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Mike Lopresti | | December 14, 2020

Trying to make sense of the weird numbers in this college basketball season, 3 weeks in

College basketball rankings: Creighton, West Virginia climb in latest Power 36

Three weeks. That’s how long the college basketball season has been going. Seems like longer, doesn’t it, with all the stops and starts and yesses and nos and maybes? It’s a very different time, but when everything else seems like a train wreck, and when both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation are on COVID pause, we always have stats to calmly give their side of the story.

What’s it like out there in the storm? Behold some of the numbers in a strange, strange land.

North Carolina A&T has already played nine games to lead the nation. No. 1 Gonzaga has played only three. Temple is among the legion who have played none. Maybe this week for the Owls.

In the Big East, Xavier is 7-0, the first team in Division I to reach that total. DePaul is 0-0. Villanova is 5-1, and because of postponements, had to play all six on the road. That included at Georgetown, where the Wildcats came from 18 points behind to win.

The new Associated Press rankings came out Monday. Know how many ACC teams are in the top 14? None.

In the Patriot League, Army is 4-1. Navy is 3-1. None of the other eight teams have played a game.

In the Sun Belt, the Coastal Carolina football team is 11-0 and 19th in the country in scoring. The Coastal Carolina basketball team is 4-0 and first in the nation in scoring, at 102.8 points a game.

In the Horizon League, Oakland has one of the worst records in the nation at 0-7. But look closer. The Golden Grizzlies have played all seven away from home, took Michigan to overtime, led Oklahoma State in the second half, and put 91 points on Michigan State’s defense. So not all 0-7s are created equal.

RANKINGS REACTIONS: Houston, Villanova, West Virginia climb AP Top 25

In the West Coast Conference, top-ranked Gonzaga was a purring statistical machine, with early wins over Kansas and West Virginia, a 55.3 shooting percentage, and defense-shredding passes that produced this rather stunning number: In starting 3-0, the Zags were averaging 58 points a game, just in the paint.  Then came the positive virus test and five cancellations, including No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Baylor. And now you wonder if another tasty matchup will have to be aborted this Saturday, when the Zags are scheduled to face Iowa. It figures to be a lively two hours, with Iowa averaging 100.5 points a game and Gonzaga 93. Where are they supposed to meet? In South Dakota, where else?

In the Western Athletic Conference, New Mexico State had two victories the first week to run the nation’s longest winning streak to 21 games. Then the Aggies had to hit the pause button for a month and won’t play again until Jan. 8.

In the Big Ten, Ann Arbor is only 56 miles from Toledo but Michigan had not played the Rockets in 37 years. Last week, the Wolverines lost a game because of NC State COVID tests on Monday, scheduled Toledo on Tuesday, and beat the Rockets 91-71 on Wednesday.

The top six Big Ten teams are a combined 33-0. Nobody has a losing record. The hottest lodge member is Michigan State, which just scored 109 points. The last time the Spartans rolled up that many in a game, the point guard was named Magic Johnson. Michigan State has 187 field goals so far — and 138 assists. That means 74 percent of the Spartans’ baskets have come with a helpful pass.

And this just in from the Big Ten video game department. In six games, Iowa’s Luka Garza has scored 175 points, in under 149 minutes. In his first three games, he averaged 27.3 points, in the first half. He scored 34 points against Iowa State, including 21 in a row for the Hawkeyes in just over five minutes. He’s not only shooting 69 percent overall, but 68 percent from the 3-point line. One number he keeps low. He’s had only 14 fouls all season.

BIG TIME: A quick-hitter recap of Tuesday's wild games that had to make Big Ten fans smile

In the Southeastern Conference, the worst record belongs to...Kentucky. The last time the Wildcats were 1-4, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, and John Calipari was a 25-year-old assistant at Kansas. The 48-26 halftime deficit against Notre Dame the other day was the largest for a home game in school history, though Calipari made sure to mention, “This isn’t at home, though. Come on, we’ve got no fans.” And they nearly came back in the second half to win. “If that’s who we are those 20 minutes, there’s hope,” he said.

An extremely youthful roster, and not enough time yet to meld it, is Kentucky’s presumed problem. “It was only six months ago, they were playing AAU,” Calipari said. But can they shoot? The Wildcats are 304th in the nation in three-point percentage. They were 1-for-13 in the first half against Notre Dame. The one they made banked it.

Missouri, picked to finish 10th in the SEC, is 5-0 and has already beaten two ranked opponents — Oregon and Illinois. The Tigers are among the country’s early surprises, but should they be? They returned 88 percent of their scoring, and have nine players who are juniors or older. They also might lead the nation in rotation players named Smith, with Mark, Dru and Mitchell, none of them related. Nobody seemed to see Missouri coming. The Tigers didn’t get one vote in either the Associated Press or coaches’ preseason poll, something 53 other teams did. Now they're up to No. 16.

Missouri, Dru Smith upset No. 6 Illinois in Braggin' Rights Game

In the ACC, Mike Krzyzewski once went nearly 20 years without Duke losing a home non-conference game. He just lost two of them in eight days. Illinois came into Cameron Indoor Stadium and led for 39 minutes and 12 seconds, by as many as 19. Duke, like Kentucky, has youth issues, but the holdovers haven’t been helping much, either. Wendell Moore Jr. is 1-for-19 in his last three games.

“We are just an average team that is very young and has to get better,” Krzyzewski said. “Usually, a veteran can help another kid and be a source of strength. Some of these young guys are out there a little bit alone...if you don’t have a veteran team where you have a bunch of key guys coming back, you are experimenting. You don’t know for sure what the offense will look like. We thought we could be more of an up-tempo, penetrate, kick, ball screen and be free shooters. Obviously, that’s not going on...We have to keep looking.”

POWER 36: Creighton, West Virginia, Tennessee climb in Andy Katz's latest rankings

Paging Notre Dame. The Irish just inflicted the latest indignity on Kentucky's psyche, and get a chance to do the same thing Wednesday at home against Duke. They could be blueblood pest of the month.

North Carolina is 4-2 and certainly better than last season’s bad dream, but should Roy Williams be restless about his team trailing by double figures in four of its six games? Or by the facts the Tar Heels are averaging four more turnovers than assists a game, and have been outscored by 93 points from the 3-point line?

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Virginia. When lost spotted, the Cavaliers had gone from being ranked No. 4 to losing to San Francisco and going overtime against Kent State.

While the ACC marquee names tend to their ills, the conference produces stories elsewhere.

At Florida State, where the Seminoles may never lose an overtime game again. Freshman Scottie Barnes’ banker with 1.8 seconds left beat Indiana, and continued one of the sport’s most astonishing streaks. Overtime games, by their very nature, should probably go either way. But the Seminoles have won 10 of ‘em in a row. Seven came against ACC opponents, plus LSU, Purdue and now Indiana. You have to go back to Iowa and December of 2015 to find a defeat.

DON'T MISS: 2020-21 DI men’s college basketball milestone tracker

At Pittsburgh, where the Panthers might have been picked to finish 13th in the conference, but are 4-1 and have the most productive player east of Iowa City. Sophomore Justin Champagnie went for 20 points and 20 rebounds against Northwestern. Three day later, he had 24 and 21 against Gardner-Webb. That makes him one of only three DI players with consecutive 20-20 games in the past 25 years, joining Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. He’s the first ACC player with multiple 20-20 games in a season in 24 years, since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan. By the way, Duncan is 6-11, Swanigan and Griffin 6-9. Champagnie is 6-6.

At Clemson, where the Tigers were voted 10th in the ACC, but are now 5-0 and have been playing defense that would make Dabo Swinney proud down at the football stadium. They held Mississippi State to 42 points, ran up 13 steals against Purdue, dismantled Maryland in the first half 38-15 and annoyed Alabama into 3-for-22 shooting from the 3-point line. That’s how a team can be 5-0 with only one player averaging double figures, barely, at 11.6.

San Diego State defeats Arizona State 80-68

And at Syracuse, where Buddy Boeheim scored 17 points the other night to move up another spot on the school’s career list. The player he passed was his father Jim.

In the Big 12, Baylor had that big win over Illinois two weeks ago, but has played one game since. Kansas is 6-1 but three of the victories came by eight total point. That included North Dakota State at home. West Virginia is 6-1, with the opening five-game stretch away from Morgantown for the first time in school history. That says something. So did the 87-71 whipping the Mountaineers put on Richmond – the same Richmond who took down Kentucky in Rupp Arena.

West Virginia, known primarily for Bob Huggins’ gritty defense and inside muscle, shot 66 percent the first half and led by as many as 30. Yikes. “If they shoot that well, they’ll be really difficult to beat,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. Huggins now has 887 victories to stand sixth on the all-time list. He has never been to a national championship game. But if the Mountaineers keep shooting like that...

BEYOND THE ARC: These players have become better 3-point shooters since last season

In the Pac 12, Arizona State finally got around to playing Grand Canyon again. They hadn’t met in 40 years even though they’re only 13 miles apart. Arizona State won by one point and needed a Remy Martin 3-pointer with nine seconds left to do it. Consider this week’s AP Top 25 poll, where the top Pac-12 team is...never mind. There isn’t one.

In the Mountain West, San Diego State is 5-0 and 35-2 since the start of last season, and nobody else can say that. The Aztecs plowed over the two teams picked to finish atop the Pac-12, beating UCLA and Arizona State by 15 and 12 points. They’ve also won 13 consecutive road games.

In the Southern Conference, if Mercer — otherwise known as the team that once upset Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament — defeats Georgia State Wednesday, the Bears will be 7-0 for the first time in 54 years. Their victims list includes Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, North Georgia and an earlier game with Georgia State. Too bad Mercer doesn’t play Georgia. The winner could declare itself state champion.

That would fit 2020, where we can only wonder what happens next.

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