PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky
Maxey was the best player at the Champions Classic last week, scoring 26 points in the final 30 minutes as the Wildcats picked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.
I wrote about it from Madison Square Garden. Kentucky was looking for a star heading into this season. We didn’t know who their best player was going to be this year, and to be frank, we don’t know for sure if it actually is Maxey or if he just got hot at the right time in the right building.
But if Maxey can end up being something close to the guy that we all saw in the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night, it is unquestionably a difference-maker for the Wildcats. The knock on this group was that there was no clear answer about who is the go-to guy, who is going to be asked to have the ball in their hands, who is going to be capable of making plays at the end of a clock.
Well, now it seems that we have an answer.
It’s Tyrese Maxey.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns
Texas went into Mackey Arena on Saturday evening and knocked off No. 23 Purdue, 70-66. There are a number reasons why this performance was impressive, from the emergence of Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell to how well Matt Coleman played to the toughness shown by Andrew Jones in grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking down four straight free throws in the final minute.
But to me, what was so impressive about this win was that Texas actually looked like a competent offensive team. We knew this group was going to be able to guard. They’ve always been able to guard under Shaka Smart, and this season they added defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich to the coaching staff. No, the reason to be bullish on Texas – the reason I think that they are the second-best team in the Big 12 – is because they sliced and diced a good Purdue defense.
There are shooters on this roster. There are multiple playmakers on the floor at any given time. They may not have the lottery pick, but Jericho Sims can do a lot of the same things.
Watch out for the Longhorns.
THE PAC-12 IS ACTUALLY GOOD
Last season, the Pac-12 was an utter disgrace. The league put three teams in the NCAA tournament because Oregon found a way to win the automatic bid. They got their brains beat in during non-conference play, and there wasn’t a single team from the conference that finished higher than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This year is an entirely different story.
Five days into the college basketball season, the Pac-12 is 18-1 overall, and there are some pretty good wins in the mix. Arizona smacked around Illinois. Washington beat Baylor on a neutral court. Oregon has a couple of impressive wins over Mountain West teams. Oregon State beat Iowa State. Utah beat Nevada. Hell, the only loss any team in the Pac-12 suffered came when Arizona State lost to Colorado, another Pac-12 team, in China in a non-league game.
At this point last season, the Pac-12 only had three losses to their name. But they had not won a single game against a high-major opponent had seen Washington get blown out by Auburn, Cal get blown out by Yale and USC to lose to a Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC.
ARIZONA IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12
I came into the season thinking that Oregon would probably be the best team in the conference. After watching them comeback against Baylor on Friday, I thought that Washington would be the best team in the league.
But at this point, I think I’ve come around to the idea that it’s Arizona. Nico Mannion looks like he is going to be the real deal. He put 23 points and eight assists on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, who forced Cassius Winston into a nine-turnover game last season. Josh Green is making shots from the perimeter. Zeke Nnaji has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season.
I’m buying this Arizona team early. Get on board while you can.
JADEN MCDANIELS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE
To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best player in the league. I don’t think he’s the most valuable player in the league. Hell, I don’t think that he is either of those things for his own team.
But McDaniels is the guy that is going to determine who wins the Pac-12 this season. He’s just such a weapon in this zone because of his length. Mike Hopkins has been using him at the top (in the two) of his 2-3 zone, and that created a lot of problems for Baylor shooters getting used to his 6-foot-10 frame. And then there are the things that he can do offensively, where he has so much more skill and polish than I initially thought he would.
Put another way, McDaniels was just fantastic during the comeback against Baylor. If the plays like that as opposed to playing like a 195 pound wing that hasn’t quite grown into his height, the Huskies are going to be a nightmare.
FLORIDA IS OVERRATED
I was very surprised by just how slow and small Florida looked when they took on Florida State in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. Granted, this was a tough matchup for the Gators. The Seminoles overplay passing lanes and switch everything, and that basically dares opponents to try and beat them 1-on-1. That’s tough to deal with for anyone.
But it’s particularly problematic for a Florida team that lacks playmaking and features a point guard that is, relatively speaking, slow and unathletic. Nembhard couldn’t create off the bounce, and when he couldn’t create, Florida’s offense slowed to a crawl.
There aren’t many teams out there that can guard the way Florida State can, and the Gators were certainly not aided by the fact that their good three-point shooters spent Sunday firing up brick after brick, but I’m much more concerned about Florida’s future now than I was before Sunday.
AUBURN’S WIN SAID MORE ABOUT DAVIDSON THAN IT DID ABOUT AUBURN
I really thought Davidson was going to have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, not after they were completely taken out of anything they want to run by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Davidson just could not deal with that level of athleticism. They missed roughly 800 layups on Friday, they committed head-scratching, self-inflicted turnovers and they couldn’t keep out of foul trouble thanks to a lack of size inside.
And yet, they were a bucket away from having a chance to win this game on the road.
That’s not a good sign for Auburn.