College basketball's weekly honors led by Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Butler's big win and more
It's Monday, which means it's time for the weekly honors. The best of yet another eventful week in college basketball:
Team of the Week: Butler
The Butler Way runs deep and transitions from coach to coach, player to player, senior to freshman. The Butler Way can also be broken down to its simplest form: Winning. This program may dip a bit with its record and it’s no lock to be in the NCAA tournament every season, but the consistency is that they are winners. They find a way. And to take down No. 1 Villanova (again), the recipe was to make 3s — a lot of them. Butler hit 15 of 22. They weren't going to stop Villanova from scoring so the Bulldogs were going to have outscore them — and they did, beating Nova 101-93. Butler is 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Big East, including a true road win at Georgetown, heading into this week’s games. Oh, and what’s on tap is another gauntlet that’s par for the course in the Big East. Butler goes to Xavier Tuesday, hosts Seton Hall Saturday and is at Creighton on Jan. 9.
Highlights as the Bulldogs take down top-ranked Villanova in front of an incredible Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd... pic.twitter.com/f2Y6tkjs3B— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) December 31, 2017
Player of the week: Deandre Ayton, Arizona
The 7-1 center is starting to become a beast and making a strong case to join Trae Young and Marvin Bagley as the three contenders for national Player of the Year after the first seven weeks of the season. Ayton scored 23 points, grabbed 19 boards and had three blocks (yes there were six turnovers), in the 84-78 victory over rival Arizona State. The loss handed the Sun Devils their first defeat of the season and made it clear that the Pac-12 title still may go through Tucson. Ayton is averaging 19.7 points and 11.9 rebounds on the season.
Trae Young update
Young could have easily received Player of the Week again, but Arizona’s win over Arizona State carries a bit more weight. Yes, Oklahoma won at previously undefeated TCU, but the Horned Frogs hadn’t compiled the same resume to date as the Sun Devils. OK, these sound like excuses, but they’re not. Young was once again unstoppable and sensational with 39 points and 14 assists in the win at TCU. He also got to the free-throw line 18 times, making 15. Oh, and he made six 3s. Sensational line.
Always in range. pic.twitter.com/o3dF1S156Z— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) January 1, 2018
Kentucky’s best player (maybe): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
It’s hard to argue that he’s not the Wildcats’ most productive. Gilgeous-Alexander had quite a weekend at home, scoring 24 points and shooting over 56 percent in the rout over Louisville. Then he followed that up with 21, making 12 of 13 free throws, in the SEC opening win over Georgia. Kentucky was looking for a reliable stud and it just may turn out to be the 6-6 wing from Hamilton, Ontario.
Time to take UCLA seriously
The Bruins have won four in a row, including the neutral-site win over Kentucky. They swept the Washington schools over the weekend with a 96-82 win over Washington Statea and a dramatic comeback against the Huskies Sunday night. Washington, which won at USC Friday, had the eight-point lead at the half but was routed in the second by UCLA, 46-17. Freshman Kris Wilkes is back to being a scorer again. He had disappeared a bit in some games earlier in the month, but in the last three scored 20 against Kentucky, 14 against Washington State and 21 against Washington.
Team that should have your attention….Arkansas
The Hogs knocked off Tennessee in overtime at home in the SEC opener. Seniors Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford scored 33 and 28 points, respectively. The Hogs have won six in a row — all at home. If this can translate on the road, Arkansas must be in consideration for the SEC regular-season title.
Welcome back to the conversation….Saint Mary’s
The Gaels didn’t do enough in non-conference play to feel comfortable heading into the WCC. So, what did they do to open their road schedule in the league? Win at one of the two toughest spots left — BYU. Saint Mary’s had to create some separation with the Cougars in the chase to catch Gonzaga, and they did, by winning in Provo.
Big 12 road separation
The NCAA tournament selection committee will look at and weigh road wins more. That’s why the road wins to start the season by West Virginia (at Oklahoma State), Oklahoma (at TCU), Kansas (at Texas) and Kansas State (at Iowa State) are all significant.
Say hello to…..East Tennessee State
Remember when the Buccaneers had a 22-point lead at Xavier before losing by two? Well, that wasn’t a fluke. ETSU crushed Mercer on the road by 19 points. This is a Mercer team that was very impressive in the Paradise Jam in November. ETSU opens the Southern Conference with three-straight road games with Samford and Chattanooga up next. If ETSU sweeps through this slate, they could be tough to catch over the next two months.
College basketball rankings: Michigan State the new No. 1; Oklahoma rises
Great first impressions: Niko Medved and Joe Pasternack
Drake and UCSB are off to impressive starts. The Bulldogs won at Southern Illinois to move to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley and make it clear that Drake is going to be in the thick of the race for the Valley title. Drake has a hidden gem of a guard in Reed Timmer, who shows no quit and can bury big shots. Pasternack, a former Arizona assistant, has UCSB at 11-3 in advance of the start of Big West play this week. The Gauchos should get a barometer on where they stand with the toughest road stop in the league coming up in two weeks at Hawaii.