The holiday lull is over. Things geared up in a big way in college basketball over the last seven days with arguably the sport’s most exciting week of the season. There were marquee matchups, season-altering wins and one sketchy non-call that altered a major, rivalry game.
So for anyone who wasn’t paying attention, here is what you missed over the last week in college basketball.
Team of the Week: Oregon
Had you asked most writers (myself included) what the “ceiling” was for Oregon prior to the season, the answer would have been “national championship.” Remember, the Ducks went to the Elite Eight last year and returned virtually every key piece to their roster in 2017. But with star Dillon Brooks sidelined with injury, Oregon lost two of its first four games of the year and basically fell off everyone’s radar since then.
Well, if the Ducks were off everyone’s radar they are back in a big way after having the best week any college basketball team has had this season. It started last Wednesday when Oregon won one of the wildest games of the season, beating previously undefeated UCLA on a Brooks buzzer-beater. But as impressive as beating the No. 2 team in the country was, what the Ducks did two days later might have been even more stunning. They welcomed an undefeated then No. 22 USC into Matthew Knight Arena and smoked them, winning by 23.
With the two wins, Oregon proved that the Pac-12 title still runs through Eugene and that they are still every bit the national championship contender many predicted them to be in the preseason.
Player of the Week: Dillon Brooks
Could it be anyone other than Brooks? Like his team, Brooks proved he was “back” with 23 points against UCLA – including that buzzer-beater – and then followed it up with a career-high 28 points against the Trojans.
With Brooks now back, there’s no reason that Oregon can’t win every remaining game on their schedule.
Surprise Juggernaut of the Week: Villanova
It seems absurd to call the defending national champion and No. 1 ranked team in the country a “surprise juggernaut.” At the same time, what Jay Wright’s club did on Saturday, going into Creighton and walking out with an 80-70 victory over No. 10 Creighton can’t be overstated enough. Frankly, I don’t know if there are two or three teams that could have gotten that win. And the Wildcats made it look easy.
Understand, it wasn’t just that the Wildcats won, but how they did it. Playing in one of college basketball’s most hostile environments against one of its highest-scoring teams, the Wildcats held one of the NCAA's highest-scoring teams to more than 20 points below its season average. The Wildcats also proved that their team is about much more than Josh Hart, the senior forward who could very well be National Player of the Year. In their biggest game of the season, Hart was held to “only” 18 points (and yes, I use “only” very loosely), but was helped by a career-high 27 points from Jalen Brunson and another 21 from Kris Jenkins. This team isn’t just one player, but a collection of really, really good talent.
While it might sound crazy, this Villanova team may actually be better than last year’s club. The same one that won a national championship.
Sketchy Call of the Week: Kansas’ win over Kansas State
Kansas’ wild, last second victory over Kansas State included a buzzer-beater from the Jayhawks that probably shouldn’t have counted after guard Svi Mykhailiuk hit the game-winner after taking somewhere between four and 37 steps (loose estimate) to get the bucket.
The play was controversial, but if you dig deeper, the game itself also exposed some potential fatal flaws for the Jayhawks. For one, they simply aren’t the same team without forward Udoka Azibuke, the freshman forward who will miss the rest of the year with a wrist injury. While Azibuke’s stats were modest (5.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) he had a major impact as an extra big body on the boards, and the Jayhawks suffered without him on Wednesday. Overall, Kansas had 33 rebounds against K-State, but 21 came from just two players: Landen Lucas and Josh Jackson. Furthermore, the Jayhawks only shot 13 of 20 from the free throw line and are shooting just 61 percent as a team.
Add that in with a narrow win on the road against TCU last week, and you’ve got to start to wonder about the Jayhawks big picture. Yes, they’re good. And yes, they’re still the favorites in the Big 12. But right now, they feel like a step behind teams like ‘Nova, UCLA, Kentucky and a handful of others.
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Surprise Upset of the Week: Virginia Tech over Duke
The Blue Devils began life without Grayson Allen in the least inspiring way possible, getting smoked from start to finish in an 89-75 loss to Virginia Tech. To the credit of the Hokies, they are now 12-1 and have won eight straight since losing to Texas A&M back on the Thanksgiving holiday.
Still, the story here isn’t Virginia Tech but instead the Blue Devils, who –nearly two months into the season – still don’t seem to have things figured out. First there were injuries to Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, and then once everyone got healthy, Allen’s suspension hindered it further. The fact that Coach K is now out a short time with back surgery won’t help things either.
Yet despite all the setbacks it seems fair to ask whether Duke is a team which continues to get hindered by things out of their control, or whether this is a team that – while insanely talented – has fundamental flaws. Many have pointed to the fact that for all their talent, the Blue Devils simply don’t have a point guard who can distribute the ball and all the team’s incredible scorers. That was evident on Saturday when Duke had just eight assists on 28 made field goals overall. Also, for all the talk about the depth of this team, without Allen, only six guys played double-figure minutes against Virginia Tech.
There is still plenty of time for the Blue Devils to work things out. But at the same time, you’ve got to wonder if we’ll ever see the Duke juggernaut that most of us were expecting in the preseason.
Michael Thomas ShroyerUSA TODAY Sports
Surprise of the Week II: Georgia Tech’s upset of North Carolina
Because it happened at almost the exact same time as Duke-Virginia Tech, North Carolina’s 75-63 loss to Georgia Tech fell a bit under the radar. But from a pure “upset” perspective, this one was even bigger.
While the Hokies are good team that will almost certainly make the NCAA Tournament, the Yellow Jackets are one of the worst teams in major conference basketball. This was a club which was picked to finish in 14th place in the ACC and one which had beaten North Carolina A&T by single digits just a few days earlier. Yet there they were, knocking off the Tar Heels in Atlanta on Saturday.
It was a strange result, but credit to Josh Pastner for having his club ready to battle. In the end the win might mean nothing. Or it might mean that the Yellow Jackets are simply better than anyone realized.
Joshua S. KellyUSA TODAY Sports
Celebration of the Week: Texas Tech following their win over oWest Virginia
In a week full of upsets, there wasn’t one more enjoyable than Texas Tech’s shocking win over No. 7 West Virginia on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders actually had a chance to win in regulation but blew a five-point lead before rallying to win in overtime.
Following the victory, head coach Chris Beard actually cut his postgame interview short so he could go celebrate with his players, and boy, did he ever celebrate. Check out the video here, as Beard is doused in water before giving a fantastic post-victory speech.
What’s Ahead This Week
After a week filled with all kinds of kooky action, it appears that the next few days will be quiet on the college basketball landscape. Wednesday night is by far the best in the sport, as No. 1 Villanova tries to stay undefeated at No. 13 Butler, No. 23 Notre Dame hosts No. 9 Louisville and Oregon visits Washington, home of the potential No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, guard Markelle Fultz.
On Thursday, No. 3 UCLA returns to Pauley Pavilion to host Ivan Rabb and Cal, and on Saturday, Dennis Smith Jr. and NC State host North Carolina.