The Mavericks entered the season as one of the mid-majors on every watch list, but they struggled early on.
They lost at Minnesota, at Arkansas and at FGCU in the first two weeks of the season, but for a team that spends the majority of their non-conference schedule on the road, it’s impressive to note that they haven’t lost since then.
They won at Fordham and North Texas. Then they won at Texas. Thursday, however, was their most impressive win of the season, and one of the most impressive that anyone has landed during non-conference play: The Mavericks went into Moraga and picked off then-No. 12 Saint Mary’s.
And they didn’t just win. They were up by double-figures for the last 25 minutes. They controlled the tempo and they totally flummoxed a really efficient and well-coached team, and they did it despite the fact that their best player, Kevin Hervey, is still feeling the effects of a torn ACL suffered last season.
Wichita State: The Shockers lost Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker this offseason, but it looks like Gregg Marshall’s team hasn’t lost a beat. With wins over Saint Louis and Oklahoma this week, the latter of which came in Oklahoma City, Wichita State moved to 9-2 on the season and put themselves into a good position to get back to the NCAA tournament. Picking off Oklahoma State next week in the Koch Arena would be huge.
Middle Tennessee State: If UT Arlington has been one of the best mid-majors in college basketball this season, the Blue Raiders aren’t all that far behind. This week, they won at South Alabama and beat Vanderbilt by 23 points at home. This came two weeks after they mollywhopped Ole Miss in Oxford, winning by 15 in a game they led 48-19 at the half. Believe it or not, this team might be better than the one that beat Michigan State last year in the NCAA tournament.
BYU: The Cougars needed to get a couple of wins this week, and they got them, beating in-state rival and Big Sky favorite Weber State and following that up with a win over Colorado (who was fresh off upsetting Xavier) over the weekend.
Florida State: The Seminoles not only got a win over in-state rival No. 21 Florida, they also got Johnathan Isaac back from a hip flexor injury that had held him out of the lineup for two games.
Arizona: The Wildcats have had a rough go of things early on this season. They’re working through a rash of injuries and a suspension to the guy that would probably be the best guard on their roster in Allonzo Trier. The good news? It looks like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons are starting to figure things out. They both had 19 points in a win at Missouri on Saturday.
Baylor and Obi Enechionyia of Temple offer stand out performances
Enechionyia led Temple to a pair of massive wins over ranked teams this week, as the Owls left New York with the Preseason NIT title. Against No. 25 Florida State in the semifinals, Enechionyia finished with 16 points, eight boards and six blocks and followed that up with 22 points, 12 boards and five blocks in a win over No. 19 West Virginia.
What made those performances even more impressive and important was the fact that the Owls had entered the tournament with two ugly losses already on their résumé. It’s never too early to start thinking about what needs to get done to win an at-large bid, and with the American looking like it won’t be stockpiled with quality wins and a loss to New Hampshire already hanging over their head, this was something Temple desperately needed.
They were good, too
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: The Gamecocks sure were impressive this week, beating No. 25 Michigan and No. 18 Syracuse. Thornwell was the guy that led the way, averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 boards and 4.0 assists.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was the best player on the floor for the Bears in their run to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. His best performance came against No. 24 Michigan State, when he had 26 points and 12 boards.
Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry outplayed Jawun Evans in a blowout win over Oklahoma State then put 22 points, three assists and three boards up on No. 16 Wisconsin.
Bryson Scott, Fort Wayne: Scott, native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that started his career at Purdue, had 18 points, 12 boards, three assists and three steals as the Mastadons beat Indiana in Fort Wayne. That’s a good day.
Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists as the Irish dispatched Northwestern and Colorado en route to the Legends Classic title.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
The Bears entered the season as a team that no one was paying attention to and have since gone on to be arguably the most impressive team in the sport to date. After their performance winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, if the NCAA tournament were to start today, Baylor would be the No. 1 overall seed. That’s mostly because they’ve played a lot of good teams already and other teams haven’t yet, but to date, this is who Baylor has beaten: No. 13 Oregon, VCU, No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville, the latter of which came after the Cardinals built a 22-point lead in the first half.
And here’s the best part: Scott Drew is doing all of this with a team full of over-achievers. Remember all that talk about how Drew couldn’t coach and all he could do was recruit? Well, this team is mostly made up of three-star prospects with a few four-star guys sprinkled in.
They were good, too
Gonzaga: The Zags won the Advocare Invitational and picked up wins over No. 21 Iowa State and Miami to make it happen.
Fort Wayne: How about the Mastadons, who knocked off No. 3 Indiana in Fort Wayne!
Butler: The Bulldogs landed an upset of their own this week, as they picked off No. 8 Arizona to win a tournament in Las Vegas.
UCLA: The Bruins finally faced a test and passed with flying colors, taking home the Wooden Legacy title.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish went 3-0 this week, which included the Legends Classic title.
1. North Carolina deserves to be mentioned with the best teams in the country: The Tar Heels improved to 7-0 on the season with four wins in Hawai’i this week, including a 15-point win over No. 16 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational title game. Much was made of the departure of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson this offseason, and while the Tar Heels found themselves in the national title game less than eight months ago, it’s not a stretch to say that this team has played as well as – if not better – than last year’s team did.
Joel Berry II has looked like North Carolina’s next great point guard. Justin Jackson is playing well on the wing while Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley have combined to average 39.0 points and 22.4 boards between them. The Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from three. They’ve hit for 100 points twice, cracked 90 in three other games and have, just once, scored less than 83 points. That came in the Maui title game against the notoriously-slow Badgers.
“UNC is just too big and too fast,” said a coach who has scouted the Tar Heels. “They just kill you on the break and score in bunches.”
2. Melo Trimble is college basketball’s best closer: When Melo was a freshman, he developed a reputation for being a guy that always, always, always made the big shot or the big play in the critical moment. That’s why Maryland, who was not all that talented that year, was able to finish with a better seed in the NCAA tournament than the last year’s team, which was a preseason favorite to win the title.
It looks like this year is going to be a repeat of his freshman season. The Terps moved to 7-0 on the season with a 69-68 win over Kansas State on Saturday night. Five of those seven wins have come by single digits, and Trimble has made critical plays down the stretch in all five. On Saturday, he scored eight of Maryland’s last ten points, including two layups in the last 20 seconds to erase a three-point deficit. Against Richmond, he had nine points in the last 1:30 and overtime. Against Georgetown, he had 11 points in the last 3:31, including four points in the final 11 seconds. And against Towson, he had 12 points and two assists in the final ten minutes, as Maryland erased 13-point deficit.
In the wins over Towson, Georgetown and Kansas State, Trimble scored the winning points in the final minute.
Three game-winners in three weeks is pretty good.
3. Is this Virginia’s best defensive team?: We’ve long known that Tony Bennett’s teams are great on the defensive end of the floor, but has he ever had a team that has been defending this well? Through six games, they’ve yet to give up more than 52 points. Their opponents are averaging just 41.3 points and shooting just 31.7 percent from the floor, and that includes games against Iowa – who mustered just 41 points against the ‘Hoos – and Providence. Yale, who scored 98 points in a win at Washington, scored 38 points at Virginia.
“Best defense I have ever seen,” said a coach that played against UVA this season. “They are like boa constrictor, just make you work so damn hard for everything. They wear you out with their offense, too, so when you actually get an open shot, it doesn’t go in.”
Think about this stat for a second: In the 15 seasons that KenPom.com has been in existence, the lowest ever points-per-possession recorded by a defense had been 0.843 PPP, which was done by Stephen F. Austin in 2012. The record-low for a high-major team was 0.847 PPP by the 2015 Kentucky team that started out the year 38-0. Through six games this year, Virginia is allowing just 0.708 PPP.
4. Louisville isn’t winning much if they can’t figure out how to shoot: The Cardinals have one of the nation’s elite defenses this season, but that defense is only going to get them so far if they cannot find a way to score. Through five games, the Cardinals rank 287th in effective field goal percentage. They’re making just 32 percent of their threes and 65.2 percent of their free throws. The biggest culprits? Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel. Snider and Adel are both shooting under 30 percent from the floor on the season; Mitchell is under 40 percent.
This team does everything else well. They don’t turn the ball over, they get to the offensive glass, they’re one of the nation’s best defensively, but until they can find a way to score consistently – and find a go-to guy – they’ll be very beatable once teams figure out how to beat their defense.
Just like Baylor did on Friday.
5. Deonte Burton showed his importance to Iowa State in Orlando: Burton averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 boards and 1.5 blocks in Iowa State’s 73-56 win over Miami and their 73-71 loss to No. 11 Gonzaga this week. The Cyclones have no size this season. The 6-foot-5 Burton is their starting power forward, and he spends time playing the five as well. If Iowa State is going to be as good as they expect to be this year, Burton is going to have to play the way that he did this week, taking advantage of mismatches against bigger defenders offensively while holding his own in the paint on the defensive end of the floor.
Burton was not great in the first two weeks of the season. When Iowa State looked their best this week, Burton was the best player on the floor. That’s not a coincidence.
SET YOUR DVR
No. 18 Syracuse at No. 16 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Michigan State at No. 6 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
No. 17 Purdue at No. 10 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
No. 4 North Carolina at No. 3 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
No. 14 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
No. 19 West Virginia at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 9 Xavier at No. 20 Baylor, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 11 Gonzaga at No. 8 Arizona, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
Weekly Awards: LaDontae Henton, West Virginia with notable performances
I wrote a feature on Henton, the new star of the Providence Friars, on Sunday evening after I watched him go for 38 points — including seven points and two go-ahead baskets in the final two minutes — in a win over Notre Dame in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. That came a day after Henton went for 24 points as the Friars blew out Florida State in the semifinals of that matchup.
It’s early, I know, but Henton is the best player in the Big East right now, the guy that will be taking over Bryce Cotton’s role as Ed Cooley’s go-to guy. He’s a bit undersized to be a power forward, and he’s not quite quick enough to be a full-time off-guard. But that doesn’t change the fact that Buckets can get buckets.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team
Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Angel Rodriguez scored 20 points in the final 6:47 — including this game-winner — to beat Florida in Gainesville. Rodriguez averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.0 steals while shooting 10-for-22 from three. He’s happy to be home.
Jonathan Holmes, Texas: Holmes was terrific for Texas at Madison Square Garden this week as the Longhorns picked up two wins in the 2K Sports Classic.
A.J. English, Iona: Iona went just 2-1 this week, but they won at Wake Forest and at North Texas while English averaged 28.7 points. He hit 13 threes this week.
Shannon Scott, Ohio State: The Buckeyes beat Marquette and Sacred Heart this week. Scott finished with 30 assists and five turnovers.
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won three games against quality mid-major competition, and Waldow led the way, averaging 23.3 points and 8.7 boards.
The Mountaineers finally looked like a team that is coached by Bob Huggins this week. They’re now 5-0 on the season after winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and it’s not just Juwan Staten stealing the show. The biggest difference with this team has been the play of Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton up front. WVU is defending, they are rebounding, they are getting physical in the paint. The highlight thus far? a 78-68 win over UConn where WVU looked like old school Huggy Bear, wearing down the Husky guards with some full court pressure.
They Were Good, too:
Miami Hurricanes: Angel Rodriguez and Sheldan McClellan led Miami to a 4-0 week, which included a title in the Charleston Classic and a win at Florida.
Creighton Bluejays: Who thought Creighton would be able to bounce back after losing Doug McDermott and the rest of that senior class? Well, they beat Oklahoma at home on Wednesday after erasing an 18 point deficit.
Northeastern Huskies: Northeastern won the mid-major version of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off on Sunday. That came after the Huskies knocked off Florida State.
Wyoming Cowboys: Larry Nance Jr. appears to be healthy these days, sparking Wyoming’s 56-33 win over Colorado on Saturday.
San Diego State Aztecs: SDSU scored a grand total of 104 points in two wins this week, but that’s perfectly fin if you allow an average of 38 points per game.
College Basketball Week in Review: Bryce Cotton’s a star, Texas and Michigan surge
Bryce Cotton has been a really good player for the Friars for a long time, but since Providence has spent the entirety of his tenure on campus mired in national irrelevance, he hasn’t gotten near the amount of attention that he deserves. This week that changed. Cotton averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 assists while playing all 80 minutes and committing no turnovers in wins over Xavier and Butler. Providence has now won five straight games, moving them into a tie for the second-best record in the Big East and right back into NCAA tournament contention.
But looking at Cotton’s season as a whole, it’s tough not to wonder whether he should be getting quite a bit more all-american hype. His numbers are impressive: 20.5 points, 5.9 assists, 2.0 turnovers and countless big shots in big moments. He’s doing all that despite playing a ridiculous number of minutes as the primary ball-handler in a season where he was expected to see more time off the ball. But with Kris Dunn out and Brandon Austin gone, this is what Cotton is forced to do:
In his last 12 games, he’s averaging 41.8 minutes.
On the season, he’s played 94.9% of the available minutes. In Big East play, the number jumps to 99.3%.
The only time he’s sat out in Big East play was the final two minutes of a 30 point blowout at Villanova. He’s played all 50 minutes in a pair of overtime games.
His efficiency numbers haven’t taken too big of a hit in the process, as his offensive rating is “down” to 119.3.
They were good, too:
Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Stauskas has been awesome all season long, but in the last nine games, he’s played his way into the National Player of the Year discussion. This week, he averaged 22.5 points, 5.0 boards and 4.5 assists in wins over Iowa and at Michigan State.
Ethan Wragge, Creighton: Wragge averaged 19.5 points this week in wins at Villanova and over Georgetown. 21 of those points came when he hit his first seven threes in six minutes against Villanova.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Poythress is finally starting to turn a corner, it seems. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 boards in a pair of wins this week.
Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash kept Oklahoma State afloat on Marcus Smart’s off-night as he went for 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting and nine boards in a win over West Virginia on Saturday.
Billy Baron, Canisius: Baron might be the Mid-Major Player of the Year right now. He averaged 34.5 points in a pair of wins this week.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns
Believe it or not, Texas is currently sitting tied with Oklahoma for second place in the Big 12. They’ve won five straight games, the last three of which came against ranked teams. This week, they beat Kansas State at home and knocked off Baylor in Waco. Safe to say, at this point in the season, there isn’t a more surprising team in the country than the Longhorns.
Is it sustainable?
Well, it appears to be. The Longhorns have a vastly underrated front court in Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh. Their back court is young, but there are enough pieces there that they have survived some youthful inconsistency. Isaiah Taylor had 27 points against Baylor, making up for Javan Felix’s off-night. Felix, on the other hand, had been terrific in Big 12 play prior to Saturday. Demarcus Holland has struggled of late, but he’s been known to pop off for 20 points and is one of the better back court rebounders in the country.
I still think Texas is closer to fourth or fifth in the Big 12 than they are second, but the fact that we’re having that conversation is a testament to how well Rick Barnes has done this year.
They were good, too:
Michigan: They beat Iowa and won at Michigan State. That about says it all.
UCLA: It is now UCLA’s turn to be considered the second-best team in the Pac-12 after they beat both Stanford and Cal at home this week.
VCU: The Rams bounced back from a loss at VCU by winning at Dayton and La Salle this week.
American: The Eagles blew out Boston University at home and then whipped up on Army on the road this week. Those teams are sitting in second and third behind American in the Patriot League.
Richmond: The Spiders closed out a key three-game homestand with wins over UMass and St. Joe’s this week.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State
Perry led the Penguins to a championship in the Kennesaw State Tournament this weekend, becoming the only team in the country to go 3-0 in the first three days of the season. The wins themselves weren’t overly impressive — Kennesaw State, Florida International and Eastern Kentucky — but Perry’s play was. He averaged 22.0 points, 5.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals in the three games, including a 31-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist performance in the championship game against EKU.
They were good, too:
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle’s college basketball career started in impressive fashion, as he averaged 22.4 points and 14.5 boards while leading Kentucky to a 2-0 start heading into Tuesday’s showdown with Michigan State.
Cady Lalanne, UMass: The Minutemen big man went for 27 points, 12 boards and three blocks in an impressive, 13-point win over Boston College on Sunday.
Casey Prather, Florida: With the Gators struggling and shorthanded, Prather went for 28 points in Florida’s opener against North Florida, a game the Gators only won by eight points.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse: Cooney struggled to find confidence as a freshman, but he certainly didn’t lack it on Friday night. He finished with 27 points and hit 7-for-8 from three to lead Syracuse to a win over Cornell after trailing by 14 in the first half.
Dylon Cormier, Loyola (MD): Cormier led the Greyhounds to a 2-0 week by averaging 32.5 points, 8.5 boards and 3.0 blocks in wins over Binghamton and Cornell.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Providence Friars
Providence entered their season opener against Boston College short-handed, as Kris Dunn continues to battle the shoulder injuries that slowed him last season and Brandon Austin has managed to get himself suspended from the team already. But that didn’t matter, as Ed Cooley’s club knocked off a better-than-you-think Eagles club in overtime on Friday night. Bryce Cotton led the way with 28 points, six boards and four assists.
They were good, too:
UConn: The Huskies nearly blew a 17-point second half lead to Maryland, but ended up pulling out a 78-77 win at the Barclays Center on Friday night. Shabazz Napier led the way with 18 points, seven boards and seven assists.
Wisconsin: The Badgers put together an impressive win over St. John’s on Friday, jumping out to an 18-point first half lead, never allowing the Johnnies to get back within four points. Five Badgers finished in double figures, but it was seldom-used big man Duje Dukan’s 15 points off the bench that were most notable.
Oregon: Playing without Dominic Artis or Ben Carter, the Ducks picked up a key non-conference win against Georgetown on Friday, surviving despite watching their depleted front line get dominated by Josh Smith.
Northern Colorado: Credit where credit is due: UNC was the first team to knock off a high-major program when they went into Manhattan and knocked off Kansas State.
Nebraska: It was the first game of the season and it came against a team that finished second in the Atlantic Sun last season while losing their head coach and leading scorer, but the Cornhuskers’ blowout win over Florida-Gulf Coast was impressive. Not because of the final score, but because Nebraska actually looked like a basketball team that will be able to compete in the Big Ten. That conference is going to be really, really balanced this season.