We’re now a full-month into the college hoops season and for those who haven’t been paying attention, well, shame on you. We’ve had plenty of good matchups, games and performances, with a handful of teams (cough, Villanova) looking exactly like we expected, with others (ahem, UCLA) exceeding expectations.
With the NFL, college football bowl season, NBA and lots of holiday shopping taking up your time, it's understandable that you might not be easy to follow everything in college hoops as closely as you will in the New Year.
That's why FOXSports.com is debuting a weekly “everything you missed” column, highlighting the teams, players and things that you might not have seen, as well as highlighting what you need to watch going forward.
So what do you need to know about the last week in college hoops? Here are seven things.
Washington is still a grease fire and Lorenzo Romar’s job should be on the line
When I began to lay out this column a few days ago, I knew I wanted to hit on Washington, but man oh man, did they give me even more fodder by losing to Nevada on Sunday night. With the loss, they are now just 4-5 with four straight losses, and that’s with the presumed No. 1 pick in next year’s draft (Markelle Fultz) on their roster. Add it up with a similarly miserable effort last year and zero NCAA Tournament bids since 2011, and the question needs to be asked: Why does Lorenzo Romar still have a job?
By now we all know the obvious answer: Washington has once again signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country next year, highlighted by Michael Porter Jr., a player I very much believe – like Fultz – could end up as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (in his case, 2018). At the same time, what exactly is the point in keeping Romar around to coach Porter Jr., if you know he’s not going to get the most out of him? Heck, isn’t it actually worse from a public perception standpoint to bring all these really good players into your program, then fall flat on your face, year after year?
It seems so, which is why it’s time to let Romar go, and hopefully allow Porter Jr. to avoid the same fate Fultz will this season (and Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray did last year). Heck, if it’s only about keeping Porter – which it is – why not fire Romar and make Porter Jr.’s dad (an assistant at Washington) the team’s interim head coach and give him the opportunity to keep the gig full-time? At this point, he simply can’t be any worse than Romar.
UCLA keeps rolling
(Cue, “Batman narration voice), Meanwhile down in Los Angeles, UCLA continues to roll and make their case as the best story in college hoops this season. After going into Rupp Arena last Saturday and emerging with a 97-92 victory, they followed it up with an 18-point thumping of a really good Michigan team at home. In the process, the Bruins also proved to be arguably the most balanced offensive team in the country, while players scoring at least 14 points.
And really that’s been what’s so awesome about watching UCLA this year: While all the focus has been on freshman phenom Lonzo Ball, it really has been an across the board team effort for the Bruins. Isaac Hamilton might be the quietest 17-point scorer in all of college basketball, while Bryce Alford – who took so much heat from UCLA fans last year – has found a perfect role as a catch and shoot scorer, rather than a do-it-all playmaker. Aaron Holiday – who was forced to the bench with Ball’s arrival – continues to be instant offense off the bench, putting in 17 points against Michigan, after adding 13 against Kentucky.
Add in the play of freshmen Ike Anigbogu and T.J. Leaf and it really is a complete team effort every night, for inarguably the most exciting team in college basketball right now. UCLA is now 10-0 and my only complaint about the Bruins through 10 games is that they only play once or twice a week. Man, are they fun to watch.
T.J. Leaf continues to be arguably the most underrated player in college hoops
Again, because all the focus is on Lonzo Ball – and rightfully so – what is being lost in the shuffle is that UCLA's T.J. Leaf is having arguably the second best season of any freshman in the country. He followed up a 17 point, 13 rebound effort against Kentucky (a performance which earned gushing praise from John Calipari) with 21 and 8 against Michigan. With an average of 17 points and 13 rebounds a game, it’s seriously time to start talking about him as a first-team All-American.
He might be the most complete big-man scorer in college basketball, a guy just as comfortable taking big, slower defenders off the dribble, as he is stepping out and hitting three-pointers. He’s averaging a three a game, which ain’t all that bad for a guy who stands 6’10 and spends most of his time in the post.
North Carolina isn’t the same without Joel Berry
Early in the year, North Carolina was garnering a lot of praise as the most complete – and some would say “best” – team in college basketball. After thumping a good Wisconsin team in the Maui Invitational final they got all the way up to No. 3 in the polls. But after Berry, their starting point guard, sprained an ankle against Radford last week they simply haven’t been the same team.
That was on full display on Sunday, when the Tar Heels nearly lost to a completely average 4-4 Tennessee team at home. Without Berry, North Carolina fell down early and were able to rally late for a win, but clearly weren’t the same team. Their offense sputtered, and guys like Justin Jackson (who’s averaging a team-high 15 points a game) simply didn’t look the same. He shot just 3 of 15 from the field against the Vols, and the open looks that were falling through the first few weeks, simply weren’t there this time.
The good news for Carolina is that Berry should be back soon. Jay Bilas mentioned Sunday “if this were the NCAA Tournament or ACC Tournament he’d be playing today." That’s good news for the Tar Heels since their next game is against Kentucky on Saturday. Speaking of the Wildcats…
We’ll learn a lot about Kentucky against the Tar Heels
To the Wildcats' credit, they did what they needed to do in their two games following the UCLA loss. They came away with back-to-back 20+ point wins this week against Valparaiso and Hofstra, with guys like Malik Monk (20 points Sunday) getting back into the groove.
But as much fun as it is beating up on overmatched mid-major schools, we’ll start to find out what the Wildcats are made of this weekend against UNC. The loss to UCLA exposed some weaknesses for the Wildcats, specifically with the ability to rebound and defend down low, and that’s only added to their three-point shooting, which at 32 percent as a team, is good but not great.
The Wildcats were my preseason favorite and while I'm not ready to give up that prediction just yet, they'll certainly need to show more than they have been for me to remain confident in it.
Duke is beginning to look like the Duke we all expected in the preseason
By now we all know the narrative arc of the Blue Devils' 2016-2017 season: They were the consensus No. 1 coming into the season, only to flatline after star freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden all missed time with injuries. But with Tatum and Bolden returning a little over a week ago, the Blue Devils are starting to look like the team we all expected. They beat a good Florida team 84-74 on Tuesday before crushing UNLV in Las Vegas.
What was most noticeable in the wins is that Duke is absolutely loaded with scorers, to the point that at times, they almost feel like college basketball’s Golden State Warriors. Yup, I just compared them to one of the greatest offensive teams in NBA history (and no, I haven’t been drinking at 9am ET) on a Monday, but they really have that feel, with six or seven different guys able to beat you, on any given night. Honestly it was a little bit scary to watch Luke Kennard and Tatum dominate against Florida (29 and 22 points respectively), only to see them get shut down against UNLV, and have Grayson Allen step up with 34 points instead. If one guy goes cold, another just seems to step up.
What might be most scary of all though is that the Blue Devils still aren’t anywhere close to 100 percent. Tatum is just getting back to full-strength from a foot injury and when Giles comes back (which will likely be some time before Christmas), watch out. This team will be deadly.
Villanova’s Josh Hart has the best game anyone has had in college basketball this season
I already wrote about Josh Hart following Saturday’s win over Notre Dame, but it really is worth repeating here: Hart had the best game any player in college basketball has this season on Saturday. In a victory over No. 23 Notre Dame, Hart led the way with 37 points and 11 rebounds. Even more incredible: In that game, against a really good team, he led Nova in points, rebounds, assists and three-pointers made, tied for the team lead in steals and went 14-14 from the line. And oh by the way, he did it while turning the ball over just once. Yikes!
Hart is the single most interesting long-term NBA prospect in college basketball this winter. At 6’6 he doesn’t have a clearly defined position, but is a guy that is just a “basketball player” one that seemingly makes the right play at the right time, regardless of size.
When you add Hart with Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins and others, it’s no surprise that the Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in the country and could once again win a national championship.
Here’s what you need to watch this week
Speaking of the Wildcats, they have the most intriguing mid-week game of the season as they host Temple on FS1 Tuesday night. Monday night, FS1 will also have the day’s best game, with No. 19 South Carolina facing Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden.
It’s a relatively quiet week (most schools have finals this week) but the game of the week is unquestionably on Saturday. As mentioned above, North Carolina faces Kentucky on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Vegas, in a matchup that will tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA and Ohio State do battle in the day’s first game from the T-Mobile Center.
If you can’t make it to Vegas, there are plenty of other good games to enjoy from the couch. Butler faces Indiana, Arizona gets a good Texas A&M team, and Syracuse and Georgetown face off in an old-school, Big East matchup in the Carrier Dome.