If you’re looking for a snapshot of the oddities, the uncertainties, the swaying narratives that this season has been and will be, the first week of the year will do.
◾️ The NCAA’s first NET rankings came out. Neither Duke nor Kentucky was in the top-100. But Colgate was No. 16.
◾️ Boston University and Holy Cross played a game in which both teams wore masks on the court, per BU rules. It was the second of six meetings they’ll have this season. That's Scheduling 2021.
◾️ No. 1 Gonzaga was supposed to play Santa Clara and BYU was supposed to play Pacific on Thursday. The virus wiped out both games, so Gonzaga and BYU played one another, and the Zags rolled 86-69. That made 11 wins, and 11 scores of at least 85 points. The last team to start a season with 10 consecutive 85-plus games was Arkansas 27 years ago, and the Razorbacks ended up national champions. Also, Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi was named West Coast Conference player of the week. He’s the fifth different Zag to do it.
◾️ Gonzaga, Bryant and The Citadel moved into top three scoring teams in the nation. They are all named the Bulldogs.
◾️ Villanova — who had blasted off in the Big East with wins of 13, 19 and 17 points — announced four games had to be scrubbed, meaning the next scheduled contest is Jan. 19. By then, the Wildcats will have gone 27 days without playing.
◾️ Home-court advantage, defanged of its crowd noise, could seem as worthless as Monopoly money.
Kansas was blown away by Texas by 25 points, the worst Allen Fieldhouse loss ever for Bill Self. Three days later, the Jayhawks went on the road to TCU and won by 29. Northwestern rolled to a 43-28 halftime lead against Illinois in Evanston, then went 2-for-24 in the second half, was outscored 53-13, and lost by 25 points. Kentucky had to get past Vanderbilt in the final minute to avoid the first three-game losing streak in the 45-year history of Rupp Arena. Duke has played five games in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils lost twice, and just edged 2-7 Boston College by a point. Mike Krzyzewski watched that one from afar, in quarantine. West Virginia wiped out an 18-point halftime deficit in 11 minutes at Oklahoma, but lost. Two days later, the Mountaineers wiped out a 19-point gap in 11 minutes at Oklahoma State and won. Pittsburgh came from 14 points down at halftime to win at Syracuse, the largest road second half comeback victory in program history. The Panthers did it with only nine scholarship players because of COVID and injury. San Diego State, who had been 35-1 in its last 36 games when ahead at halftime, blew a 26-point in its own arena and lost to Colorado State. “Home court is not home court anymore without the fans in the building," coach Brian Dutcher said.
So everyone has noticed.
◾️ Merrimack finally opened its season Jan. 7 and played its first home game in 314 days. The Warriors didn’t exactly ease back into basketball. They beat Sacred Heart 97-90 in two overtimes, in a game that had 19 lead changes.
◾️ Lots of teams met in two-game series. Sometimes they showed how fickle basketball can be. Northern Colorado beat Montana 64-62 on a basket with 1 second left. Two days later, Montana beat Northern Colorado on a basket with 4.9 seconds remaining. One day, it was Colgate 101, Army 57. The next, Army 75-73. Oakland went from losing to Wright State by 39 to winning by 10 the next day. In 48 hours, Boise State lost 106-54 to San Jose Sate, and then 87-86.
◾️ It was a big week in Tuscaloosa. One day after Nick Saban’s football Tide blew past Notre Dame to the national championship game, Nate Oats’ hoopers upset No. 7 Tennessee 71-63 for their first road over a top-10 opponent in 17 years. The same night DeVonta Smith was announced as the first receiver in 29 years to win the Heisman, the basketball Tide beat Florida 86-71 to go 3-0 in the SEC for the first time in 34 years.
◾️ With all four returning starters from last season out of the lineup injured, the Miami Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech by two points, Clemson by one and North Carolina by two. “Very tough to swallow,” coach Jim Larranaga said.
◾️ Dayton lost to Fordham 55-54, meaning seven of eight games in the Flyers’ 5-3 start have been decided by a total of 20 points.
◾️ Arizona State hosted UCLA, with leading scorer Remy Martin at a family funeral, two players out on COVID concerns and another with mono. With four Sun Devils playing at least 41 minutes each, they took the Bruins to overtime before giving way 81-75. “Very honorable despite all the adversity we were facing,” coach Bobby Hurley said of his team’s effort.
◾️ North Carolina shot only 34.8 percent against Notre Dame and 34.4 percent against Miami and won both games. The Tar Heels had not won back-to-back games while shooting under 35 percent in the ACC era. For the season, the vaunted freshman backcourt of Caleb Love and RJ Davis were shooting a combined 29.5 percent and had only three more field goals than turnovers.
◾️ Texas moved to 9-1 and to No. 4 in the rankings. Last February, the Longhorns had lost four consecutive games while scoring 58, 57, 45 and 52 points, and stood at a wobbly 14-11, as dark storm clouds gathered over Shaka Smart’s job security. They’re 14-2 since, and now the highest they’ve been in the polls in 10 years.
◾️ Kentucky ended its six-game losing streak by escaping Mississippi State in two overtimes, mostly because Dontaie Allen — a freshman who had played 20 minutes and made two baskets in seven games — came off the bench to bury seven 3-points and score 23 points. “That’s what you’re supposed to do when you get a chance,” John Calipari said.
◾️ Drake, picked to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference, was 13-0. Northern Iowa, picked to win the league, was 2-7.
◾️ Arizona went two overtimes to take down 8-0 Washington State 86-82, the go-ahead basket a banked-in 3-pointer by Terrell Brown Jr., two days after he lost his grandfather. “I guess you could say that was him guiding that basketball in,” Brown said later.
◾️ Rutgers lost to Iowa, going 4-for-12 from the free-throw line. Then the Scarlet Knights lost to Michigan State, going 6-for-17. By then, they were 331st in the nation in free throw percentage, and in danger of having that one flaw slow their surge into Big Ten relevance. In their three Big Ten defeats, they’ve been outscored 56-20 from the line. “It’s an issue,” coach Steve Pikiel said, “and we’ve got to get better at it, and we will.”
◾️ Cincinnati lost to Tulsa to go 2-6, its worst start in 37 years. The Bearcats are accustomed to traveling in fast company. Only six teams have been to the last nine NCAA tournaments, and it’s a most distinguished club. Gonzaga, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State . . . and Cincinnati. Five days after the Tulsa defeat, the Bearcats went to 6-1 SMU — and won.
◾️ Baylor’s pleasure cruise through its first nine games — average winning margin of 32.8 points — hit something of a snag against Iowa State, when the Bears actually trailed in the second half and had to hustle to win 76-65. Baylor had been getting 42.5 points off the bench a game. Against Iowa State, the total was 13.
◾️ Creighton, coming off three games decided by nine points, blew away Seton Hall by 36. The Bluejays have played six Big East games and had six different players at least share the team lead in scoring.
◾️ LSU guard Cameron Thomas opened 2021 as the most prolific freshman scorer in the land, going for 32, 28 and 26 points in his first three SEC games. Included was a streak of 42 made free throws.
◾️ Tennessee lost at home to Alabama and coach Rick Barnes called out his veteran star, John Fulkerson, in the post-game press conference. “As far as I'm concerned, guys can take his minutes. He's been around long enough; he's got to bring more than he brought today.” Four days later in the win over Arkansas, Fulkerson had 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
◾️ Wisconsin beat Indiana in two overtimes with an all-senior starting lineup that has combined to play 537 college basketball games. The Badgers committed only seven turnovers in 50 minutes, the 30th consecutive game they have had 11 or fewer.
◾️ Louisville started 3-0 in league play for the first time since joining the ACC. The same Louisville team that lost to Wisconsin 85-48, for the worst Cardinal defeat since 1956. “I think we’re growing up,” coach Chris Mack said.
Growing up . . . making do . . . coping . . . adapting. That’s what this season is all about. The first week of 2021 was the latest reminder.