With all due respect to the opening weekend of games and the annually great Champions Classic doubleheader, this past week was the first time it felt like the college hoops season was truly underway. Thanks largely to a number of tournaments and off-campus events, there was an embarrassment of good games, with ranked teams regularly clashing, surprising results, huge individual performances, and even a game where a top-25 team played the final 10 minutes with just three players—and nearly came back from a double-digit deficit anyway. (More on that in a minute.) It was a worthy teaser of March and the fall’s first illustration of just how much fun the sport can be.
Of course, given all the football and food and general life-living of the long holiday weekend, it’s easy to have missed most of it. With that in mind, and with the gluttony of last Thursday still on the brain, here is a look at four teams who feasted last week, and four who came out of Thanksgiving weekend feeling famished.
The nation’s No. 1 team closed out the season’s No. 1 event thus far—the two-bracket, 16-team PK80 Invitational in Portland—in style with a thrilling, back-and-forth win over No. 7 Florida for its second win over a top-10 team this season. After beating Michigan State despite freshman star Marvin Bagley III missing most of the game with an eye injury, some wondered whether a full-strength Duke might verge on untouchable. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Blue Devils’ last two wins in Portland, over Texas and the Gators, was how they won despite flaws in their performance and ended up rallying late—the type of wins that can be valuable growing experiences for teams as young as they are. Against the Longhorns, Grayson Allen was hindered by foul trouble and Duke could hardly hit an outside shot, but Bagley put the team on his back with 34 points and 11 rebounds. Two days later the Gators rushed out to an 18-4 lead they eventually lost, then pulled back out ahead by 17 points midway through the second half…only for Bagley to again go into takeover mode, scoring 10 points in the final 10 minutes to finish with a 30-point, 15-rebound line. The Blue Devils are immensely talented and undefeated, but just as important down the line will be the blows they’ve proven able to withstand.
What’s going on with the Wildcats? Arizona—the No. 2 team in the AP poll and SI’s preseason No. 1—somehow lost all three of its Feast Week games. First it fell to an afterthought North Carolina State team, then to an SMU team that sandwiched its upset with losses to Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky, then by 25 to a slumping Purdue team to close out a disastrous showing in the Bahamas. The Wildcats’ defense allowed NC State to have its second-most efficient game of the season at 1.23 points per possession (only VMI did worse against the Wolfpack) and was positively nonexistent for stretches against Purdue. On the other end, they made just 10 of 54 three-pointers; against SMU, only Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton scored more than six points for the Wildcats. There are now much more pressing questions in Tucson than whether Sean Miller will finally reach his first Final Four.
Feasted: Michigan State
The Spartans’ marquee win may not have been a pleasurable viewing experience—they shot just 40.0% from the floor over North Carolina on Sunday while turning the ball over 24 times—and yes, the Tar Heels played awfully (Roy Williams called it “just about the most shocking game I’ve ever coached”)…but what the game lacked in grace it compensated for in decisiveness. It was, after all, an 18-point win on a neutral court against what had been the No. 9 team in the country. Paired with cruising wins over DePaul and UConn, that made for a pretty successful trip to Portland. It also had to be encouraging that the three games featured three different 20-plus-point leading scorers (Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford), and that none of them were all-everything forward Miles Bridges, who missed the DePaul game to rest his ankle.
The Boilermakers saved face by blowing out Arizona in the seventh-place game in Atlantis (strange how that’s a true sentence) but knocking off a free-falling No. 2 team can only do so much to make up for disappointing losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky. After being top-12 in defensive rebounding efficiency the last two seasons, Purdue currently ranks 216th and got particularly beat up on the glass by the Volunteers. Things don’t get much easier with games against Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern and Butler in the next month.
Feasted: Texas A&M
One of the nation’s most underrated teams—examined in more depth by SI’s Chris Johnson here—continued its strong start to the season by dispatching Oklahoma State and Penn State in Brooklyn and then handling USC in Los Angeles on Sunday night. The return of big man Robert Williams III alongside Tyler Davis has given the Aggies a front line with which just about any team will have trouble matching up, while junior wing D.J. Hogg has emerged as a strong outside scorer. Next Tuesday the Aggies travel to Arizona. The Wildcats better get ready.
Famished: Saint Mary’s
For a West Coast Conference contender looking to keep a clean non-league resume for the NCAA tournament, last week’s Wooden Legacy tournament was a costly stumble. The Gaels fell to Pac-12 cellar-dweller Washington State on Friday, then followed that by losing to Georgia in overtime on Sunday. St. Mary’s has an excellent offense—its currently second nationally in efficiency—but its lackluster defense allowed both the Cougars and the Bulldogs to have their best offensive showings of the season. (Only one Division I opponent has allowed lowly San Jose State, which St. Mary’s beat Nov. 19, to crack 1.00 PPP, and it was the Gaels.) With no resume-boosting opponents left on the non-conference schedule, St. Mary’s has little wiggle room going forward.
Feasted: Notre Dame
The Maui Invitational champs blew out Chaminade and LSU before finding their backs to the wall against No. 4 Wichita State in the final, trailing by nine with seven minutes to play. With the margin down to one with 13 seconds left, the Irish missed their first chance to go ahead but ended up getting the win thanks to Martinas Geben’s two free throws in the final seconds. The game could have easily gone either way, but the strong showing and willful comeback against one of the nation’s best teams was the best sign yet that Notre Dame—which until then had been untested—will be the legitimate player on the national scene many expected. Bonzie Colson has himself rightfully in national award races, but sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs is third nationally in offensive efficiency and looking like a potentially dangerous complement to Colson and Matt Farrell.
Their Maui trip started poorly for the Golden Bears, as they blew an 18-point lead to Wichita State and ended up losing by 10. The next day they lost by 14 to VCU. But things got much worse on Wednesday, in the event’s last day, when Cal lost to Division II tournament host Chaminade, which is 8-92 all-time in the Maui Invitational. And Cal lost badly, by a 96-72 score. At one point the Silverswords reeled off a 13-0 run. Not a good start to the Wyking Jones era.
If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday-morning column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to chat and maybe recommend your favorite animal Instagram accounts, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.
As alluded to above, if you missed out on watching the bizarre spectacle of a ranked Alabama team playing—and excelling—with just three players against a ranked Minnesota team on Saturday, then you really missed one of this young season’s most entertaining stretches of basketball. The game was streamed on Facebook and thankfully the folks at Stadium put up a video of the chaotic final 15 minutes for posterity. Check it out here.
A quick recap: After some escalating tensions and trash-talk—including Minnesota’s Nate Mason being ejected for earning two technical fouls—a scuffle broke out on the floor near Alabama’s bench. All of the Crimson Tide’s reserves walked onto the court to either partake or break it up, earning automatic ejections for leaving the bench during an altercation. With Alabama down to five players, guard Dazon Ingram fouled out, leaving them with only four. A few minutes later, guard John Petty twisted an ankle and had to leave the game, leaving Alabama with just three players. Rather than forfeit, Tide coach Avery Johnson opted to play out the 10:50 remaining on the clock.
What followed was remarkable. Not only was it jarring to see an empty bench and a team attempt to play 3-on-5 basketball, it was practically astounding to see that team outscore the opponent that had been thoroughly beating them over the game’s final quarter. Alabama outscored Minnesota 32-28 from the point when it was down to four players and 30-24 beginning at the point it had just three. Either per coach Richard Pitino’s instruction or a premature sense of relaxation or perhaps simple confusion, Minnesota seemed to take its foot off the gas and declined to take advantage via, say, constant double-teams or leaving one player under the hoop to cherry pick. But Alabama—particularly Sexton, who finished with 40 points, 17 of which came when he had just two teammates—deserves credit for its uphill fight down the stretch. When the horn sounded and his team had officially lost by five points, Sexton raised both arms. Really, it was hard to blame him.
As the scandal turns…
While nothing changed on the legal or employment front, it was an eventful week for ousted ex-Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who spoke with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and then watched his son Richard coach Minnesota in his native New York. Speaking to ESPN, Pitino said he has been living in Miami and would consider coaching again if a team approached him and said they believed his innocence, but that he does not expect to do so. (He also, predictably, lamented the mistakes of hiring the assistants directly implicated in the two recruiting scandals that sullied the end of his time in Louisville.) Then, at Minnesota’s wild win over Alabama, according to NBC’s Rob Dauster, a fan was ejected for badgering Rick in the stands. If nothing else, it doesn’t seem like Pitino plans on hiding.
On another note, as baseless and speculative as long-distance diagnoses can be, it’s hard not to try to make a connection between Arizona’s inexplicable early-season slide and the FBI probe that cost the program an assistant coach and hangs over it like a cloud. There could be any number of causes, but something is seriously off right now in the desert.
Each week, we’ll be highlighting five teams on the rise—in this case, excluding the “feasted” teams above. Here’s who also stood out over the past week.
1. Baylor: The Bears put the brakes on what had been a runaway Creighton offense, tweaking their zone to hold the Bluejays to a season-low 0.88 points per possession and enable a 12-point comeback. Doing that a night after edging Wisconsin made it even more impressive.
2. Virginia: Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers rank first nationally in defensive efficiency after dominant neutral-site wins over solid Vanderbilt and Rhode Island squads. Man-bun-less Kyle Guy has doubled his scoring average (now 15.8 ppg) and thus far maintained his efficiency (48.3% from three) while taking on a larger role.
3. Arizona State: Beating Kansas State and Xavier is a pretty good way to spend your Thanksgiving weekend. Senior Tra Holder put 40 on the Musketeers on just 22 field goal attempts, just five days after hanging 35 on UC-Irvine in the same number of shots. He can play.
4. UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels’ only significant win so far was a 27-point drubbing of Utah, but most notable so far has been how they have won. A year after ranking 118th nationally in average length of possession, UNLV is all the way up to sixth in coach Marvin Menzies’s second season.
5. Bucknell: After four straight road losses—two of which, against Monmouth and Maryland, came by a combined three points, while the other two came at Arkansas and North Carolina—the Bison won three in a row this week, including a 115-point outburst against Siena. They should again be the class of the Patriot League.
Top of the Classes
Senior: Zach Thomas, Bucknell forward
Perhaps the biggest driver of Bucknell’s sudden turnaround was Thomas, who averaged 28.3 points, 8.3 boards, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in the Bison’s three wins. He’s also sixth nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and makes good on that by shooting 76.3% from the line on 10.5 attempts per game.
Junior: Jordan Murphy, Minnesota forward
Suddenly one of the nation’s most underrated players, the 6’6” Murphy has a double-double in all seven of the Gophers’ wins and averaged 18.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in the three that came this past week.
Sophomore: Charles Matthews, Michigan guard
The Kentucky transfer got two different types of double-doubles last week, notching 22 points and 10 rebounds against Chaminade and 17 points and 12 assists against UC-Riverside. He seems to have found a home in Ann Arbor.
Freshman: Trae Young, Oklahoma guard
With Bagley and Sexton getting their shine above, Young deserves a nod for his ridiculous week. He averaged 34.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.3 steals (while making 33 of 35 free throws to boot) over the Sooners’ three games, including a 43-point, seven-dime effort against Oregon on Sunday night. Yikes.
Social Media Post of the Week
Wichita State at Baylor, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Two teams who could meet again in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament will play one of the best on-campus matchups of this season’s non-conference slate. The currently undefeated Bears—who offed Wisconsin and Creighton last week in Kansas City—will be wrapping up a grueling portion of their early-season schedule after first traveling to Xavier on Tuesday. The Shockers, meanwhile, will have had just one tune-up (hosting Savannah State) in the 10 days since their late loss to Notre Dame in the finals of the Maui Invitational.
Aside from the sheer quality of the two teams, their styles of play offer an intriguing matchup. Wichita State’s early-season offense has often run through 6’8” Shaq Morris and 6’9” Darral Willis, who have taken the team’s largest portion of shots while on the floor (27.5% and 26.3%, respectively). But Baylor’s zone defense and 7-foot shot-blocking center Jo Lual-Acuil will make it hard to get the ball inside and do much while there. Expect the front-line battle to factor heavily.
Before You’re Dismissed…
• If you somehow missed it over the holiday weekend, the strange injury saga of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. seemingly reached its conclusion last Tuesday, when the school announced Porter would undergo back surgery and miss the remainder of the season. He’s almost certainly ticketed for the NBA Draft this June (where, assuming a full recovery, he’ll be a top-five pick), which means his college career would begin and end with two minutes of action in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Iowa State. SI writer and Mizzou alum Joan Niesen weighed in on the disappointment of the news, while our Jeremy Woo evaluated the impact on Porter’s draft stock.
• Speaking of Jeremy, if you like watching college hoops with an eye for pro prospects, his 60-man Big Board is a good guide to who to watch and where they stand in this draft class. Among my favorite prospects in the late-first-round range: UNLV freshman seven-footer Brandon McCoy.
• Bol Bol, the five-star, 7’2” son of former NBA star Manute Bol, will likely end up on some big boards in the near future, but last week he announced that first he will play his college ball at Oregon. Bol is a consensus top-five recruit, the highest-rated prospect the Ducks have landed in Dana Altman’s seven-year tenure.
• We often rail on the exploitation that goes on in big-time college sports, but there can be a lot worse going on in the shadows of the lower levels. It’s hard to read this Deadspin story on the 22ft Academy prep school and not feel disgusted.
• It was almost certainly an outlier effort, but North Carolina has to be concerned by its 24.6% shooting night against Michigan State on Sunday. The Tar Heels need to find more scoring options.
• How good is Texas Tech? The Red Raiders are off to a strong with six double-digit wins (most notably torching Northwestern by 36 on a neutral floor), but their biggest test yet will come in a semi-road game against Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
• Two buzzer-beaters you should check out: Providence guard Kyron Cartwright’s forward-falling three against Belmont, and an early contender for shot of the year from William & Mary’s Oliver Tot, who hadn’t attempted a shot in 19 minutes against Old Dominion before throwing up a prayer from halfcourt.
• Should probably mention Kansas, huh? The Jayhawks just keep crushing mid-majors. If anyone is going to knock them off before Big 12 play, my pick would be Arizona State. But I don’t think anyone will.
• Did you take last week’s column-ending advice to see Lady Bird? Because you should. This week’s recommendation is a recent 10-minute episode of my favorite podcast, the Memory Palace, called “On the Shores of Assawompset.” And really, you should listen to all of them.