We’re now less than five weeks away from NCAA Selection Sunday. If you haven’t been paying that much attention to college hoops yet this season, here are seven things you might have missed this past week.
Oregon makes its move
After winning both the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament titles last year and advancing to the Elite Eight, Oregon looked ready to compete for the national championship this year. But after a 2-2 start (thanks to an injury to star Dillon Brooks) the Ducks briefly fell off the national radar. They returned in a big way Saturday.
In the most dominant win any elite team has had over another this season, Oregon crushed (then) No. 5 Arizona 85-58 in Eugene. It ended a 15-game win streak for the Wildcats (which dated back to early December) and shows just how dangerous the Ducks can be. Four different players scored in double-figures, with the team hitting an absurd 16 of 25 three-pointers in the win. If Oregon was off the radar before, they aren’t now. The Ducks are a true title contender.
Kentucky’s problems mount
As recently as two weeks ago John Calipari’s club was in the short conversation of best teams in the country. But after three losses in four games, lowlighted by an embarrassing an 88-66 thumping at Florida this weekend, it’s time to question what the “ceiling” is for the Wildcats this year.
For Kentucky, Saturday wasn’t just about the loss, but all their weaknesses being exposed on one big stage. This is a club that struggles to score when Malik Monk isn’t red-hot (he had just 11 points Saturday) and is woefully thin up front; they were outrebounded 54-29 by the Gators. Add in porous defense (they allowed the Gators to shoot 48.4 percent from the field) and it might be time to admit that while Kentucky is a talented group of individuals, they don’t have the pieces collectively to make a deep run in March.
Lonzo Ball wins the battle of lottery picks with Markelle Fultz
Many viewed Saturday’s showdown between UCLA and Washington as a battle between Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, two future lottery picks who might go No. 1 and No. 2 in this year’s draft. As it turns out, the “showdown” was no “showdown” at all as the Bruins cruised to a 107-66 victory.
It wasn’t just about the Bruins winning however. It was Ball proving – for at least one night –he is the better prospect. While their stat lines were nearly identical, Ball did all the little things to help UCLA jump out to a commanding lead (he had six points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in the first 10 minutes of the game) while Fultz didn’t really get going until the game was out of hand. He’ll get another chance against Ball when the two teams meet at Pauley Pavilion March 1.
Jim Boeheim picks up his 1,000th career win… sort of
Jim Boeheim won his 1,000th career game as head coach at Syracuse on Saturday. Yet it wasn’t technically his 1,000th win. Confused? It’s OK, we all are. Thanks to NCAA sanctions which stripped the Syracuse coach of 101 wins, his official total sits at just 899. It also meant that the school couldn’t officially honor Boeheim when the Orange beat Virginia 66-62 at the Carrier Dome.
Boehiem was coy about the accomplishment all week, but as he pointed out following the game, what is most important is how that one victory helps this year’s current team. After an abysmal start to the season, the Orange are quietly 7-4 in ACC play with four straight league wins. They should be able to pick up two more in their next two games at Clemson and Pitt, which currently sit at 12th and 15th in the ACC respectively. A team which looked like they’d miss the NCAA Tournament a few weeks ago is all of a sudden one of the hottest in the sport.
The Big 12 is as wacky as ever
With six Top 10 teams losing Saturday, it was another topsy-turvy week across the country, but nowhere more so than in the Big 12. Not only did three conference teams ranked in the Top 10 nationally all lose – Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia –but they did it on their home courts.
Interestingly, Kansas was probably helped the most Saturday despite their loss. That’s because after they saw their 54-game home court win streak snapped, the Jayhawks were briefly tied with Baylor in the Big 12 standings. But once the Bears lost, it again put Kansas back atop the standings, as they now pursue an incredible 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.
Coach K returns and Duke is starting to look like Duke again
Saturday was significant for the Duke Blue Devils for two completely different reasons. One, Mike Krzyzewski returned to the sidelines after a one-month leave due to back surgery. And two, Duke is starting to look like the team we all expected in the preseason.
The Blue Devils beat Pitt, which marked their third straight victory and fourth in five games. Four different starters scored in double-figures for Duke which is now improbably, just 2.5 games back of ACC leader North Carolina. They could take a major step closer to the top of the standings when they host the Tar Heels Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
Villanova has some Super Bowl fun
The center of the sports world was obviously on the Super Bowl this week, but what’s easy to forget is that NRG Stadium also hosted the Final Four in the last calendar year. Like the Super Bowl, Houston also gave us one of the best title games ever.
College basketball is now front and center and we have a loaded week ahead to celebrate. On Monday it’s a Top 15 showdown as red-hot Louisville (up to No. 4 in the polls) travels to Virginia while Kansas has a tough road game at Kansas State.
Things really heat up on Thursday with a pair of Top 20 matchups: North Carolina visits Duke in the latest edition of one of sports’ great rivalries while UCLA hosts Oregon at Pauley Pavilion. Saturday it’s a Big East showdown when Villanova travels to Xavier. Later than night, No. 1 Gonzaga travels to No. 20 Saint Mary’s in what will likely be the last big test for the Zags in pursuit of an undefeated regular season.