Saturday was the first full day of college basketball league play, and there is a ton of stuff to talk about.
Here are the ten things you need to know to get caught up on all the action.
1. FLORIDA STATE MIGHT BE THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE ACC
I’ll go on the record saying that Duke is the best team in the ACC this season, and at this point, I don’t that is a controversial opinion in the least.
They have the best point guard in the conference. They probably have the best big man in the conference. Their wings are starting to figure things out.
Hell, I think you can make a pretty compelling case right now that they are the best team in college basketball, and nothing about their blowout win at Miami changes my mind.
The question I have is who the next-best team in that conference is, and that question is not so easy to answer. We know it’s not North Carolina — more on them in a bit — and until Virginia figures out what they are doing on the offensive end of the floor, I can’t in good conscience call them the second-best team in the league. I thought it would be Louisville, but on Saturday, the 7th-ranked Cardinals lost, 78-65, to No. 18 Florida State in the Yum! Center, yet another example of the issues this team has scoring against defenses that can pressure them.
Jordan Nwora scored 32 points, shot 11-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-6 from three, and in the process answered the doubters that didn’t think he could compete against elite competition. And all it did was keep the score respectable, because the rest of the Cards were 13-for-47 from the floor, 3-for-13 from three and finished with just 33 total points.
The credit for that has to go to Florida State, because the Seminoles suddenly look really, really dangerous. They go nine-deep with versatile, positionless athletes that can switch everything, pressure full-court and just make life miserable for the teams they play. There’s a reason they’re fourth nationally in defensive turnover rate, and if they can get anything close to these kind of play from M.J. Walker, Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell moving forward, they will make plenty of noise in this league.
2. KANSAS TURNED TO FRESHMAN CHRISTIAN BRAUN AGAINST WEST VIRGINIA
The No. 3 Jayhawks’ 60-53 win over No. 16 West Virginia was just about as ugly as we expected it to be.
West Virginia shot 32 percent from the floor and had more offensive rebounds than field goals made. Kansas was 3-for-17 from three and turned the ball over 14 times, 10 of which came in a first half where they mustered all of 24 points. It was a tough, physical battle, and the guy that made all the difference was … freshman guard Christian Braun?
Braun played a career-high 30 minutes on Thursday. He started the second half. He scored six points, he grabbed five boards (second on the team to Azubuike) and he collected two steals. He provided a measure of defensive toughness — something that the likes of Tristan Enaruna and Isaiah Moss have struggled with — while giving Kansas a player on the perimeter that was a threat to make a three.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
3. IS IT TIME TO QUESTION JUST HOW GOOD MEMPHIS IS?
No. 9 Memphis lost their second game of the season on Saturday afternoon, as they dropped a home game to a Georgia team that seems like a long shot to get to the NCAA tournament on a day when their best player – Anthony Edwards – shot 4-for-17 from the floor.
It was not a great performance by the Tigers, and that is somewhat understandable. Memphis struggles to score in the halfcourt when they are at full strength, and D.J. Jeffries — their second-leading scorer and the guy that is the best at creating for himself — did not play because of what was dubbed “an illness.”
So the fact that the Tigers struggled for 40 minutes to score should not really surprising.
But it does beg the question: Are we sure that Memphis is a team that deserves to be ranked in the top 20?
Here’s what they have done this season: They won at Tennessee, who has proceeded to fall off of a cliff and does not look like they will be making a return trip to the NCAA tournament. They beat Ole Miss at home by a point, the same Ole Miss that was drubbed by 20 at Wichita State on Saturday. They beat N.C. State on a neutral floor. N.C. State lost on Saturday to Clemson, whose only win since Nov. 24th came at home against Jacksonville.
Put another way, Memphis is really talented, enough so that blindly assuming they are a top 20 team isn’t crazy, they just haven’t really done anything on the court that would prove this to be true.
4. PENN STATE PLAYING AT THE PALESTRA IS ELECTRIC
The most exciting game of the day in college basketball was between Iowa and Penn State, a battle of top 25 teams (I know, right?) that was played at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
Penn State ended up winning, 89-86, despite the fact that Lamar Stevens was battling some foul issues and Iowa’s Luka Garza went for 34 points and 12 boards.
But what blew me away more than anything else was just how electric the Palestra was for what was essentially a Penn State home game. I don’t think there is any doubt that it was a better environment than whatever building Penn State normally plays in; I honestly don’t even know the name of it. I’d be willing to bet that this was the single wildest crowd that a Penn State team has ever played in front of in a “home” game.
I say all that to say this: That should not be the case, not this season.
The Nittany Lions are really, really good. They are really, really fun. And Penn State fans really, really should show up to watch them play.
It will be worth the money. I promise.
5. WE ALL OWE TEXAS TECH AN APOLOGY
Back in the first week of December, when Texas Tech had just finished off a three game losing streak with a 65-60 overtime loss at DePaul, we all fired off our takes on the Red Raiders. They weren’t talented enough, the newcomers weren’t as good as last year, they couldn’t guard the same way, this team will struggle to get to the tournament.
Two days later, Texas Tech beat then-No. 1 Louisville in Madison Square Garden without Jahmi’us Ramsey, their leading scorer. After that game, I spoke with Chris Beard, who told me that his team was one or two possessions away from winning each of those games, that he wasn’t worried about what he has on his roster this season.
We should have listened.
Now healthy, the Red Raiders opened up Big 12 play on Saturday with an 85-50 mollywhopping of Oklahoma State. Those three losses? They came against a ranked Iowa team, a tournament-bound Creighton team and a DePaul team that is far more talented than a typical DePaul team.
Watch out for this team the next three months.
6. SAN DIEGO STATE HAS A VERY REAL CHANCE TO ENTER THE TOURNAMENT UNDEFEATED
Malachi Flynn went for 22 points, five boards and four assists and Matt Mitchell chipped in with 19 points of his own as No. 13 San Diego State remained undefeated by going into Logan and knocking off Utah State, 77-68.
The Aztecs remain one of just two teams in college hoops with an undefeated record, and there is a very real chance that is the case when the NCAA tournament starts.
There are two reasons for this:
- SDSU is really, really good. Like, Final Four good. Legitimately. They are a nightmare to play against defensively, and Flynn is exactly the kind of point guard you want come March. Should I mention that they won this game at Utah State — with Neemias Queta playing — despite missing starting center Nathan Mensah?
- This was the toughest game that the Aztecs have left on their Mountain West schedule. There are only three other teams in the league that are in the top 100 on KenPom: Utah State (57), Nevada (86) and New Mexico (97). Anything can happen on any night in league play, but rest assured, the Aztecs will be favorites in every game they play from now until the NCAA tournament.
Does that mean that they will pull a Wichita State and enter the NCAA tournament undefeated?
Of course not.
But there is a real chance — 2.7%, according to KenPom — that this group can make that happen. For comparison’s sake, the other undefeated team in college hoops, Auburn, has a 0.1% chance of going undefeated.
7. WICHITA STATE IS OFFICIALLY BACK
The Shockers improved to 13-1 on the season, their only loss coming against a very good West Virginia team, with a 74-54 win over Ole Miss on Saturday.
Erik Stevenson led the way with 29 points while Jamarius Burton chipped in with 16 points of his own.
The Shockers don’t necessarily have any great wins this season, but they have put together a handful of wins that are impressive enough that we need to take note. They won at Oklahoma State, they beat Oklahoma, they beat VCU and this Ole Miss team they whooped up on is pretty good.
The Shockers may turn out to be the class of the American this year.
On Thursday, they host Memphis. We’ll know then.
8. ASHTON HAGANS HURT HIS ANKLE
Ashton Hagans, Kentucky’s starting point guard, second-leading scorer and leading in both assists and steals, hurt his ankle near the end of their win over Missouri. And yes, it appears to be his ankle, and not his achilles, but Hagans may not be available on Tuesday, when the Wildcats take on a Georgia team that just won at Memphis.
9. KAMAR BALDWIN, WE ARE ALL WITNESSES
Baldwin shot 0-for-9 in the first half and went scoreless against Creighton on Saturday afternoon.
He scored 20 points in the second half, including three straight buckets in the final minutes to stretch out what was just a four-point lead as the No. 11 Bulldogs won, 71-54.
10. NORTH CAROLINA GOT EMBARRASSED
North Carolina played arguably the worst game that we have ever seen that program play on Saturday night. The final score wasn’t awful — they lost 96-83 at home against Georgia Tech, which is not as bad as the loss UNC suffered against Ohio State earlier this year — but that score doesn’t do the performance justice. UNC trailed 30-6 at one point. They didn’t make a field goal for the first 13:10 of the game.
I’ll let Roy Williams sum it all up.
“I want to apologize to all the North Carolina fans, the people that care about our basketball program, former players, everyone that cares about us,” Williams said. “We stunk it up tonight, and it’s got to me my responsibility. It’s the most negative I’ve ever felt about myself. The most negative I’ve ever felt about any team. We weren’t ready to play.
“If I had any idea what caused that I would have already changed it. It’s the most disappointed and most upset I’ve ever been in my life coaching a basketball game, and it’s not even close.”