Here are my NCAA.com men’s college basketball honors for Dec. 14-20. And once again, the week delivered with elite performances, resume builders, buzzer beaters and games that proved the sport can navigate itself during the pandemic.
1. Team of the Week — Kansas: The Jayhawks won their 30th straight conference opener by clipping Texas Tech in Lubbock, 58-57, on an Ochai Agbaji bucket off a designed out-of-bounds play. Kansas has won seven in a row after dropping the opener to Gonzaga in Florida. The Jayhawks aren’t yielding anything in the Big 12 to Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia or Texas. Even Baylor knows it will still need to knock Kansas off its top perch.
2. Player of the week — Jalen Suggs, Fr., Gonzaga: The Zags didn’t play for two weeks but didn’t miss a beat. The last time we all saw Suggs was limping after injuring his foot in the first half against West Virginia. Suggs showed no signs of any hindrance, scoring 27 points in a dominating performance against Iowa. The 11-point win over the Hawkeyes in South Dakota sent a strong signal that the Zags are the team to beat.
3. Most memorable shot: Belmont transfer Adam Kunkel with the fade-away buzzer-beater 3-pointer to lift Xavier to a 91-88 win over Marquette and remain unbeaten at 8-0, 1-0 in the Big East.
4. Shockers: UCF 86, Florida State 74: The Seminoles had a 27-game homecourt winning streak snapped by the Knights behind Brandon Mahan’s 32 points. The Seminoles did need a last-possession shot by Scottie Barnes to beat Indiana at home, but still there was no indication this kind of result was forthcoming. The Knights have a chance to be a sneaky bubble team heading into the American after beating Auburn, as well. The only loss was at Michigan. UTEP 76, Arizona State 63: The Miners took out one of the favorites in the Pac-12 in Tempe. The Sun Devils are stumbling out of the gate. UTEP was coming off road losses to Arizona and Saint Mary’s.
5. Top performances in a loss: James Bouknight scored 40 in UConn’s overtime loss to Creighton. Luka Garza put in 30 in Iowa’s loss to Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, S.D.
6. Blue Bloods: North Carolina was down double figures to beat Kentucky and send the Wildcats to a 1-5 start. Duke dominated Notre Dame without Jalen Johnson in South Bend before the Blue Devils paused. Villanova (yes the Wildcats are a blue blood) continued to roll. UCLA lost to Ohio State. And Indiana knocked off rival Butler.
7. Rutgers is the real deal: The Scarlet Knights’ season in 2019-20 wasn’t a fluke. They will get to their first official NCAA tournament since 1991 this March. Rutgers won at Maryland and then beat Illinois to start the Big Ten 2-0. Geo Baker is back but Ron Harper Jr., is putting up all-Big Ten numbers (28 vs. Illinois and 27 vs. Maryland).
8. Defensive dominance: Wisconsin held Louisville to 48 points. The Badgers scored 85. Saint Mary’s held Colorado State to 33. The Gaels scored 53.
9. Scheduler of the year: Mark Few, Gonzaga: The Zags added a game Saturday against Virginia in Fort Worth after they couldn’t reschedule Baylor, which was canceled Dec. 5. All of Gonzaga’s high-profile non-conference games (Kansas and Auburn in Florida, West Virginia in Indianapolis and Iowa in South Dakota) were all put together in the last six weeks.
10. Resume builders — BYU 72, San Diego State 62; Western Kentucky 73, Alabama 71: The Cougars handed the Aztecs their first loss of the season. The Cougars desperately needed a high-profile, non-conference win so they don’t only have the WCC to show the selection committee. Now, if they can finish second, even if they don’t beat Gonzaga, the Cougars have a win, maybe no one else gets this season. The Hilltoppers’ win (27 and 12 from Charles Bassey) may not have come over an NCAA tournament team (unknown if Alabama can get there), but it’s a true road win over an SEC team. That will carry weight and offers some separation possibilities if the Hilltoppers (also beat Memphis on a neutral court) get upset in the CUSA tournament.