshmen class in recent memory; rightfully so, those dudes are awesome. Baylor has been celebrated because of the fact that no one saw this coming. North Carolina is North Carolina and played the most entertaining game of the year in the most watched game of the year against Kentucky.
And all the while, Villanova just keeps winning.
Yes, they’re the reigning champs. Yes, they have a National Player of the Year favorite on their roster. Yes, they’re No. 1 in both polls.
But they never seem to be the trendy team, the popular pick to win it all, the favorite among the “experts” in this business. It may be time to change that, because if Villanova’s win at No. 10 Creighton taught us anything, it’s that know team in the country understands how to win better than the Wildcats. They’re cool, calm and collected in pressure moments. They don’t rush. They don’t panic. They don’t force shots.
This week, for the first time all season, Oregon looked like the team that we all had projected in the preseason top five and as a potential Final Four contender. They beat No. 2 UCLA at home, putting an end to their undefeated run this season, before blowing out No. 22 USC on Friday, who also entered that game without a loss on their résumé.
There were a handful of things behind Oregon’s improvement – the Ducks started shooting the ball well from the perimeter, Dylan Ennis played as well as he has all season, they finally had their full complement of players all healthy at the same time – but the biggest difference between this Oregon and the Oregon that lost to Georgetown and got blown out by Baylor is simple: Dillon Brooks looked like Dillon Brooks again.
The preseason all-american played like, well, an all-american in the two wins this week, setting a season-high with 23 points to go along with nine boards and four assists in the win over UCLA before he went for 28 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the win over USC.
Those games were just the third and fourth games, respectively, that he has started this season due to a slow recovery process coming back from an offseason foot injury. Early in the year, he was still working on getting back in shape and getting his legs under him. I’d say that, at this point, we can pretty safely say that Brooks is back to 100 percent, and when he’s healthy, Oregon is good enough to win the Pac-12.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: After scoring 23 points on Wednesday to lead the Seminoles past Wake Forest, the 6-foot-6 sophomore had a career-high 29 points in a win at No. 12 Virginia. He scored 26 of those 29 points in the second half – only once in his career had he scored more than 26 points before Saturday – and added the game-winning three with 2.0 seconds left for good measure. Not a bad week.
Nate Mason, Minnesota: Minnesota made something of a statement on Sunday, going into West Lafayette and knocking off No. 15 Purdue despite the fact that Caleb Swanigan went off for 28 points and 22 boards. Mason led the was, finishing with 31 points, 11 assists and six boards in an overtime win.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Brunson was the best player on the floor for No. 1 Villanova on Saturday, as they went into Omaha and knocked off No. 10 Creighton. Brunson finished with 27 points, and five assists, hitting 10-for-14 from the floor and going on a solo 11-0 run in the first half to buoy the Wildcats as Creighton jumped out to an early double-digit lead. He also had 13 points and six assists in a win over DePaul on Wednesday.
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech:A 6-foot-4 freshman playing his first-ever ACC game, Okogie popped off for 26 points and five boards as the Ramblin’ Wreck went to 1-0 in league play with an impressive win over No. 9 North Carolina.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier: Sumner kicked off the week with 13 points and seven assists in a blowout win over Providence, following that up with 28 points, eight assists and six boards, his best game as a collegian, in a win at Georgetown on Saturday. Perhaps more impressive is that the Musketeers badly needed that kind of a performance from Sumner on Saturday; their leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett, was 0-for-10 from the floor.
Mason’s 31 lead Minnesota to victory at No. 15 Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Nate Mason scored 31 points, and Eric Curry scored seven of his 10 in overtime as Minnesota upset No. 15 Purdue 91-82 on Sunday.
The teams traded baskets to begin the extra period before a Curry basket began an 11-0, victory-clinching run that snapped the Boilermakers’ seven-game winning streak.
Minnesota (13-2, 1-1) overcame 28 points and 22 rebounds from Caleb Swanigan, but it wasn’t enough to save the Boilermakers (12-3, 1-1).
Swanigan’s layup with 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game at 73 and forced overtime. Dupree McBrayer’s 3-point attempt for Minnesota at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
The Golden Gophers began the game by making their first eight shots and building a 17-4 lead, but Purdue rallied to lead 50-43 with 13:39 remaining. Mason scored 10 during the next three minutes, and it was back and forth the rest of the way.
Jordan Murphy added 16 points for Minnesota, which lost its Big Ten opener this past Tuesday night, 75-74 to Michigan State in overtime in Minneapolis.
The Golden Gophers had lost eight in a row at Purdue and had not won in Mackey Arena since Feb. 26, 2005.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers took complete advantage of their superior perimeter quickness and athleticism to pull away from what had been the Big Ten’s hottest team. Murphy and fellow big man Reggie Lynch bottled up Purdue’s 7-2 center Isaac Haas, who is the Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer.
Purdue: While Swanigan was terrific with his sixth consecutive double-double, the Boilermakers are neither extremely athletic nor quick on the perimeter, and as it did in a loss to No. 1 Villanova, that element came back to haunt coach Matt Painter’s team, which had no one to stop Mason.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers travel to Northwestern on Thursday.
Purdue: The Boilermakers will play at Ohio State on Thursday.
Kelan Martin scores 15 points, No. 13 Butler tops Providence
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) This season won’t get easier for No.13 Butler.
It’s a theme coach Chris Holtmann reiterates whenever he has the chance.
On Sunday, Kelan Martin had 15 points and eight rebounds, and Andrew Chrabascz and Avery Woodson each had 11 points to help Butler beat Providence 78-61.
For Butler, the 17-point thumping of the Friars was a solid bounce-back-win, in more ways than one. Last week, the Bulldogs lost their second game of the season,76-73 to St. John’s to open Big East play.
During the flight back to Indianapolis following the loss, the Bulldogs’ charter flight lost cabin pressure mid-flight and was diverted to Pittsburgh, where the team stayed overnight before taking a bus back to Indianapolis. Woodson said the Bulldogs weren’t going to let the scare on the flight home phase them, or interfere with much needed preparation for Butler’s next opponent.
Holtmann and his team talked after the mid-flight-scare. Then, the Bulldogs prepared for Providence.
“(I was) pleased with our ability to perform and respond from the other night,” Holtmann said, referring to the loss and the flight home.
However, win or lose, the outcome of Sunday’s game against Providence had nothing to do with the flight home, Holtmann said. Rather, it had everything to do with how the Bulldogs bounced back after a loss. The message was an important one, considering Butler will play three ranked opponents, including No.1 Villanova, over the next 14 days.
“If we didn’t learn from (losing) the other night, then shame on us. And that needs to continue to be the case,” Holtmann said.
And it appeared to be a lesson well-learned. The Bulldogs didn’t look anything but sharp on Sunday shooting 62 percent from the floor (26 of 42). Kethan Savage added 10 points for Butler (12-2, 1-1) and the Bulldogs’ backups outscored the Friars’ reserves 29-5.
Butler made 10 of its first 12 field goal attempts during the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Bulldogs made 16 of 22 field goal attempts, shooting 72 percent in the first half. Thirteen of the Bulldogs’ 26 field goals were scored off of an assist, and Butler outrebounded Providence 30 to 26.
“Their length and size, that was a major concern for us. But I think we just tried to really move the ball, emphasize ball movement, play in the post and be ready to shoot the ball,” Holtmann said.
Kyron Cartwright scored 26 points and Rodney Bullock added 17 for Providence (10-5, 0-2).
The Friars scored the game’s first basket, leading 2-0 for a total of 39 seconds. Providence wouldn’t lead for the rest of the game, with the biggest advantage 22 points. With less than seven minutes remaining in the game, Providence was able to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to just nine points. But the Bulldogs slammed the door on the Friars, responding to Providence’s late-game-run the same way they responded to a loss at St. John’s and some very tumultuous moments on the flight home: unscathed and focused. The Bulldogs allowed just five more points from Providence over the final five minutes of the game.
“You know you’re not going to give yourself a chance to win when teams are shooting 60 and 70 percent,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “In this league you’ve gotta be able to withstand two and three game losing streaks because it’s going to happen. Unfortunately, we have (a three-game-losing streak) under our belts right now. But the sun will come up tomorrow. We got to dust ourselves off and get ready for Georgetown.”
BIG PICTURE: After a loss at St. John’s to open conference play, the Bulldogs responded with a much needed win over Providence, hopefully setting the tone for their Big East schedule. The Bulldogs will have their hands full during the next 14 days, as three of Butler’s next four games are against ranked opponents (No.1 Villanova, No.10 Creighton, and No.17 Xavier, respectively).
POLL IMPLICATIONS: The Bulldogs started the 2016-17 season by taking advantage of key games on their out-of-conference schedule. With wins over then-No. 22 Cincinnati, No. 8 Arizona and No. 9 Indiana, Butler’s resume has a strong foundation heading into Big East conference play. On Wednesday, the Bulldogs will have their toughest test yet: a chance to knock off No.1 Villanova when the Wildcats visit Hinkle Fieldhouse.