What a week. College basketball’s busy November stretch certainly didn’t disappoint.
Here’s what we’ve learned in the past seven days.
*Arizona is… not what we thought it was
Yikes. The Wildcats finished dead last at the Battle 4 Atlantis — they lost to N.C. State, SMU and Purdue — and looked rough in the process. Outside of Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton (who’s lived up to every ounce of the hype, by the way), Arizona just doesn’t have much going on.
The Wildcats will likely go from No. 2 to unranked in a week. That’s tough to do. Rawle Alkins’ absence hurts, but that doesn’t explain this. Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic need to give the Wildcats more, and Arizona’s talented freshmen haven’t done a whole lot. Get the ball out of Trier or Ayton's hands, and it's a win for the defense. The Wildcats are easy to guard right now.
There’s still so much to work with here. But this week went about as poorly as Arizona could have imagined.
*Trae Young might be the most entertaining player in the country
When Buddy Hield was at Oklahoma, Oklahoma games were appointment television. These Sooners might not win as much as those Sooners did, but Young is worth a watch — or like, 30.
Young averaged 36 points and 6.7 assists in the PK80, and willed Oklahoma to a win over Oregon with a dynamite 43-point performance. We knew he was a high-volume scorer. We didn’t know if he was a high-efficiency scorer.
In Portland, he was both. Young shot better than 50 percent in two of his three games. If he keeps playing like this, he could be the Big 12 Player of the Year.
*It’s almost boring how good Villanova is
While Arizona and Purdue duked it out for seventh place in the Bahamas, Villanova cruised to the title. Don’t be mistaken: watching Villanova isn’t boring. But in the regular season, it’s hard to ever pick against them. In a sport where chaos is commonplace, the Wildcats are predictable — in the best kind of way.In three wins, Villanova outscored its opponents by an average of 10.3 points. The Wildcats are ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the floor. Jalen Brunson is as good as expected — he’s averaging 19.2 points on an absurd 63.2 percent shooting (imagine if he jacked more). Mikal Bridges is even better than expected — he’s averaging 18.6 points on 52 percent shooting from 3. Yeah, that’s the guy who used to be considered a defensive specialist – and the defense is still there. He’s looking like a Josh Hart clone.
Villanova is arguably the best team in the country right now.
*We can’t doubt Mike Brey’s ability to manufacture depth
Notre Dame clawed its way back to win the Maui Invitational behind the usual heroics from Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson. But this team lost Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem in the offseason, and didn’t have a Duke or Kentucky-caliber recruiting class coming in. A lot of programs would be reeling in that spot.
Not the Fighting Irish. Temple Gibbs has gone from “bit player” as a freshman to “overqualified third option” as a sophomore. He’s averaging 15.5 points on 53 percent shooting and has filled a much-needed void for Brey. As expected, the Notre Dame offense is cooking — it ranks second in the nation.
A big reason why? Elite ball-security. That’s not sexy, but it’s true; Notre Dame turns the ball over on 12.8 percent of its possessions, a top-five mark. That’s a benefit of having two point guards in the starting lineup.
*Wichita State misses Markis McDuffie
The Shockers likely don’t lose to Notre Dame by one with McDuffie in the lineup. Wichita State’s current wings have two-way potential, but don’t always show up on both ends of the floor. McDuffie is a true two-way wing, which would have been mighty useful against Notre Dame.
The Shockers didn’t run through Maui like some expected. But this isn’t an Arizona situation. They’ll be fine.
*Gonzaga was even more loaded than we thought last year
Killian Tillie was barely good enough to crack the 37-2 Bulldogs’ rotation last year. Killian Tillie is awesome – he’s nearly averaging a double-double on what looks like a top 10-caliber team. Rui Hachimura is legit, too, and he couldn’t crack Gonzaga’s rotation a year ago. Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins were starters, but they weren’t stars.
This year, Tillie, Perkins and Williams are starring on a good team — the Bulldogs took third place in their PK80 bracket, and could have won the whole thing (Gonzaga’s only loss was in double-overtime to Florida). Reloading can go smoothly, or there can be bumps in the road.
Mark Few seems to have avoided those bumps. The Zags look like a title contender once again.
*Collin Sexton is a guy you want on your side
Need we say more?
*When you think of Michigan State, you think of Miles Bridges – but how about the defense?
North Carolina shot its lowest percentage in program history (25) against Michigan State in the PK80 final. Sure, it was an off night for the Tar Heels. But the Spartans were ferocious defensively.
There’s been a lot of chatter – some of it justified – about Bridges playing small forward instead of power forward. Offensively, there’s no denying Bridges benefits from playing the small-ball four. More space, more driving lanes, etc.
But Tom Izzo’s gargantuan frontcourt is a nightmare to score against. Bridges and Jaren Jackson are strong, long, switchable chess pieces; it’s hard to have anything less than a good defense with those two in the lineup. Nick Ward is a smart off-ball defender and a stout on-ball deterrent. Combine that with Izzo’s established scheme, and you’re dealing with an elite defense.Joel Berry and Luke Maye were balling coming into that championship game. They combined to shoot 5-for-24 from the field on Sunday, and frankly, the Tar Heels looked overmatched. When was the last time we said that about a North Carolina team?
For what it’s worth, the Tar Heels are good. But on the right night, the Spartans can be great.
*It’s time to start putting small-ball fours on Wendell Carter instead of Marvin Bagley
It’s easy – lazy, in fact -- to suggest that a big guy should get a touch every time he has a small guy on him. If it were that simple, everyone would do it. Feeding the post is hard – and at times, risky. Big guys aren’t always the most coordinated, and those passes often lead to turnovers.
None of this applies to Bagley, who has a hand-eye coordination/body control/athleticism combination unlike anything we’ve seen in college basketball in recent memory. So when he has a small guy on him, he should get a touch 100 percent of the time. Florida played small by choice; Texas had to due to foul trouble. With Carter and Bagley sharing the floor, coaches slotted their pseudo-power forward on Bagley instead of Carter, presumably because the latter is bulkier.
Bagley averaged 32 points and 14 rebounds in the last two games of the PK80 and routinely abused smaller players on the block. Carter – a good player who is no Bagley (no shame in that) averaged 10 and nine.
There is no good solution here. Duke is No. 1 for a reason. But these teams hung with Duke, and a few points would have made the difference. Bagley would have put up numbers regardless, but perhaps he wouldn’t have gone off to the extent that he did with better tactics.