The past few days brought us one of the best weekends in college basketball all season. So what did you miss if you weren’t paying attention? Here are seven things.
Duke is a disaster
The biggest story in college hoops this week is once again the Duke Blue Devils, and thankfully it has nothing to do with Grayson Allen and his appendages flying around recklessly. Instead it’s the team itself, which fell to 14-4 and 2-3 in ACC play with a second straight loss, this one at Louisville.
Back-to-back losses at Florida State and Louisville (two Top 15 teams) don’t seem awful until you remember that Duke was the preseason No. 1 team in the country and didn’t expect to have four losses all year. The same things that have plagued the Blue Devils all season once again bubbled to the surface Saturday. Duke finished the game with 18 turnovers and had just eight assists on 22 made baskets. Freshmen Jayson Tatum (3 of 11 from the floor) and Harry Giles continue to struggle, while Marques Bolden (five minutes played) can’t even get onto the court.
For the last three months the Blue Devils have been able to use injuries and suspensions as reasons for their struggles. But now the whole team has been back and playing together for nearly a month. At a certain point we have to stop asking “what’s wrong with Duke” and just accept that maybe they aren’t as good as we thought they were.
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Rick Pitino shows off his brilliance once again
Watching Duke stumble to another loss was jarring, but so too was what happened on the other side of the court. While the Blue Devils' slew of McDonald’s All-Americans couldn’t do anything right – and barely got the ball past half court at certain points – Rick Pitino’s group of two and three star developmental players ran circles around them.
It also led me to wonder something. Is Pitino the best talent developer in all of college basketball? While Pitino’s biggest rivals (Coach K, John Calipari) build their entire rosters around future NBA stars, Pitino does his best work with guys who enter college as major works in progress.
He’s been doing it for years, but this group might be his most impressive. Quentin Snider went from averaging four points a game as a freshman to an All-ACC caliber point guard as a junior. Forward Deng Adel has doubled his playing time – and points per game – from this year to last. Then there’s Anas Mahmoud. The seven-footer from Egypt could barely get on the court two years ago, only to drop 17 and 11 on Saturday. That was more than Duke’s frontcourt of Giles, Bolden and Chase Jeter – three former McDonald’s All Americans – put up combined against the Cards.
North Carolina is hottest team no one is talking about
But what about Duke's cross-state rivals? After opening ACC play with a loss to Georgia Tech, people kind of forgot about North Carolina. With four straight wins they are the hottest team in the ACC and playing as well as anyone in the country.
The latest victory came against those previously mentioned Florida State Seminoles, which came into Chapel Hill Saturday at 16-1 and with three straight wins over ranked teams. They walked out with a 13-point loss. The Tar Heels got big games from their three stars, with Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks combining for 70 points.
And for the Tar Heels Saturday was just their latest, and most impressive win in ACC play. While Duke entered the season with higher expectations, it’s time to pay more attention to the Tar Heels. They’ve got to be considered the favorites in ACC play going forward and are equipped to beat any team in the country come March.
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A stat that will make UCLA fans happy
The UCLA Bruins have flown under the radar since losing to Oregon in late December, but quietly pulled off a feat tougher-than-anyone realizes over the weekend. They went on the Rocky Mountain road trip (which includes games at Colorado and Utah) and won both.
So why is that such a big deal? Both Utah and Colorado are perennial tournament teams of late (either the Buffs or Utes have made every NCAA Tournament since 2012) and the games are played at altitude, making it arguably the toughest road trip in conference play. It’s so tough that as Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg pointed out, only three teams have successfully swept it since the two schools joined the league in 2011.
Those three teams: UCLA in 2013, and Arizona in 2014 and 2015, went on to at least the Sweet 16 of the tournament, with both Arizona teams advancing to the Elite Eight. That’s got to be a good sign for UCLA, which is looking to advance to its first Elite Eight (and hopefully further) since 2008.
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“Will Gonzaga finish undefeated” talk is officially here
Gonzaga entered the weekend as college basketball’s only undefeated team and left that way with a 23-point win over No. 21 ranked Saint Mary’s in Spokane. If the ‘Zags can do that to the toughest remaining team on their schedule, does anyone else stand a chance? Will Mark Few’s club enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated?
To quote the famous Ted Wells, it seems “more probable than not.” The WCC is as top-heavy as ever, with only three teams – Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco – sitting more than a game above .500 at this point in the year.
It also means that unless Saint Mary’s can muster up some homecourt magic on February 11th or BYU can do the same February 2nd, we should brace for the reality that yes, Gonzaga will be undefeated entering NCAA Tournament play.
It’s time to finally give TCU some love
Part of writing this column isn’t just shouting out the best teams and players, but also the ones that are worthy of acknowledgment in general. And that is certainly the case with TCU and Jamie Dixon. The Horned Frogs might not be national championship contenders but are quietly one of the best stories in the sport.
TCU proved it again this weekend, beating Iowa State 84-77 in Ft. Worth. With the victory, the Horned Frogs improved to 14-3 overall and 3-2 in league play. That last number is incredible for one significant reason: TCU only had two Big 12 wins all of last season. They eclipsed that in two weeks of league play in 2017.
It’s a credit to Jamie Dixon, who arrived at his alma mater from Pitt and has put together one of the great turnaround projects in recent college basketball history. Dixon isn’t getting the credit he deserves nationally but should absolutely be in consideration for National Coach of the Year (you can listen to Dixon talk about the TCU rebuild job on a recent edition of FOX Sports “Sidelines Podcast” with Evan Daniels).
I’m not sure whether this falls under the category of “college basketball,” “high school basketball” or “just plain weird,” but did you see what Drake was wearing in an Instagram post on Friday? It was a Spartanburg High School jersey, a jersey owned by one of the top high school juniors in the country, Zion Williamson.
Now we’ve spent a lot of time here at FOX Sports breaking down Drake’s jersey choices but a high school kid? Still two years removed from graduating? We all love Champagne Papi, but am I the only one that thinks that’s a little weird?
What’s ahead this week
There are plenty of big games on the docket this week including a monsterMartin Luther King Day showdown between Xavier and Creighton on FS1at 2 p.m. ET. Later in the evening, Kansas will travel to Iowa State.
The rest of the week is somewhat quiet, with the biggest matchup coming on Wednesday when Notre Dame and Florida State tangle in what could be a battle of the two best teams in the ACC not named “North Carolina.” And on Saturday it’s the showdown that has come to define the Pac-12 in recent years, as Arizona visits UCLA.