Five Things We Learned This Week: Oregon’s back and the ACC is weird

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1. Oregon is back: On Wednesday, Oregon put the nation on notice.

The Ducks rallied late to knock off No. 2 UCLA on Matt Court thanks Dillon Brooks, Eugene’s resident all-american, hitting a game-winning three with 0.7 seconds left. Two nights later, with No. 22 USC coming to town, Brooks looked every bit the part of an all-american, as he scored 28 points on 10 shots, hitting all four of his threes as the Ducks steam-rolled the Trojans, who had entered Friday night undefeated.

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.

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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.

They execute.

They just win.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) dribbles the ball down court with Creighton guard Khyri Thomas (2) guarding him during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (AP Photo/John Peterson)