Had you looked at the college basketball schedule before the season began, this past week would have appeared – at least on paper – to be the slowest of the season. Take an already slow week on the calendar, watch most teams play an easy non-conference game before sending their kids home for Christmas, and how much could possibly happen?
Yeah, about that. Because a week which once appeared sluggish was anything but, with some of the biggest headlines of the entire season taking place over the last seven days.
Here’s the 7 things you might have missed in college basketball this week.
Team of the Week: Louisville
With a grand total of one matchup between ranked opponents all week, it’s easy to slide Louisville into this spot and move on. But make no mistake: Following the Cards’ 73-70 victory over Kentucky, they are not only are deserving of this spot but they showed just how dangerous they could be on the national level.
Louisville went into the single most contentious rivalry in the sport, took control early in the first half and never really looked back in a game where they were the better team most of the night. Rick Pitino’s club did its best work on the defensive end, limiting Kentucky star Malik Monk to just 16 points (after he scored 47 a game before against North Carolina) and also proved they have enough offensive firepower to compete with some of the best teams in the sport as well. Quentin Snider scored 22 points and was one of four Louisville starters in double-figures.
You know what else the victory proved? That the Cardinals are a legit ACC title contender. Most people have either Duke and North Carolina pegged into the top spot, but after the Cards beat a UK team which just beat North Carolina, they should be in the ACC title mix as well.
Player of the Week: Caleb Swanigan, PF/C, Purdue
Because so much happened on Wednesday night (the Louisville win, the great tripping controversy of 2016) it was easy to overlook arguably the single best performance any player has had this season. A relatively easy 91-45 win for Purdue was highlighted by a monstrous 32-point, 20-rebound performance from their monstrous power forward Caleb Swanigan.
The sophomore might just be the best story in college basketball overall this year. After a somewhat disappointing freshman campaign last year, Swanigan entered the NBA Draft and only came back to college after NBA scouts basically told him “you’re not ready” at last year’s NBA Draft Combine. But what was the NBA’s loss was the Boilermakers’ gain as Swanigan is averaging 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds (second-best nationally) and the Boilermakers are 11-2 overall going into Big Ten play.
That 32-20 game was Swanigan’s 10th double-double of the year and third separate 20-20 game. Don’t be surprised if Swanigan ends up as an All-American by the end of the season and potential first round draft pick.
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The Controversy of the Week (That Wasn’t An Actual Controversy At All): Grayson Allen
The Grayson Allen tripping incident was the biggest “story” of the entire season, so therefore, any recap of the college hoops week as a whole has to include it. At the same time, with the incident now five full days old and with thousands of words on the subject spilled all over the internet, it doesn’t feel nearly as important as it did a few days ago either.
With Allen now suspended indefinitely, it also feels like we can finally, mercifully put all of this nonsense behind us once and for all. We all understand that in the grand scheme of things what Allen did wasn’t that bad (no crimes were committed) but considering it was the fourth different tripping-related incident with Allen, something did have to be done. And it was. I’m still not so sure that Coach K came to the decision himself (as much as it was at the urging of either Duke’s AD or the ACC offices), but regardless, punishment was in fact handed down.
Look for Allen to sit out the Blue Devils’ first two or three ACC games and return no later than January 10th against Florida State. Hopefully we can then, finally, put this whole incident behind us once and for all.
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The Trainwreck of the Week: Syracuse Orange
Having spent part of the holiday weekend watching the cinematic classic Trainwreck – how John Cena didn’t win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor is beyond me – it only seemed appropriate to pull out the trainwreck of the week in college basketball. And frankly, no one is more deserving than the Syracuse Orange.
The Orange have already been discussed in this space before, but after taking futility to a new level with a 93-60 loss to St. John’s at home on Wednesday, they are more than deserving of this honor. Keep in mind that Syracuse opened as a double-digit favorite before losing by 33 points (making this one of the biggest point spread margin swings in college hoops history) and that this was the same St. John’s team which had already lost to the likes of Delaware State and LIU-Brooklyn earlier this season.
So yeah it was really bad, and maybe the worst part is that there isn’t one thing that is plaguing the Orange, but instead a slew of different issues, and no obvious ways to fix them. Here’s what Jim Boeheim said after the game: "We have a lot of games left, a lot of difficult games. At the rate we're playing right now, we can't win many of those games." Doesn’t that just about explain Syracuse’s entire season as best any sentence could?
Bummer of the Week: Freshman star ineligible at Fresno State
You’ve probably never heard of William McDowell-White but the Australian point guard could have very well been the best player in the Mountain West… this season. Instead, after sitting out the first semester, his grades still aren’t in check, putting his entire college career in jeopardy.
Now, for a little background: McDowell-White is an Australian superstar, a guy who would have been a five-star McDonald’s All-American caliber player last year had he been born in the United States. Having seen him play at an Adidas event with the likes of Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. two seasons ago, I can tell you he was every bit the point guard prospect those guys were. When he chose Fresno State – in part to play with his brother – it was seen as one of the biggest recruiting coups in school history.
But now with his grades in question, there’s a chance that he never plays college basketball at all. Reports are that he could go play for a year back in Australia and then make a run at the NBA in 2018. Regardless, this is a major disappointment for both Fresno State fans and college hoops fan in general. McDowell-White is that good.
Juggernaut No One is Talking About: Creighton
Last week we discussed Gonzaga as the “Juggernaut No One Is Talking About” and this week the honor goes to Creighton. Incredibly, the Blue Jays are one of just five undefeated teams left in college basketball, yet no one seems to be paying attention.
What makes the Blue Jays so dangerous is that they can beat you in so many ways. Maurice Watson Jr. is leading college basketball in assists per game (with over nine a contest), and as a team they rank No. 1 in the country in three-point percentage shooting over 45 percent a game. They also get inside help from Justin Patton, who is averaging 12 points and six rebounds after redshirting last year, and just might be the breakout star of the college basketball season.
But again, no one is talking about the Blue Jays. That should change New Year’s Day, when Creighton hosts No. 1 ranked Villanova. Win that game and Greg McDermott’s club will be impossible to ignore.
What You Need to Watch This Coming Week
For all the talk about how slow college hoops has been these last few weeks, it will pick up tenfold this week, with most conferences opening league play, and many giving us marquee matchups along the way as well.
The Pac-12 opens with two of the best games we’ll see all season, when Oregon hosts No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday and follows it up with No. 24 USC on Friday on FS1. Both visiting teams are undefeated and could suffer their first losses of the season at Matthew Knight Arena. Louisville opens ACC play against Virginia in a Top 15 matchup Wednesday and then it doesn’t get easier, with an out of conference game on Saturday against Indiana.
And speaking of Saturday, we get what might possibly be the Game of the Year in the Big East, when No. 9 Creighton hosts No. 1 Villanova on FS1.