2016 ended with arguably the most eventful week of college basketball.
After a couple of weeks of the top college basketball teams in the nation taking care of their business and not losing, conference play started last week and mayhem erupted.
Saturday was only the third time ever that both a top-10 Duke team and top-10 North Carolina team lost on the same day. It was also the first time that both teams lost by double-digits on the same day while ranked in the top 10.
Five of the top 10 teams lost last week and only three undefeated teams remain. Villanova, Baylor and Gonzaga are the final three teams standing after Oregon upset UCLA and USC, and Villanova took down Creighton.
It left the college basketball world even more confused of who the best teams in the nation are. Also, it led to a lot of shake-up in this week’s Power 10.
Florida State has quietly sneaked up the rankings in recent weeks and now has the best record in the ACC at 14-1 with a 2-0 start in conference play. The Seminoles have rattled off 10 straight wins since their only loss of the season, an 89-86 loss to Temple.
In that span, Florida State beat Illinois by 11, a good Minnesota team that beat Purdue on Sunday and two ranked teams in Florida and Virginia.
Their two-point win over Virginia this week, following the Cavaliers’ upsetting Louisville earlier in the week, is what caught the nation’s attention.
They have topped 85 points in eight of their games and seven of their main rotation players average at least five points per game.
That’s why winning a low-scoring game against the best defensive team in the nation was such a positive sign for Florida State. If they can win close games in the 60s and 70s, this team will be extremely hard to beat in the ACC because they can catch fire and easily rattle off 15 points.
Sure, Harry Giles played 13 minutes and recorded four points and eight rebounds against Virginia Tech. Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, is also starting to find his rhythm at this level. Plus, Luke Kennard continues his All-American type season for Duke.
All of that is hurt by Grayson Allen‘s indefinite suspension. Duke already limped to the finish line of non-conference play with a 10-point win over Tennessee State and an 11-point win over Elon, but that sluggish play doesn’t work in conference play.
While the Hokies are quietly 12-1, leading Duke by 16 at halftime and beating them 89-75 is not what many expected. It’s easy to brush this off as one game, but considering Duke’s struggles to end non-conference play, this could end up snowballing for the preseason ACC favorite.
Even though Allen wasn’t having the season many expected, he was still one of their best players and again sets them back.
This team has had to step up a lot this year for numerous injuries to key players, including when Allen was hurt, but it’s hard to gain any momentum or chemistry when always missing a key player.
Also, Coach K is sidelined for a couple of months with him having back surgery. This couldn’t come at a worse time for a Duke team who is struggling and looking like a bust after many predicted them to win the national championship.
The Blue Devils will host Georgia Tech and Boston College this week.
Louisville would arguably be the best team in the nation if they had an elite scorer. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation but they don’t have a legitimate go-to player who can take over in close games or when they’re struggling to score.
That was seen against Virginia last week. Louisville moved to 0-2 against teams with top five scoring defenses this year. In fact, their only two of losses of the season have come against Baylor and Virginia, which rank fifth and first, respectively, in points allowed per game.
Sure, Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel all average at least 10 points per game, but none are a consistent scorer that Louisville can count on every game. Against other great defensive teams, that becomes a problem.
Louisville was able to give Indiana fits all game with their tight defense and full-court press.
A week after holding Kentucky to 70 points, Louisville held Indiana, to their season-low 62 points. Indiana only shot 32.2 percent from the field and 19 percent from three, and looked rattled from the start.
Louisville’s defense will keep them in any game, but they’ll turn into a legitimate Final Four contender when they prove they can break down great defensive teams and score consistently.
Louisville will have its first ACC road test against Notre Dame and then travel to Georgia Tech later in the week.
The knock on West Virginia’s 12-1 start is that it really hasn’t played anyone that good outside of Virginia. It makes people overlook their fifth-ranked scoring offense and 12th-ranked scoring defense.
West Virginia showed how good they are on both ends last week against Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State won’t win the Big 12, but they’re not bad. That said, against West Virginia, they looked as lost as they did against North Carolina earlier in the year at the Maui Invitational.
West Virginia held them to 28 points in the first half and shot 55 percent in the game. Even though Oklahoma State picked it up in the second half and scored 47 points, the Mountaineers still won 92-75, while also scoring 51 points in the second half.
There will continue to be doubters about West Virginia because of their poor strength of schedule, but they continue to be one of the most statistically impressive teams, nonetheless.
It’s hard to have both the second best offensive rating and best defensive rating in the nation no matter who you play.
The Mountaineers are good, but we’ll have to wait another week before their showdown with Baylor. West Virginia will travel to Texas Tech and host TCU this week.
Just like after their first loss of the season to UCLA, Kentucky followed up their second loss with a blowout win. Kentucky put losing to Louisville behind them and took it out on Ole Miss, beating the Rebels 99-76.
The biggest worry about Kentucky is how they will fare when in the NCAA Tournament after not being tested for much of the second half of the season.
They played four ranked teams in their first 14 games, but have just three ranked teams in their last 18 games. The weak SEC once again might not give a young team like Kentucky the valuable late game experience they need.
That said, it will give them a chance to improve their play on defense and give their bench valuable minutes in blowouts. Blowouts are why 11 players have played in at least 10 games this season. In turn, it gives Kentucky numerous options off the bench.
Kentucky is good, but I’m not sure they’re great. They should run the table in the SEC, though.
The Wildcats host Texas A&M and Arkansas this week.
The once seemingly unbeatable team got beat by Oregon last week to fall to 14-1 on the year.
Oregon took down UCLA 89-87 on a last-second three by Dillon Brooks to hand the Bruins their first loss of the season. It’s not a terrible loss considering Oregon is ranked 21st in the nation, but it’s UCLA’s past couple of weeks that raises concerns.
After scoring at least 90 points in eight of their first 11 games, and 88 against San Diego, UCLA hasn’t reached that mark in any of their last four games.
Despite not playing great competition in Ohio State, Western Michigan, Oregon and Oregon State, UCLA has been held to 87 points or fewer, and Oregon State held the Bruins to 76 points in their last game following their first loss.
Plus, UCLA shot 50 percent or worse from the field in three of their past four games after only failing to shoot better than 50 percent twice in their first 11 games–not to mention being held to 32.3 percent three-point shooting by Ohio State and 27.3 percent shooting by Western Michigan.
Their first loss of the season only exemplifies the struggles they have experienced lately. Every team goes through a rough patch, although, considering UCLA’s lack of defense, they could experience bigger problems if their shot doesn’t start to fall.
The Bruins will try to get out of their funk this week when they host California and Stanford.
Kansas started conference play against a one-loss TCU team. Many expected Kansas to blowout TCU, but the Horned Frogs kept close and only trailed by four at halftime and lost by a mere six points, 86-80.
Everyone in their seven man rotation stepped up, and Kansas still blocked three shots despite losing Udoka Azubuike for the season.
Five players scored in double-figures for Kansas, as Carlton Bragg Jr and Josh Jackson, the only two players not to score at least 10 points, combined for nine points and 11 rebounds.
Gonzaga remained one of three undefeated teams in the nation with wins over Pepperdine and Pacific last week. They’re only a combined 10-19 on the year, but they won by a combined 50 points and still haven’t been tested since early December when they beat Arizona 69-62.
Despite their easy schedule, it’s evident that Gonzaga is one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation. Five players score at least 10 points per game, four grab at least 4.7 rebounds per game and they rank 48th in steals.
Obviously it all comes down to the Tournament for a team who always has a lot of regular season success, but Gonzaga rivals Villanova for the most complete team in the nation. The difference is that Gonzaga doesn’t have a star like Josh Hart leading them.
Nigel Williams-Goss continues to get better every game and is now averaging 13.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game, which he leads the team in all but rebounding where he ranks second, but the Bulldogs don’t know if they can rely on him against great teams.
Against two ranked teams, Goss averages just 14 points, five rebounds, 3.5 assists and 0.5 steals per game.
Gonzaga’s easier schedule could be their downfall this year as a result. Although, this week, Gonzaga travels to San Francisco to take on the Dons, who are 11-4, and Portland.
Baylor started out Big 12 play with a huge 76-50 win over Oklahoma. The Sooners are not the same team as last year, but beating them by 26 points says a lot about how well Baylor is playing right now and their ability on offense.
Everyone knows Baylor wants to slow teams down and make them beat their fifth ranked scoring defense in a half-court game. Although, Baylor becomes arguably the best team in the nation if they can also consistently put up points.
Sure, Oklahoma ranks just 216th in points allowed per game, but 76 points have not been a given for Baylor this year. The only other Power Five team they have scored that many points against this season is Xavier.
Plus, Johnathan Motley started out Big 12 play on the right foot. He recorded a double-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in just 22 minutes.
Seven players scored at least seven points, which is telling of their team first style of play, but Baylor needs Motley to act as a star for them to win.
Baylor doesn’t have a three-point specialist they can rely on like a lot of teams, despite making 9-of-20 threes against Oklahoma, that’s why Motley’s inside-out game is so important. He’s been their only consistent scoring option this season.
Baylor will host Iowa State and Oklahoma State this week,
Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
1. Villanova (14-0)
The defending champs enter 2017 as the top team in the nation. After a scare against DePaul that resulted in a measly 68-65 win for Villanova, the Wildcats rebounded well against top-10 Creighton to end their week and stay perfect.
Villanova handed Creighton its first loss of the season, which also gave Villanova their third win over a ranked team.
Jalen Brunson‘s 27 points and Josh Hart‘s 18 points and 10 rebounds powered the way, but Kris Jenkins also came up big for Villanova with 21 points and a three to end the half and give Villanova a 42-41 lead at halftime.
Creighton played great, as they tied Villanova at 66 with 4:48 left. Although, like all great teams do, Villanova kicked it into another gear to end the game.
The Wildcats ended the game on a 14-4 run to win 80-70. They scored inside and out, and also went 6-of-6 at the line in the final 37 seconds to ice the game. Every close game Villanova plays, they use their experience to pull away from teams, which makes them nearly impossible to beat.
Villanova only ranks 63rd in points per game and 22nd in points allowed per game, but it’s their experience, coaching, leadership and well-balanced team that makes them hard to beat. Villanova can play at any tempo and can beat teams in multiple ways.
Villanova enters 2017 14-0, and it’s hard to pinpoint when their first loss of the year will be.