There were five teams ranked in last week’s Coaches Poll that came from outside the Power Six conferences: Xavier, Creighton, Memphis, Gonzaga and Harvard. Four of those five — with the exception of Xavier, depending on how you view the aftermath of their brawl with Cincinnati — lost this past week.
Harvard’s loss, which came on Thursday, is explainable and was expected. There aren’t going to be many teams going into Storrs and beating UConn this season. And while the Crimson lost by 14 points, they did so valiantly, answering every UConn surge with a couple of big baskets of their own. As you might expect, Harvard fell out of the rankings this week; that’s simply what happens when you lose a game, particularly if your program hails from the Ivy League. But that doesn’t mean that there has been a shift in the majority opinion of this team: they are tough and disciplined and have enough talent to win a game or two in the tournament, but they will struggle if they get matched up with a team that has more size and athleticism.
The remaining three teams have some explaining to do:
Creighton: I’m not overly concerned about the Bluejay’s 80-71 loss at St. Joseph’s on Saturday afternoon. To be frank, this team was overrated at 17th in the country. They don’t play enough defense, and it came back to bite them against St. Joe’s. Up 35-30 at the half, St. Joe’s hit 15-26 from the field in the second half as Tay Jones scored 20 of his 29 points to lead the Hawks to a nine point win.
That wasn’t the only issue, either. Doug McDermott played great as usual, finishing with 26 points and 10 boards. But take away the 10-16 that McDermott shot, and the rest of Creighton’s lineup was 17-45 from the floor. Creighton also got beat up on the glass, giving up 13 offensive rebounds getting just five. St. Joe’s has struggled over the last couple of years, but a talented recruiting class that Phil Martelli brought in last season — Langston Galloway, CJ Aiken, Ronald Roberts, Daryus Quarles — is starting to pay dividends. This Hawk team is one of the most improved in the Atlantic 10 this season and a tough team to beat at home. Combine that with an off-night for Creighton, and, well, losses like this happen all the time.
Gonzaga: The Zags ran into a buzzsaw known as Draymond Green. Michigan State’s versatile power forward had one of the best games of his career on Saturday night, going off for 34 points as the Spartans knocked off Gonzaga 74-67. Green was the only player on Michigan State to finish the game in double-figures. Michigan State is probably better than they are being given credit for — they’ve now won eight in a row since losing to Duke — but they didn’t exactly play like it on Saturday.
That should be concerning for Gonzaga. Why? Because they have a versatile power forward of their own that got eaten alive by Green. Elias Harris finished with just six points and five boards on 2-11 shooting from the floor in 32 minutes. Harris is supposed to be the best player on the Gonzaga team, but he couldn’t slow down Green enough for the Bulldgos to win at home on a night when everyone else on Michigan State was strugging? Yes, Robert Sacre and David Stockton played well. Yes, Gonzaga did an admirable job keeping Tom Izzo’s club from getting to the offensive glass. That’s all impressive.
But until Harris can consistently be a strength for Mark Few’s team, the Zags are always going to have question marks.
Memphis: The Tigers, without a doubt, have the most to worry about from this group. While Murray State is a far cry from being a bad team, Memphis should never lose to the Racers at home. Not with that team and not on their home court. Its clear that Josh Pastner is in over his head trying to coach these guys.
They’ve already begun to take away from Joe Jackson’s ball-handling responsibilities. One of the most talented point guards in the country, Jackson is now spending just as much time as an off-guard, allowing Chris Crawford to be the one. Wesley Witherspoon has reverted back into his old self. Tarik Black fouls too much. No one on the team knows how to box out and, despite having as much size and athleticism as anyone they are going to play this season, no one on the roster — save for maybe Will Barton — has any desire to go and get an offensive rebound.
Frankly, outside of Barton, it doesn’t seem like anyone on the Tigers has any desire period. Josh Pastner is a terrific recruiter, but if he cannot get the kids he brings in to play for him, it will cost him his job eventually.