NCAA Basketball Weekly Recap: Takeaways & Top 25

The Pac-12 and TV Scheduling

We have heard many times in the past how west coast basketball doesn’t get the respect it deserves because it is typically played too late at night for those on the east coast to stay up and watch.

I would like to bring up another reason:   They seem to sabotage their own exposure.    In the year 2017, there is no reason a marquee match-up like Arizona State-Arizona is so hard for people to find (not only is it hard to find, it is actually impossible to watch in my markets).

The argument can be made that nobody knew Arizona State – Arizona was going to be one of the top end-of-year match-ups on the schedule.  While Arizona was projected to be a top team in the nation, there was nothing that indicated that the Sun Devils would actually be better heading into this game.   While there is some validity to that, let us not forget that, as fans, we can watch just about any ACC game or Big Ten game that we desire.   It is not easy to brush this off as a simple case of bad luck.    If I can watch Xavier-DePaul in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, I should be able to watch Arizona State – Arizona on Saturday night in prime time.    The Pac-12 has to find ways to make sure their best match-ups are available to anyone who wants to see them without having to pay for an online stream.    It is a shame that Bobby Hurley’s exciting squad is mostly unknown to many, despite playing in one of the nation’s best conferences.

Butler Chops Down the Wildcats

Despite their 12-3 record, the Bulldogs haven’t been the team we have grown to love through the last several years.    In a game they lost to Texas earlier this season, Butler scored only 48 points.   They lost by 15 to in-state rival Purdue, and 14 in a road loss to a middling Maryland squad.

All of a sudden, however, one of the darlings from yesteryear has seemed to rev up their engines.  They scored 107 points in a Big East tune-up game vs. Western Illinois before going on the road and putting up 91 in a win at Georgetown.   Georgetown isn’t very good, but Butler is not known for such offensive prowess.   They turned it up a notch higher on Saturday, however, when they poured in 101 points against a shell-shocked Villanova squad that was looking to stay unbeaten.    Butler was an incredible 15-for-22 from 3-point range, and shot 60% overall.  They shredded the Wildcats defense – a defense that has allowed 65.8 points per game.

One game is never a reason to worry, of course.  It is a bit bothersome that this 101 point effort followed a game where they allowed 85 against DePaul, so they need to clean up their defense a bit.   We always talk about teams that go into offensive funks, but defense can go into a funk as well.  They should bounce back from this lull.

As for Butler, this is going to be a big feather in their cap on Selection Sunday if they were to find themselves on the bubble.  Their non-conference doesn’t have many wins for them to fall back on (Utah?  Ohio State?), so they need to show up and win some Big East games to secure their spot in March.    In case you were wondering, the last time Butler put up 100+ points against a Big East foe was….not long ago.  They scored 110 in a win over St. John’s back in February, 2017.

The Crazy SEC

The SEC may be the wildest conference in the nation this season.

While Arkansas beating Tennessee by two at home in overtime is nothing that should surprise many, the hurting Alabama put on Texas A & M definitely raises my eyebrows more than a bit.

The Aggies only score 57 points on 30% shooting against the Crimson Tide, a squad that found themselves in the Top 25 at times earlier this season before struggling.    The 9-4 squad has a loss against Central Florida, and couldn’t find a way to get a marquee win in the non-conference, losing to Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas.     Alabama is 137th in the nation in scoring offense, and 170th in the nation in scoring defense.   They earned their way out of the Top 25 with their lackluster play, but perhaps Saturday’s win will get them out of their doldrums.    I wouldn’t be too concerned if I am an Aggies fan.  Bad losses happen, especially in a road game within the conference.  Alabama may not have played up to their potential early in the season, but the talent is there for them to beat anybody.    They will play another tough team to figure out on Tuesday, when they host the Florida Gators.

Top 25 (Last week’s ranking in parenthesis):

  1.  Duke (13-1) (2) – While questions about their defense won’t go away after their uptempo victory over Florida State, Duke boasts the best resume in the nation.  Road tests against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh are next.  Neither are as good as Duke, but remember that Duke’s only loss was on the road against Boston College.
  2. Michigan State (14-1) (3) – Their only loss is against the Blue Devils, and I am not sure who is supposed to challenge them in the Big Ten.   Their only game against Purdue is a home game.   Maybe an upcoming match-up at Ohio State will give them a sweat.
  3. West Virginia (13-1) (6) – Winning streak has reached 13 after a pair of road wins to begin their Big 12 campaign.   Huge game at home against Oklahoma is next.
  4. Oklahoma (11-1) (7) – Trae Young continues to dazzle, and the Sooners may be the nation’s hottest team.   Winning a road game against previously undefeated TCU to begin Big 12 play was huge.  They will play a rivalry game against Oklahoma State before travelling to West Virginia.
  5. Villanova (13-1) (1) – The Big East is tough this season, and Villanova found that out when they lost to Butler on the road.   The Wildcats should be fine, but this conference is no longer “Villanova and the other guys”.
  6. Xavier (14-1) (8) – They aren’t blowing out anyone (squeaked by East Tennessee State, Marshall, Northern Iowa, Marquette, and DePaul in their last five games), but the important thing is that they are compiling wins.  Butler comes to their gym on Tuesday.
  7. Arizona State (12-1) (4) – No shame in losing to a talented Arizona squad by 6 on the road.  Their Pac-12 road trip continues this week, with trips to Colorado and Utah.
  8. Wichita State (11-2) (10) – Impressive “gut check” win on the road at Connecticut. and it looks like their defense is coming back in focus.   The favorites to win the conference will play Houston, who is off to a 12-2 start, next.
  9. Virginia (12-1) (11) – Boston College proved their win over Duke wasn’t a fluke, as they took Virginia down to the wire.  Virginia plays a lot of close games, though, due to their defensive style.   A trip to Virginia Tech is next, followed by a home affair against North Carolina.
  10.  Kansas (11-2) (9) – They didn’t do anything to drop a spot in my rankings – other teams just did enough to jump ahead of them.   They have a run of ranked Big 12 schools upcoming, which can easily land them much higher in these rankings.
  11. Texas A&M (11-2) (5) – Losing on the road in conference play is never a major issue.  Losing by 22 to an unranked team, however, at least gives you some pause.
  12. Miami (12-1) (12) – They are now in conference play, which will provide them with many chances to prove their worth.  That didn’t happen last week, however, since their journey started against lowly Pitt.
  13. Texas Tech (12-1) (22) – They beat a strong Baylor team by 22 points.   Beat Kansas on the road on Tuesday, and eyes will really start popping.
  14. Purdue (13-2) (14) – Easily destroyed a couple of cupcakes, and now restart their Big Ten journey at home against Rutgers and Nebraska.   It seems like a cake walk, and likely will be a cake walk.
  15. Arizona (11-3) (19) – Now have a signature win over previously unbeaten Arizona State.   The Pac-12 is a bit of a mess overall, and Arizona may be able to rise to the top and run away from the pack.  They have that kind of talent.
  16. Cincinnati (12-2) (13) –  Just like with Kansas, I move them down not because they lost to a bad team this week.  I dropped them down because other teams stepped up to jump ver them.
  17. Seton Hall (13-2) (18) – Wins over Creighton and St. John’s to start their Big East play, though both were at home.   A trip to Butler on 1/6 is a very tricky match-up, as Villanova would tell them.
  18. North Carolina (12-2) (15) – Hard to get excited over struggling to beat Wake Forest at home.   I would become a bit more excited if they can beat Florida State on the road, which is up next.
  19. TCU (12-1) (16) – Losing by a point to red-hot Oklahoma, even at home, is no reason for worry.  I didn’t have them as high as the polls did, so this doesn’t represent a big fall in my rankings.  They next go to Baylor as their early gauntlet through the Big 12 continues.
  20. Kentucky (11-2) (17) – Beating an unsettled Louisville squad doesn’t carry quite as much weight, but doing it in blowout fashion was impressive.  They fall, however, because they had trouble putting away Georgia.
  21. Clemson (12-1) (23) – Perhaps the quietest 12-1 ACC team in the history of college basketball.  Beat up NC State in their ACC opener, and have a tricky match-up at Boston College next.
  22. Florida State (11-2) (20) – Went on the road and kept pace with Duke.   They now get to play North Carolina (at home) in their second ACC game of the year.  Thanks?
  23. Arkansas (11-2) (NR) – That 26-point loss to Houston stands out, but if Houston were to beat Wichita State this week, it wouldn’t look so bad.  Nice overtime win over Tennessee to begin their SEC journey.
  24. Gonzaga (12-3) (NR) – One week after dropping them out, they are right back in again.  We could soon be asking the question if the three losses they have now will still be three heading into the NCAA Tournament.  St. Mary’s and BYU may have something to say about that.
  25. St. Mary’s (13-2) (NR) – Speaking of St. Mary’s, they have now won eight in a row, and survived an always tough test on the road against BYU.   On paper, their only remaining roadblocks are the typical roadblocks:  Two games against Gonzaga.

Dropped out:

Baylor (10-3) (22) – Baylor will probably hang out near the bottom of the Top 25 for most of the season.  They are very talented in a conference filled with talent, so expect many highs and lows.
Tennessee (9-3) (24) – Losing on the road against Arkansas in overtime is not a major drawback.  There are only 25 available slots, so every win and every loss will cause some shuffling at the bottom of that list.
Creighton (11-3) (25) – Just like with Tennessee, it isn’t a major problem to lose on the road against a talented team like Seton Hall.  The Big East is tough, and Creighton should have their share of big wins as the season goes along.

Just Missed:

St. Bonaventure (11-2) – How close do I think they are?  I originally typed them in as #25 until I compared their overall resume to that of St. Mary’s.  They have a win on the road against Syracuse, which impresses me even if the Orange are a bit down this year, and one of their two losses was a 10-point loss against TCU.  I am not going to go back up and change it, but there is such a compelling case to be made here.

Butler (12-3) – You can’t get a much bigger win than one over the nation’s #1 squad.   Butler has question marks, but if they beat Xavier on the road in their next game, they will zoom well past “Just Missed” in these rankings.

 

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