With Selection Sunday now just seven weeks away, we’re really starting to learn a lot about the players, teams and personalities that will likely be prevalent come March.
Here are seven things you might have missed this past week in college hoops.
Arizona makes its case as one of the best teams in the country
There wasn’t a single team which picked up a more signature win than Arizona did this past weekend. The Wildcats went on the road into a hostile Pauley Pavilion and came out with a relatively easy 96-85 win.
Arizona wasn’t just better, they were dominant, flipping the Pac-12 on its head in the process. The Wildcats scored a season-high in points, while limiting UCLA – which entered the day as college basketball’s best three-point shooting team – to 10 of 31 from beyond the arc. Arizona outrebounded the Bruins by nine and also made 19 of 21 from the free throw line.
The Wildcats have now won 12 in a row, sweeping USC and UCLA on the road in back-to-back games. With the return of Allonzo Trier from suspension they are only going to get better and have to be considered a legitimate Final Four contender.
The loss was equally damaging for UCLA
The Bruins still sit at 19-2 overall, but their road to get to the Final Four just got much, much more difficult.
With the loss the Bruins now fall to 6-2 in Pac-12 play, a full two games behind Arizona and Oregon (the two teams they’ve lost to) in the conference standings. So many talented teams – Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and currently undefeated Gonzaga – will be jockeying for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament that every conference loss puts more pressure on the Bruins to win the Pac-12 Tournament.
Even if the Zags finish with a loss, it’d be hard to give the Bruins the No. 1 seed without a conference title. Especially when you remember that Gonzaga also has a head-to-head win over Arizona.
The ACC might be better than we thought
We expected the ACC to be really good this year, but the league might even be better than anticipated.
The strength has come from the middle and the bottom of the league, because while teams like Duke and Syracuse have struggled at the top, the three teams picked to finish 13th-15th (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Boston College) all have at least three conference wins. The Yellow Jackets already hold a victory over a really good North Carolina team, and the Eagles nearly pulled off the upset against the Tar Heels Saturday.
NC State is a mess
In the group of “Surprise ACC wins” listed above, one that I conveniently left off was Wake Forest’s shocker at NC State on Saturday. The victory was Wake’s first ACC road win in over three years and further cements the Wolfpack as one of the most disappointing teams in all of college basketball this season.
There is no excuse for NC State to be this bad. This is a club with a legit Top 5 pick in Dennis Smith Jr., who by the way, might actually be playing better than what could have been realistically expected (he had 15 points and 13 assists in Saturday’s loss). They also have a future first rounder (Omer Yurtseven) and another four or five guys who are high-caliber ACC players, yet here they sit at just 13-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC. NC State just finished what was supposed to be the “easy” part of their schedule and did it with losses to Wake, Boston College and Georgia Tech (not to mention a 51-point embarrassment at UNC).
Things won’t get any easier as the Pack’s next two games are at Duke and Louisville. At this point it’s hard to see this team in the NCAA Tournament.
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Florida State is the title contender no one is talking about
While NC State is one of college hoops’ biggest disappointments, there isn’t a more pleasant surprise than Florida State. Their victory over Louisville Saturday puts them at 6-1 and tied with North Carolina and Notre Dame for first place in the ACC.
What might be more impressive than just the overall record is how the Seminoles did it. The Seminoles' last six games have all been against ranked teams and they managed to go 5-1 during that stretch, with their only loss coming at North Carolina. That includes victories over the Fighting Irish, Cardinals and Duke in the last two weeks.
Jonathan Isaac is a legit stud (if he played at Duke or Kansas we’d be talking about him as a potential Top 3 NBA Draft pick) and so too is leading scorer Dwayne Bacon. Florida State might not be a school you think of as a hoops power, but they are good enough to get to the Final Four. And maybe even win it all.
Duke is not “back”
Following the Blue Devils' 70-58 victory over Miami Saturday night, there was a cute little narrative that began formulating in the media: “Duke is back.” Many believed that after playing uninspired basketball for basically the last month, the Blue Devils had found the magic elixir and are on the way to all the preseason glory that we all bestowed upon them.
Yeah… I’m not buying it. One win doesn’t announce a team is back, especially at home after a week off against a not-very-good Miami team which sits at 2-4 in league play. The Blue Devils still don’t have a point guard, still have little interior presence (outside Amile Jefferson) and still struggle on defense.
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Outside of Kentucky, the SEC is comically awful
Kentucky improved to 17-2 overall and 7-0 in league play Saturday with an easy 85-69 win over South Carolina, who is probably the second best team in the conference.
And while to a small degree it shows just how good Kentucky is, it shows how bad everyone else in the conference is as well. The fact that the league’s next best team couldn’t get within single digits of Kentucky is a bad sign (especially when De’Aaron Fox went out with an ankle injury). It’s also hard to see anyone other than the Gamecocks or Florida making the NCAA Tournament outside of Kentucky and neither appears ready to make much noise.
That’s problematic for Kentucky for two reasons. It won’t help their case for a No. 1 seed (although it might not matter if they keep winning the way they are) and it won’t prepare them for the teams they’ll face in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, these are “first world problems” for the Wildcats, but they are problems none the less.
The week ahead
While the SEC might not give Kentucky a ton of challenges, the good news is they will get a major out of conference test on Saturday against Kansas in what might just be the best remaining game of the regular season.
Kansas-Kentucky is the signature game that everyone needs to watch this week, but it’s not the only one. No. 1 Villanova hosts a Top 20 club in Virginia on FOX Saturday in another intriguing, mid-season, out of conference showdown. In conference, the best matchups probably come Tuesday when those same Virginia Cavaliers visit Notre Dame and Kansas plays one of its toughest road tests of the season at West Virginia.
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