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Best Bets: Breaking college basketball’s title contenders into tiers

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Over the course of the next two days, we will be diving into the best teams in the country and breaking them down into tiers.

Tomorrow, we will dive into the Final Four sleepers and the teams that are good enough to win six games in March and flawed enough to fail to get out of the first round of the tournament. 

Today, we will take a look at the six elite teams in college hoops as well as three more teams that are on the verge of being elite.

Let’s get into it:

THE ELITE OF THE ELITE

DUKE (+200)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: They’re the best team in the country.

Do I really need to break this down?

OK, I will.

Zion Williamson is the best player in college basketball and has proven, over and over again, to be the most unstoppable force in college hoops. R.J. Barrett may very well be the second-best player in college basketball. At the very least he is absolutely the best player in the country that is the second-best player on his own team. Playing without their starting point guard, these two combined to put 57 points on Virginia on 21-for-35 shooting, which is not something that happens.

And I still haven’t mentioned the other two lottery picks on their roster, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.

As I said, they’re the best team in the country.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: They can be beaten by teams that control pace, pack in their defense and force Duke to try and make shots over the top. That’s exactly what Syracuse did to win in Cameron, and it’s what Virginia tried to do last Saturday. The Blue Devils shooting just 31.2 percent from three as a team, and their two best shooters — Reddish and Jack White — are both dealing with confidence issues.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Tre Jones returning will help because it will reduce the reliance that Duke has on scoring in the halfcourt. Reddish and White finding their three-point stroke will help as well, but it might not even matter. Duke has the talent to win six games in March with or without their shooters shooting.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TENNESSEE (+1000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: There aren’t three teams in college basketball with a group of guys that are more bought into the collective than Tennessee. Everyone on this roster understands, embraces and excels in the role they are being asked to play, and there’s not better example of this than Jordan Bowden. The junior guard started as a freshman, started as a sophomore and started the first five games of this season before Rick Barnes made a change, sending Bowden to the bench and moving Yves Pons into the starting lineups. Bowden didn’t complain. He accepted his role as a microwave scorer off the bench, and he’s thriving: In five games in SEC play, he’s averaging a team-high 17.6 points while shooting 45 percent from three.

Now to be clear, there is plenty on talent on this roster. Grant Williams going to be a first-team all-american and will play in the NBA while Admiral Schofield could end up being a first round pick this year, but that’s not why they’re so dangerous. It’s because they’re old, they have all that talent and all of their pieces do their job without complaining. It’s hard to beat that.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: I don’t know if they have a game-changing talent, and winning six straight games in March against some of the best teams in the country often requires that. As much as I love Schofield, what makes him so valuable is his switchability defensively and the way he can shoot the ball from deep. He’s not necessarily a guy you can give the rock to and trust that he’ll create a shot. Williams has been better this year at getting his — and he is a greatly improved passer — but he was not the guy that took over in Tennessee’s two biggest games this season. (Part of that is because he fouled out of both, which is another concern — he’s fouled out of four games already this year.)

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Honestly, not too much. I’m sure Rick Barnes would like to see Jordan Bone shooting it better than 26.7 percent from three. I’m also sure he’d like to see Williams chill out with some of the excessive fouling. But beyond that, Tennessee is an efficient machine that is second nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and more or less matchup proof defensively.

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

VIRGINIA (+800)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: This year, Virginia is essentially matchup-proof.

This was a concern for them entering the season. We didn’t know if they were going to get Braxton Key eligible or whether or not there was any backcourt depth on the roster. Key got his waiver, but the emergence of Kihei Clark as a legitimate ACC-caliber starter has been just as important.

Suddenly, Virginia has more lineup versatility than I can ever remember a Tony Bennett team having. If they want to go big, they can play De’Andre Hunter at the three, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome in the backcourt and Mamadi Diakite alongside Jack Salt up front. If they simply need athleticism and length on the floor, Diakite can slide over to the five alongside Hunter and Key. If they want to move Jerome off the ball or are forced to play small, Clark can handle point guard duties. And I haven’t even mentioned next year’s breakout star, Jay Huff.

And perhaps most importantly, they proved in the loss at Duke that they can hang with anyone on any court even if they are taken out of what they want to do offensively. I’m all-in on Virginia.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Without relying too much on narratives, the single biggest hurdle this team is going to face is the mental side of things. I don’t know how they’re going to handle the onslaught of attention that comes their way once the NCAA tournament starts. The “Virginia is for chokers” crowd will be incessant, and the way they react to someone, at some point, putting a run on them in March will be fascinating. I think this team is mentally strong enough to handle that — and frankly, if we’re rooting for the best story, seeing Virginia turn this around and win a title a year after suffering the biggest indignity in college basketball history would be amazing — but that’s heavy.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: I’d love to see Bennett use his most athletic lineup more often — Jerome, Guy, Hunter, Key, Diakite — but as of today, Virginia not only has the second-best adjusted efficiency margin in KenPom’s database, they are the only team in the country that is ranked in the top five of both KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency metrics. They’re effing good.

(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

GONZAGA (+700)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: The Zags have the nation’s most high-powered offense and are arguably the most talented team in the country this side of Duke. There are five players on the roster that are a threat to put up 20 points on any given night, and that doesn’t include Geno Crandall — who scored 28 on Gonzaga last season as a member of North Dakota — or future WCC Player of the Year Corey Kispert.

There is no player in college basketball that can get hot the way that Zach Norvell gets hot. He is the best big-shot-maker in the sport. Rui Hachimura is the team’s leading scorer and a dynamic combo-forward that has made game-winning shots against both Duke and Washington this year. Brandon Clarke is the best defensive big man in the country, but he’s also the second-leading scorer on the roster. Josh Perkins is a dynamic ball-screen point guard in an offense that constantly runs ball-screens.

And Killian Tillie still has not found his rhythm yet.

They’re really, really dangerous.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: They don’t guard as well as they need to. The Zags have certainly made strides on that end of the floor, but the fact of the matter is that they are always going to have three starters on the floor that after average to below-average individual defenders — Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura.

As of today, this is probably not a concern that is going to derail their season. They are currently 47th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and in 2009, North Carolina won the title with the nation’s best offense and the 39th-best defense. But it is something that they constantly need to improve.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: I’m not sure if there is something that needs changing, but the Zags do need to figure out exactly how they are going to use Killian Tillie. The biggest issue this team has is that through the first 15 games of the season, they developed roles and minutes and a rotation based on a roster that didn’t have Tillie available. Now that he’s back, Mark Few has to find a way to work him into the lineup without upsetting that balance. It’s been fine so far, but that has not exactly come against the best competition in the world.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MICHIGAN (+1200)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: That defense is just so stingy and they are coached by John Beilein.

What else do you need to know?

The thing that’s so impressive about Michigan on the defensive end of the floor is that there is a legitimate argument to be made that three of their players are the best defensive player in the country at their position. Zavier Simpson is an absolute nightmare as an on-ball defender at the point, Charles Matthews can make people disappear on the wing and Jon Teske, believe it or not, has developed into a monster that can switch screens, protect the rim and battle in the post.

This program made the national title game nine months ago on the strength of their defense, and this team is better on that end of the floor. That can carry a team a long way.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: They can go long stretches without looking competent offensively, which is not something I ever thought I would say about a team coached by Beilein. The truth is this — we all knew how good this team was going to be on the defensive end this year. The questions we had centered around a team that struggled to score last year and was losing their three best options offensively.

This all came to light in the last two games. There are basically two players on the roster than can consistently create for themselves (Iggy Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole), and if one of them is having an off night, there is a real lack of offensive firepower. There really is no difference between this Michigan team and the Virginia teams of the past.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Charles Matthews needs to be a scoring threat. He’s the difference-maker on this team. He’s the guy that can help take some of the offensive burden off of Poole and Brazdeikis. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Michigan has been at their best this season on the nights when he’s shot it well.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

MICHIGAN STATE (+700)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: Cassius Winston has developed into one of, if not the best point guard in college basketball.

There’s plenty more to like about this Michigan State team than just what their point guard has been able to do — the emergence of Matt McQuaid, the way Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman have been able to share the floor, Kenny Goins going from walk-on to starter, Aaron Henry playing like a senior, not a freshman — but Winston is the engine. He’s the guy that has taken over in Michigan State’s biggest wins. He’s the engine that allows their transition game to function. He is one of the most efficient players in the country.

There are a lot of reasons Michigan State is good. Cassius Winston playing the way he’s been playing is why they are good enough to win six games in March.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: The Spartans are decidedly unathletic. I don’t think there is a player in their top six that you could call a plus athlete, at least not when comparing them to some of the other players around the country. The Spartans also have a relatively small perimeter core.

These issues will pop up in certain matchups. What happens when Michigan State’s bigs have to face off with the likes of Gonzaga or Duke? How will their wings handle being defended by Yves Pons and Admiral Schofield? One common theme with the best teams in the country this year is elite point guard defenders. We know Cassius Winston struggles against Zavier Simpson. How will he handle Ashton Hagans or Kihei Clark?

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: I’m not sure there is anything about this group that necessarily needs changing — beyond, you know, Josh Langford’s ankle getting healthy. But I do think that it would serve them well to continue bringing some of their freshmen along. Henry has cracked the rotation, as has Kyle Ahrens, and both seem to be trusted to play critical minutes. They could end up being the guys that allow Sparty to matchup with bigger, more athletic teams in March.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

ONE TWEAK AWAY FROM BEING THE ELITE OF THE ELITE

KENTUCKY (+1400)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: The talent on this roster is all coming together now.

We can differ about the reason why it’s happening. Some will argue that the emergence of Ashton Hagans has the starting point guard has given Kentucky an emotional leader that brings a level of toughness and confidence that has become contagious. I’m sure that plays a big role in it, as does Tyler Herro starting to play like the go-to guy we (I) thought he would be coming into the season. P.J. Washington is playing the best basketball of his Kentucky career. Nick Richards is starting to figure some things out. Immanuel Quickly has been effective as a bench option, and Keldon Johnson has continued to be as awesome has he was from day one.

The truth, however, is simpler than all of that: John Calipari has a proven track record of being capable of bringing young teams along and making them better and better as the season progresses, and honestly, that’s probably all this is. His guys are figuring it out, as they always do, and they now look like one of the nation’s best.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Just how good is Ashton Hagans offensively? Coming into this season, that was the concern. He was a mess on that end of the floor. He was making the wrong read, he was turning the ball over and he was not a threat to score. He’s gotten much better, but he’s still not a threat from the perimeter, and while I would not call him a liability offensively any more, he is still limited.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: If Kentucky is going to reach their ceiling they need Nick Richards to be good enough to knock Reid Travis out of the starting lineups. I like Travis, he is a monster on the block and a guy that can really rebound the ball, but he is not a vertical spacer or a rim-protector, and that’s what this Kentucky team needs inside. Travis has had one good game in SEC play (at Auburn) and Richards still can’t crack the starting lineup. That should tell you what you need to know about where Richards is right now.

(Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

NORTH CAROLINA (+1400)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: They have as much talent and offensive firepower as anyone. Think about it like this: In Monday night’s win over No. 10 Virginia Tech, North Carolina got a combined 50 points out of Nassir Little and Coby White, their two star freshmen, and I can make a pretty sound argument that those two players are their third and fourth options offensively behind Luke Maye and Cam Johnson.

When this team gets rolling, there are not many out there that can go bucket for bucket with them.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Roy Williams still hasn’t found the best way to deploy Nassir Little.

I wrote about this in-depth here, so I won’t repeat myself too much, but the issue is three-fold:

  1. Little is playing a position where he has to beat out Maye (a preseason all-american) and Johnson (a borderline all-american this season) for minutes at a forward spot. That’s because …
  2. … Williams’ system calls for two bigs on the court at all times, which means that one of Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley or Brandon Huffman will be playing the five for the Tar Heels. That is hard on little due to the simple fact that …
  3. … he is not a skilled enough on the perimeter to be a wing in this system but he’s not big enough to play the four. He’s not Justin Jackson, or Theo Pinson, or Isaiah Hicks. He’s a combo-forward, a small-ball four, a defensively versatile big wing that simultaneously fits the NBA game perfectly and is stuck in a situation where his skillset doesn’t really fit all that well with what UNC wants to do.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Unlocking Little is the key to reaching their ceiling, and I think that Williams will eventually figure it out. I’ve long said that the Tar Heels will be at their best when they realize their best five is White, Kenny Williams, Little, Johnson and Maye and figure out how to play with them on the floor. I still believe that to be true.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KANSAS (+2000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: Bill Self is an absolute magician as a basketball coach. He figured out how to win with the team that had Josh Jackson playing the four. He figured out how to win with the team that played four guards around Udoka Azubuike and had Svi Mykhailiuk playing the four. I have no doubt that he’ll find a way to win when he has four switchable wings, a McDonald’s All-American point guard and a first-team all-american five in Dedric Lawson.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: This team is just not as talented as we thought they were entering the season. I mean this with all sincerity: How many players on this Kansas roster will play in the NBA? Dedric Lawson will get a shot because of his size and skill, but go see if you can find him listed on a first round mock anywhere on the internet. Lagerald Vick had to return to school after getting run out of the program because he professional options were so limited. Marcus Garrett can’t shoot, which is a problem for NBA teams. Quentin Grimes has the most hype, yet he’s been benched for Ochai Agbaji, who might be the best NBA prospect on the roster.

Kansas was going to redshirt him this season.

That should tell you what you need to know.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Since I don’t think that it is possible for the Jayhawks to magically become a 40 percent three-point shooting team, I think the answer here is pretty simple: They either need to get Grimes playing like the top ten prospect that he was coming out of high school, or they need to fully get on boards with the idea that Agbaji needs to start over him. Agbaji is a better athlete, a better defender, plays with more energy and has actually been an efficient and productive player offensively.

No. 9 Gonzaga uses late 3s to beat No. 22 Washington 83-76

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SEATTLE — One glance at the shot clock told Killian Tillie there was no choice. He had to launch the jumper 30 feet from the basket.

When the shot left Tillie’s hand, it felt just like a normal 3-point attempt, even if he was almost closer to half-court. And the result? ”

“It felt good. It was cash,” Tillie said.

The senior forward hit the key 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 2:55 remaining and finished with 15 points, Joel Ayayi hit another 3 with 24 seconds left that served as a capper, and No. 9 Gonzaga held off No. 22 Washington 83-76 on Sunday night.

Control of the in-state rivalry remained on the east side of the state as the Bulldogs (10-1) could never pull away but made the key plays in the closing minutes to hold off the young Huskies (7-2). Gonzaga has won six straight in the series, with Washington’s last win coming in 2005.

It was a fun, loud, exciting night where Washington’s home arena roared in hope of the Huskies mounting a comeback. But every rally was stemmed and it was the Gonzaga fans yelling and cheering at the end.

“It was just a great college basketball game. Big shot after big shot. Big play after big play,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Except it was the Bulldogs who made more of the big plays and especially the big shots.

Tillie and Ayayi were two of the heroes on a night the Bulldogs put five players into double figures. Filip Petrusev finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Ryan Woolridge had 16 points, including two key baskets in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Corey Kispert added 15 points and Ayayi finished with 12, but none bigger than his 3 in the final minute.

“We did a really good job taking away the 3 until the end of the game,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said.

Ayayi had just missed a 3 on Gonzaga’s previous possession, but didn’t hesitate to launch another 3 after Washington’s Nahziah Carter had missed a drive at the other end that could have pulled the Huskies within one.

“I felt really comfortable when I got the ball and somebody had to shoot it,” Ayayi said.

Isaiah Stewart led Washington with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Jaden McDaniels and Carter both added 15 points and Quade Green finished with 14.

Gonzaga never trailed after falling behind 5-4, but the lead never got bigger than nine. Every time Washington made a run, the Bulldogs had an answer.

Gonzaga took its biggest lead at 65-56 with 8:35 left when Drew Timme tipped in Woolridge’s miss. It seemed a substantial advantage after the teams spent the first 30-plus minutes never separated by more than a couple of points.

But Washington responded with a pair of free throws from Stewart and off a turnover a floater from Carter to pull back within 65-60 and force a Gonzaga timeout. Tillie stemmed the momentum with a tough basket, but Hameir Wright answered with a 3 for Washington and the lead was 67-63 with 7 minutes left.

Gonzaga pushed the lead back to 7, but Carter’s fast-break layup, followed by Stewart hustling to save a loose ball and McDaniels hitting a 3 pulled the Huskies to 72-70 with 3:51 left.

That’s when Tillie saw the shot clock winding down and launched from well-beyond the 3-point line. The 3 pushed the lead back to five and after Carter hit a 3 for Washington, Woolridge scored on consecutive possessions for the Bulldogs.

Ayayi’s 3 was the capper that sent Washington fans to the exits.

“We did a good job every time answering them,” Tillie said.

IN THE MIDDLE

Despite being a heavy focus of Gonzaga’s defense, Stewart had one of his more impressive games. The freshman was 6 of 7 shooting and 9 of 10 at the foul line. He also stayed out of foul trouble and played a season-high 37 minutes.

AGAINST THE PAC

Few improved to 39-18 all-time against Pac-12 opponents. The Bulldogs are 2-0 against the conference already this year with wins over Oregon and Washington and one more game upcoming.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The matchup against Washington was the start of a mighty three-game stretch for the Bulldogs. They’ll have a nearly a week off before traveling to Arizona next Saturday and then return home to host North Carolina. Washington was the second ranked team the Bulldogs have faced.

Washington: The Huskies will lament a sloppy first-half where they committed 12 turnovers. The Huskies finished with 19 turnovers, which was two off a season-high committed. “When you’re playing a top-10 team you can’t have 19 turnovers,” Hopkins said.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: At Arizona on Saturday.

Washington: Host Seattle on Dec. 17.

No. 5 Virginia wins slugfest against No. 7 North Carolina, 56-47

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Mamadi Diakite scored 12 points and Tomas Woldetensae and Francis Caffaro combined for 21 points off the bench as No. 5 Virginia rebounded from a mid-week embarrassment to hand No. 7 North Carolina their second straight loss, 56-47.

This was hardly a pretty basketball game. The two teams combined to shoot 34.7 percent from the floor. Both turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions. The score at halftime was 24-18, and while the scoring kicked up a notch in the second, it was hardly a vintage North Carolina performance.

In fact, it’s the second straight game that the Tar Heels failed to crack 50 points – they lost 74-49 at home against Ohio State on Wednesday night – and further highlighted the issues they have on the offensive end of the floor.

The truth is that neither of these teams are all that good right now. Both are still reeling from a massive talent departure during the offseason, and with Duke still working through some things as well, it looks like this is going to be Louisville’s ACC title to win.

I will say this: I do think that both teams do have access to a ceiling.

The Tar Heels are a young team built around the exploits of a pair of freshmen (Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot) and they just played the two best defensive teams in the country, according to KenPom. Things were never going to look pretty for them in these two games.

And for Virginia, the answer is going to be finding some shot-makers on their perimeter. Part of that will be the return of Braxton Key. Part of it will be hoping that this 3-for-4 shooting performance from three is the start of Woldetensae busting out of his funk. And part of it will be getting the best out of Casey Morsell, who has shown some flashes but has played like a freshman.

I’m not ready to write either team off, not in a year where no one is all that good, but I am ready to say neither UNC nor UVA are anywhere near top ten teams as of today.

Travis Steele buys entire bar drinks after Xavier beats Cincinnati (VIDEO)

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To celebrate a win over rival Cincinnati, Xavier head coach Travis Steele walked into Dana Gardens — *the* spot for Xavier fans and students — and dropped a huge wad of cash on the bar. Beat UC and drink for free:

Legendary move.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Ohio State’s awesome, Cowan the savior, Queta’s back

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Football dominated the conversation on Saturday.

That’s what happens when conference championship games determine who will be in the college football playoff. And some of those football games that were played on Saturday were fun!

But there were also some good, meaningful college basketball games that happened as well.

So if you spent the afternoon and evening eating, drinking and watching football, here are the ten things you need to know after a fun Saturday of hoops.

1. OHIO STATE IS PLAYING LIKE THE BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

I don’t know if No. 6 Ohio State in the best team in college basketball right now.

I don’t think anyone in college basketball is the best team.

After seeing Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke lose as the No. 1 team in the country, I feel like a man that has had multiple relationships end because he was cheated on. I can’t fall in love again until I can trust again, and I am definitely not ready to trust a single college basketball team with the title of my girlfr-… I mean, the No. 1 team in college basketball.

That includes Ohio State.

But I do think that I can say this and have it be justifiable simply because it can be backed up with facts: Ohio State is playing like the best team in college basketball right now.

On Saturday afternoon, the Buckeyes mollywhopped Penn State, beating them 106-74 as they became the first Big Ten team to put up triple digits in a conference game since 2006. Before you start snickering about how bad Penn State is, remember this: The Nittany Lions entered the day as the No. 23 team in KenPom’s rankings.

Ohio State beat them by 32 points.

And that’s not the only KenPom top 25 team that they have done this to.

They beat Villanova by 25. They beat North Carolina by 25, and that game took place in Chapel Hill. According to the indefatigable Jordan Sperber, there have been just six games this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for dispensing three of those butt-kickings.

So while I don’t think that Ohio State will find themselves at the top of the polls on Monday morning, I do think that there is probably an argument to be made that they deserve it.

2. ANTHONY COWAN SAVES MARYLAND FROM DISASTER

The No. 3 Terps dug themselves a 15 point hole at home against Illinois on Saturday afternoon, which is hardly an ideal scenario and more or less the kind of thing that the naysayers have come to expect out of Mark Turgeon teams these days.

But Maryland didn’t lose.

The Terps rallied, and Cowan was the savior. He finished with 20 points, seven boards, six assists and three steals to lead the way, which is impressive, but what matters more is that Cowan scored four points in the final 20 seconds – a 28-foot three followed by a steal, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw – to give Maryland a 59-58 come-from-behind win.

Now, on the one hand, this performance is somewhat worrying. Top five teams playing at home should not find themselves in a 15 point hole to anyone. But everyone is going to have rough nights, and while this certainly qualifies as such, Maryland still found a way to win. Winning ugly is still a win.

And in regards to Cowan, I think that it should be noted that these are the kind of performances we’ve been waiting to see from him. Put the team on his back, carry them to a win they’re not supposed to get. That’s the stuff All-Americans do.

3. BAYLOR’S TRISTAN CLARK IS NOT RIGHT

The No. 18 Bears found a way to hang on and beat No. 12 Arizona in Waco on Saturday, 63-58, despite the fact that they had to give away free tickets – many of which were scooped up by Arizona fans – because their football team was playing in the Big 12 title game at the exact same time.

But Clark only played ten minutes after sitting out Wednesday’s game against UMES with a foot injury and a knee that apparently hasn’t quite recovered from surgery last season. He tweaked something in the first half and never came back in.

I feel for the kid. Last season, when Clark went down, he was arguably the best big man in the Big 12. He was likely a shoe-in for first-team all-conference had he played for the entire season, and the idea of pairing him with Freddie Gillespie, Mark Vital and all of those talented guards was why everyone was so bullish on Baylor entering the season.

And they weren’t wrong.

This is still a top 15 team.

But if Clark can’t get back to being the guy that he was for two months at the start of last season, that’s a pretty big blow to Scott Drew’s frontcourt depth.

4. NEEMIAS QUETA IS BACK

After a full month of nightly speculation about when Utah State would get their 7-foot-1 Portuguese center back from a knee injury, we finally got the answer on Saturday.

Midway through the first half in a home win over Fresno State on Saturday, Queta checked in for the first time this season.

Queta played just 10 minutes, finishing with six points on six free throws, missing all three of his field goals, but it’s his presence and availability that matters. The Aggies have plenty of skill and shooting on this roster. What they have been missing is a defensive anchor and a rim-protector, and those are the things that Queta does well enough to attract NBA attention.

5. MARKUS HOWARD IS BACK, TOO

After missing a game on Wednesday with a concussion, Markus Howard returned to the floor for Marquette on Saturday, and he made a difference.

The Golden Eagles went into the Little Apple and knocked off Kansas State, 73-65, thanks to 19 points from Howard.

6. IT IS TIME TO TAKE BUTLER SERIOUSLY

I know, I know, it’s Florida.

At this point, Florida has made us believers in Florida State, UConn and now Butler. So maybe we should be saying more about the Gators than about the teams they are playing. That’s certainly a conversation worth having at some point.

But I also think that it is fair to point out that Butler, currently sitting 9-0 after a very impressive 76-62 over those Gators – one in which their star, Kamar Baldwin, was just OK – currently has wins over Florida and Minnesota at home, Stanford and Missouri on a neutral and Ole Miss on the road.

This isn’t a fluke anymore.

7. CINCINNATI HAS BIGGER ISSUES THAN JARRON CUMBERLAND’S HEALTH

I don’t know how injured Jarron Cumberland is right now. I know that he had some issues early in the season that kept him out of practice for a few weeks, and I know that he and head coach John Brannen have had their issues. Cumberland has missed two games this season. He only played 18 minutes in a win against Vermont. His numbers are way down from last season.

On Saturday, Cumberland was 4-for-14 from the floor and finished with just 11 points in a 73-66 loss at Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout.

The bottom line is this: Right now, whatever is going on between Cumberland and Brannen is torpedoing what could have been a really good season.

8. KANSAS PASSED ANOTHER TEST AT HOME

I was actually really curious to see how Kansas would bounce back from their win in the Maui Invitational on Saturday when they hosted No. 20 Colorado.

The Buffaloes are tough. They are a veteran group that is well-coached and that defends the paint well. They have the bodies to give Udoka Azubuike some trouble inside. But that didn’t happen. There was no Maui hangover. The Jayhawks picked off the Buffaloes, 72-58, in a game that was closer to 20 in the second half.

That’s a good win in a tough spot.

9. INDIANA TOOK THEIR FIRST LOSS IN THEIR FIRST ROAD GAME

I don’t think I was the only one that thought the Hoosiers were officially back when they managed to beat up on a good Florida State team on Tuesday night, winning 72-58 in Assembly Hall. That win boosted their record to 8-0 on the season, and while all eight wins came at home, it surely had to mean something considering that one of those wins came against the No. 17 Seminoles.

Right?

Well, on Saturday, those very same Hoosiers got absolutely humiliated in an 84-64 loss at now 5-4 Wisconsin. Indiana trailed by as many as 30 points on Saturday. That’s not good.

10. CREIGHTON HUMILIATED NEBRASKA

We knew that Nebraska was in a rebuilding year in their first season with Fred Hoiberg at the helm, and we also knew that Creighton is a team good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid this season.

The Bluejays were always going to be favored.

But this was a rivalry game.

Nebraska would make it interesting, right? Because these are the kind of games where you just throw the records out the window, correct???

Well, no.

Creighton was up 27-4. They led 37-7. I think the worst that it got was 42-11. The final wasn’t quite as bad – Creighton won 95-76 – but I don’t think anyone still cared at that point.

No. 2 Kansas hands No. 20 Colorado first loss 72-58

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LAWRENCE, Kansas — Ochai Agbaji scored 20 points and Devon Dotson added 18 points to lead No. 2 Kansas to a 72-58 victory over No. 20 Colorado on Saturday, snapping the Buffaloes’ season-opening seven-game winning streak.

Ten days after claiming the Maui Invitational title, the Jayhawks (7-1) built an early 6-0 lead over their former conference foes. David McCormack fueled the hot start, contributing six of the Jayhawks’ opening eight points.

Holding leading scorer Tyler Bey scoreless from the field through the first half, Kansas used a 9-0 run to build a 19-9 lead. Colorado (7-1) shot 26.9% from the field in the first half and that allowed the Jayhawks to take a 34-22 lead at halftime.

With Bey and D’Shawn Schwartz quieted, Evan Battey lead the way for the Buffaloes, scoring 14 points on a 5-for-8 shooting.

Schwartz picked up a technical foul on a dunk that temporarily quieted the raucous Kansas crowd, and Agbaji knocked down four 3-point baskets in the second half to keep the Buffaloes at a distance.

Colorado forced 21 Kansas turnovers, but the Jayhawks shot 52.9% to outlast the Buffaloes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The size of the Jayhawks overpowered Colorado inside, especially with a two-big lineup, outscoring the Buffaloes 38-22 down low. The Jayhawks also found some late success from outside, shooting 85.7% from 3-point range in the second half after missing all six first-half attempts.

Colorado: With Bey contained by the swarming Kansas defense, the Buffaloes struggled to find any momentum offensively, turning the ball over 17 times and shooting 30% from the field.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Colorado: Hosts Northern Iowa on Tuesday.