Fast Break: Arizona too good for its own good?
There is a wonderful bit of mental acrobatics you can watch from time to time in college basketball. It happens like this: A good team, a name-brand team, has a bad game or two. Loses to somebody it shouldn't have, or almost does, and generally plays poorly for a week or so.
The players on that team will reason that the cause of their malaise is not that they are not performing well, or aren't that good in the first place. Quite the opposite. They'll reason that they, in fact, are so good that they make their opponents better.
We get everybody's best shot, they will say.
"Teams are giving us their best shot," Arizona guard Kevin Parrom said. "We have to understand that we have a bull's-eye on our back."
Parrom said that after No. 3 Arizona beat Utah by three on Saturday in Tucson. That came two days after the Wildcats should have lost at home to Colorado, which made a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer that referees wiped off the board for no good reason.
"We are not playing well," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said, getting much closer to the truth.
The truth is probably that the Wildcats are a little too good for their own good. They have figured out that they can win without playing particularly well.
That, friends, is the devil's tonic.
You see this happen in sports, most often in the NBA, in which a great team coasts for a week or two at a time then just turns it on when it's time to turn it on. But the NBA is different, the schedule longer, the players more mature. You cannot trust a college basketball team to self-calibrate its intensity. College basketball players simply aren't good enough to do that.
"Sometimes, you hit a peak when you're playing so well and think no one in the country can beat you," Miller said. "Once in a while, you don't play well and are reminded of how difficult it is to win every game. We got through a weekend here where the difference was very few points, but we were able to win both. We will be able to learn from these."
O-H, Oh no
Maybe you've noticed this too. Whenever Ohio State plays a good team, it loses.
Duke, Kansas and Illinois have all taken turns putting the Buckeyes in their place, and the results have gotten progressively worse for Ohio State — a five-point loss to then-No. 2 Duke, followed by an eight-point loss to then-No. 9 Kansas and followed, Saturday, by a 19-point loss to then-No. 11 Illinois.
The Buckeyes increasingly look like a one-man band. Deshaun Thomas is the Big Ten's leading scorer, but Ohio State does not appear to have anyone else it can reasonably rely on for scoring relief. The Buckeyes have a way of making offense look really difficult.
This is troubling for Ohio State, but it's sort of troubling for college basketball that a team this flawed not long ago was considered one of the nation's top five.
Bring on the Bruins?
Remember when UCLA was this young, talented team with a coach who had been to three Final Fours? Can you remember that far back? What happened? How did we forget that was the case?
Because suddenly, and again, that's exactly what UCLA looks to be.
The Bruins (12-3) have won seven in a row, a streak that includes wins over Texas, then-No. 7 Missouri, Cal and Stanford. They are tied for 14th in the nation in scoring. They run good offense (No. 6 in the nation in assists), take good shots (they're shooting 48 percent) and have players talented enough to make plays when they don't. Freshman swingman Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 23.2 points over the past six games.
It's conceivable, even likely, that UCLA will be 16-3 and back in the AP Top 25 when it faces Arizona for the first time on Jan. 24. That game is in Tucson, but if the Bruins find a way to win it, they'll be in great shape to challenge the Wildcats for the Pac-12 title.
9 for 34, seven assists, seven turnovers — Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft's combined statistics in the Buckeyes' three games against ranked teams this season.
5.5 – Blocks per game averaged by Kansas center Jeff Withey. If his average holds up, he'll become the first BCS-conference player to average five blocks per game since Ohio State's Ken Johnson averaged 5.4 in 1999-2000.
They said it
"I don't want anyone to feel like we are happy with this; there are no moral victories. Moral victories are for chumps, and we all know that." — Colorado coach Tad Boyle, after his team's controversial overtime loss to No. 3 Arizona.
"I'm not like panicked, like, `Oh my God!' " — Ohio State coach Thad Matta, after a loss to Illinois.
"(Athletic director) Tom Bowen (and I), we both see eye to eye on this. We're done with them, it's over." — Memphis coach Josh Pastner, on ending the series against Tennessee, one day before Bowen announced he was in discussions with Tennessee to renew the series.
Player of the year watch
1. Trey Burke, Michigan
Settle in. He's probably going to occupy this spot for a while.
2. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Had a bad week statistically, but that's probably going to be an aberration.
3. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Yes, seriously. He's averaging nearly 20 and five. If the Bruins keep winning and he has a couple big games against Arizona, he's in this conversation.
Conference power rankings
1. Big Ten
The exposing of Ohio State doesn't even make much of a dent in the Big Ten's resume.
2. Big East
What was with that Jim Boeheim rant about how bad the Big East is going to be next year? Did that seem strangely timed to anybody else?
3. Big 12
Kansas State enters the poll at No. 18. The Fighting Webers are 12-2 with wins over then-No. 8 Florida and then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Bad news: Their win over Oklahoma State dropped the Pokes out of the Top 25.
B-E-L-I-E-V-E in the B-R-U-I-N-S.
Florida and Missouri are both overrated.
Yes, the Mountain West has more ranked teams than the ACC, but none of them could beat Duke and they're probably not better than NC State, either.
Ups and downs
Up: Kansas State
Rodney McGruder has been a really nice player for three years, now. One of the most underrated in the country, really.
I have mentally recorded that Colorado game as a loss and suggest you do the same.
Probably the best roster in the country. And swag. Lots and lots of swag.
The Tigers are playing OK, actually. They just beat Tennessee. But there is clearly a rift between the head coach and the athletic director.
Memphis and Tennessee will continue playing each other in basketball, because of course they will.
Tuesday, Ohio State loses at Purdue when the Boilermakers employ a box-and-one to stop Deshaun Thomas and the rest of the Buckeyes shoot 32 percent.
Wednesday, Minnesota and Illinois play each other and one of them wins. Nobody knows how to interpret this information.