Team of the Week: Kentucky
The Wildcats dominated outmatched St. John's in the Big East/SEC Challenge on Thursday and then notched a thrilling last-possession win over North Carolina two days later. The games were at home, but who cares? Against UNC, Kentucky matured over the course of 40 minutes and was pushed by an equally talented team. And it was Anthony Davis' block of John Henson's face-up corner jumper that won the game in the final seconds. This team has met each challenge so far this season and is maturing at every position.There is still plenty to improve upon, and valuing the basketball during each possession needs to be addressed. So, too, does the overall offensive consistency. But the Wildcats have made the right plays at the most opportune time to remain undefeated. The epic against Carolina rivaled the Kansas-Duke Maui Invitational final as one of the most thrilling regular-season games we've seen in the past few years. And Kentucky won it. That's why this team deserves to be the team of the week. The top-rated team in the country won the game of the season.
-- Andy Katz
Editor's note: This edition is only for games played from Monday, Nov. 28, to Sunday, Dec. 4.
More teams that impressed us
Ohio State: No other team had as dominating a performance as the Buckeyes' beatdown of Maui champ Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Ohio State then showed it could coast without Jared Sullinger, who was absent with back spasms, in an easy win over Texas-Pan American.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles won the Badger State rivalry by distancing themselves from Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, a place where UW basically never loses. Marquette has the look of a top-three Big East finisher.
Illinois: The Illini are way ahead of schedule with their undefeated start that included a rather comfortable win over No. 18 Gonzaga on Saturday. The Illini should be a Top 25 team at this point.
Louisville: The Cardinals beat Vanderbilt in overtime on a Peyton Siva drive to the hoop. This team has the ultimate chops. The Cards aren't the most talented team, but coach Rick Pitino has this squad prepared for every game.
Syracuse: The Orange have handled every challenge so far without a hitch. Syracuse's zone was too much of an issue for Florida to manage, as the Orange won with an impressive second-half performance against the Gators. Syracuse has the look of a Big East title team.
Baylor: The Bears left Waco for the first time this season and absolutely smashed Northwestern on Sunday. Baylor has had no issue with meshing the highly touted freshman talent and the core returnees.
Minnesota: Yes, the Gophers, who don't appear to have the talent to make the NCAA tournament, deserve a lot of credit for beating Virginia Tech without Trevor Mbakwe (out for the season with a torn ACL) and Ralph Sampson III and then easily dispatching USC. Maybe this team can remain relevant after all.
Tulane: OK, who had the Green Wave at 9-0 at this point in the season? This is the first time Tulane has been at 9-0 since 1991, and this weekend's win over Georgia Tech was the first against an ACC team since 2003. Ed Conroy has a nice thing going in New Orleans right now.
Indiana: The Big Ten continues to dominate the impressive list. The Hoosiers looked like seasoned veterans in their road win at NC State. Indiana gets Kentucky on Saturday and this team is capable of causing the Wildcats plenty of trouble.
-- Andy Katz
Player of the week: Tu Holloway, Xavier
Holloway is a legitimate candidate for national player of the year honors. If you don't believe me, you weren't watching when he won a game at Vanderbilt, and also did so in a thrilling comeback win over Purdue. He didn't have a tremendous statistical week, and did not shoot all that well against the Commodores.
But don't forget how Holloway played when the games mattered most. The senior guard scored 10 of Xavier's 16 points in overtime against the Dores, a team that once led the Musketeers by 10 in the second half. And he scored 11 points, including three dramatic 3s, in the final two minutes against the Boilermakers, a team that led the Musketeers by 19 at one point in the second half.
Holloway was guarded well in both games, but he still was able to elevate over the competition and bury the shots (he also was 17-19 from the FT line). He might just be this season's Kemba Walker, as Holloway takes over when the game enters its decisive stage. So don't be shocked if he leads his team to the Final Four this spring.
-- Andy Katz
More performances that wowed us
Damian Lillard, Weber State: All Lillard did was combine for 77 points in two games. The junior guard totaled 36 against Saint Mary's and 41 (plus eight boards) against San Jose State. For the week, he shot 62 percent (24-39) from the field, 50 percent (8-16) from beyond the arc and 84 percent (21-25) from the free throw line. Wow.
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland: Who needs Keith Benson when you still have Hamilton running the show? The senior point piled up 35 in the program's second straight win over Tennessee, making all 15 of his free throw attempts. In two wins later in the week, he tallied 15 assists.
Mike Moser, UNLV: OK, so Moser struggled a bit -- like the rest of his teammates -- at Wichita State on Sunday. That shouldn't overshadow his monumental effort in the Rebels' gutty double-overtime road win at UCSB a few days earlier. In a game that saw the Gauchos' Orlando Johnson post a 36-10, Moser countered with 34 and 10, making 12 of his 18 shots, including 6 of 9 from long range.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: The coach's son put up 25 points and 12 boards in a 17-point comeback win at San Diego State and then 24 points and 12 boards in a 10-point win over in-state rival Nebraska. Another consistent week from a consistently great player.
Jamar Samuels, Kansas State: The senior forward posted a pair of double-doubles in victories over George Washington and Virginia Tech. In the latter, an impressive road win for the still-unbeaten Wildcats, Samuels made all but one of his eight shots on the day and scored 15 in the second half of a close game.
Ken Horton, Central Connecticut State: In two wins, Horton shot 60 percent, connected on 8 3-pointers and posted a 32-9 and a 30-10. He'll get his chance to shine on the big stage Wednesday when the Blue Devils play at Michigan State on ESPNU.
Deonte Burton, Nevada: Heading into Friday's game against Washington, Burton had struggled mightily with his shot, failing to score more than 14 points in any game. So much for that. The sophomore guard not only scored 31 (4-of-6 from 3) with 6 assists and 6 rebounds, but he also hit the game-tying 3 in the closing seconds that forced overtime, and scored eight of the Pack's 10 points in OT as Nevada knocked off the Huskies in Reno.
Vincent Council, Providence: We know the Friars guard can dish it, and this past week was no different as he racked up 17 assists in victories over Holy Cross and South Carolina. The fact that he added 35 points made it all that more impressive.
Joe Ragland, Wichita State: Before Sunday's home game with UNLV, Ragland had made a total of 5 3-pointers this season. In the win over the Runnin' Rebels, he connected on a remarkable 8 of 9 from long range and finished with 31 points as the Shockers routed Vegas.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky: The freshman big man wasn't all that effective offensively against North Carolina on Saturday, but he did grab 9 boards and swatted away the potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds. That came two days after he tallied the ridiculous line of 15 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks against St. John's. That's just silly.
-- Brett Edgerton
Road wins that caught our eye
Creighton 85, San Diego State 83: In a place where Pac-12 favorite Cal couldn't win Sunday -- against an Aztecs team that's a lot better than expected -- the Bluejays put together a stunning 17-point rally in the second half that cemented their place in the top 25.Ohio 70, Marshall 68: The same team that almost pulled one out at Louisville did produce a victory against the sneaky-good Thundering Herd. The Bobcats' game at Oakland this week should be fascinating. Buffalo 84, Dayton 55: Speaking of the MAC, is this the strangest margin of the young season? The Flyers had just won the Old Spice Classic and were run out of UD Arena by the Bulls, which made a good week for the MAC even better in what has been a surprisingly strong season for the conference. Northern Iowa 69, Iowa State 62: Everyone expects Creighton and Wichita State to battle it out in an epic Valley race, with Indiana State right there. But what about the Panthers? Preseason expectations weren't high, but the team is now 7-1 with road wins at Old Dominion and ISU. Denver 67, Utah State 54: Here's another mid-major surprise. The Pioneers, future members of the WAC, have wins over Southern Miss and Saint Mary's and ended one of the nation's longest home winning streaks at 33. Who says Denver doesn't have a basketball team to root for right now? Wake Forest 55, Nebraska 53: Give credit to the much-maligned Demon Deacons, but it's hard to take the Huskers seriously when they drop home games like this. San Francisco 65, Montana 62: We all know about Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU, but it's the middle of the West Coast Conference (namely, Santa Clara and USF) that's really boosting this league's reputation even more. This was no easy road test for the Dons. Long Beach State, a team that won at Pitt, couldn't get it done in Missoula. San Francisco did.
-- Brett Edgerton
Observations from the week that was
1. Valparaiso's Bryce Drew is doing a tremendous job. The Crusaders won at Butler on Saturday in his first Horizon League conference game. This comes at a time when preseason favorite Detroit is struggling without Eli Holman and Butler is clearly rebuilding. Cleveland State seems to be the league favorite now, but Valpo is right there, even without two of its more talented players eligible. That's quite an accomplishment for the rookie head coach with the big name.
2. The Big East/SEC Challenge was a success. The Big East and SEC weren't thinking clearly when they did the neutral-site challenge for a few years. The campus-site games from Thursday to Saturday were perfect for both leagues. There was drama in Louisville on Friday and even at normally drab Allstate Arena for the Ole Miss-DePaul thriller. Alabama had its first nonconference sellout in years for the Georgetown game. Having these games on campus is the only way to run these challenge series, just like the under-reported but highly valued MVC-MWC Challenge.
3. No one better sleep on Texas in the Big 12. The conference is being led by Missouri, Baylor and Kansas, but Longhorns had a substantial win Saturday in an 11-point comeback victory over UCLA. Yes, the Bruins are in a shambles. But you can't dismiss the significance for UT. The Horns couldn't close out against Oregon State and NC State in New Jersey two weeks ago. But Texas is slowly maturing, with Myck Kabongo complementing J'Covan Brown to lead the way. The Longhorns have talent and can run quite well. Expect this team to be a factor in the Big 12 chase by February.
1. We need a North Carolina-Kentucky rematch. The most hyped college hoops game of the year, the one we've been looking forward to since April, lived up to its lofty billing. "Game" almost seems like too casual a word for it. "Event" gets us closer. "Occasion" might work too. Whatever you want to call it, UNC and UK delivered a thrilling up-and-down masterpiece that, for all its glories, also left us wanting more. We want a game that doesn't end in such strange circumstances. (Carolina's inability to foul in the final seconds remains baffling, and the way the clock just casually ticked off as Kentucky guard Marquis Teague traveled doesn't get any less mystifying on repeat viewings.) That said, even with the narrowest of margins, UK fans deserve the current bragging rights. And their team's ability to weather UNC's punches and still eke out a late win will surely pay dividends all season long. But we want to see these two teams in four months' time, when both will have improved and congealed dramatically. (There are still a lot of freshmen learning on the fly here, not only at UK but at UNC, too. Any or all of them could be crucial.) More than anything, we just want to see what we saw Saturday -- the two most talented teams in the country draped in the colors of historic blue-blood programs -- face off again. If their first meeting was any indication, these two teams are on a mutual March Madness collision course. We can only hope.
2. But don't forget about Ohio State. You could forgive Thad Matta's team for feeling a little bit disrespected Saturday afternoon. By the time UNC-UK was finished, everyone was rushing -- and understandably so -- to anoint the Cats and Heels as the two best teams in the country, the two who would surely vie for the national title in April. That may be true. But let's not forget about Jared Sullinger & Co., either. Duke was riding high after a Maui Invitational championship when it arrived in Columbus on Tuesday. That didn't last long: The Blue Devils were absolutely pulverized by a deeper, stronger, more athletic, downright dominant Ohio State team, one that might be even more talented than last year's. Are Kentucky and North Carolina the nation's two best teams? Probably. Do the Buckeyes need to get a marquee win on the road? Yes. But I wouldn't sleep on OSU. The Buckeyes were left out of Saturday's festivities, but they appear inclined to include themselves before all is said and done.
3. Tu Holloway is a master of the moment. When you look at all 80 minutes Holloway played this week, the cumulative results are not particularly impressive. But when you consider what he did in the final stretches of two huge nonconference wins this week -- at Vanderbilt and in a major comeback effort versus Purdue -- one can't help but tip one's cap. On Monday, Holloway was 6-of-20 for the game but scored 10 of his 24 points in overtime as the chief architect of Musketeers' push to an 82-70 OT win at Vandy. On Saturday, Holloway was pedestrian and inefficient for the first 35 minutes, but absolutely ruthless in the final five, when he nailed three straight 3-point shots and knocked down four crucial free throws to seal a win over a Purdue team that led Xavier by as many as 19 points in the second half. Sooner rather than later, Holloway is going to put together a 40 minutes as high-quality as his final few. In the meantime, though, X fans can rest assured that when crunch time rolls around, Tu will turn it on.
4. Minnesota isn't rolling over. The Golden Gophers didn't exactly tear down any heavy favorites this week, but they deserve some credit for their two wins all the same. Why? Minnesota lost star forward and de facto team leader Trevor Mbakwe to an ACL tear in last week's Old Spice Classic title-game loss to Dayton. The injury had the potential to rock the Gophers, who have seen their last two seasons derailed by injuries and personnel issues. Tubby Smith's team could have lavished pity on the amiable Mbakwe's poor fortune or spent time lamenting their own bad breaks. Instead, Minnesota held off Virginia Tech and handled USC -- including some helpful replacement work by forward Elliott Eliason -- and got two wins out of a week that could have crippled this team's season otherwise. Minnesota may not compete for the Big Ten title without Mbakwe, but Smith's team still has much to play for. They showed it this week.
5. Butler appears set for a down season. Last year, we probably counted Brad Stevens' team out just a little too early, and so it's easy to talk oneself out of a similar prediction in 2011-12. But last year's Butler team still had Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. The new-look Bulldogs -- which to this point lack that duo's experience and versatile scoring, among other things -- might just be in for one of those seasons. Butler's latest loss, Saturday's in overtime at home to Valparaiso, is already the team's fourth. The other three came at Evansville (in a questionable finish, but still, it's Evansville), at home versus Louisville (when the Cardinals cruised despite missing Peyton Siva and a handful of others due to injury) and at Indiana (when the Hoosiers basically just rolled). This team will still compete for the Horizon League title and an NCAA tournament bid, and Stevens' teams always get better over the course of the season. But the Bulldogs were bound to have a down year eventually. This appears to be that season.
What's On Tap
7 p.m.: St. John's at Detroit (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: Missouri vs. Villanova (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Marshall at Syracuse (SNY)
7 p.m.: George Mason at Virginia (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: Long Beach State at Kansas (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: Memphis at Miami (ESPN2) Wednesday
7 p.m.: Arizona at Florida (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Colorado State at Duke (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: Vanderbilt at Davidson (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: Xavier at Butler (ESPN)
9 p.m.: Oklahoma St. at Missouri St. (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: Iona at Denver
7 p.m.: Harvard at Connecticut (ESPN2)
9 p.m.: West Virginia vs. Kansas St. (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: Richmond at VCU (ESPN3) Saturday
Noon: Washington vs. Duke (CBS)
Noon: Creighton at St. Joseph's
12:30 p.m.: Cincinnati at Xavier (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: UNLV at Wisconsin (BTN)
2:30 p.m.: Oklahoma St. vs Pittsburgh (ESPN2)
3:15 p.m.: Ohio State at Kansas (ESPN)
5 p.m.: Villanova at Temple (ESPN2)
5:15 p.m.: Kentucky at Indiana (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Long Beach State at UNC (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: Michigan St. at Gonzaga (ESPN2) Sunday
6 p.m.: Murray State at Memphis (CSS)
O'Neil on Kentucky-Indiana
O'Neil: Three questions
• Just how good is Indiana?We're about to find out. The Hoosiers look better. And it's not just the 7-0 record, but the way they are playing. Down at NC State last week, the old Indiana would have folded. The new Indiana rallied for the win. The Hoosiers have more talent thanks to Cody Zeller, but they also have more confidence. Just how talented and how much confidence, though, will be sorely tested Saturday when IU hosts No. 1 Kentucky. There is nothing quite like the Wildcats as a barometer to where your program is, and that's exactly what this is: a litmus test for Tom Crean to figure out just where his program ranks on the national scale.
• So who is the 4-guard master now?Jay Wright built his career on the backs of four feisty guards, an elite team of recruits that rolled to the Elite Eight despite using a power forward -- Will Sheridan -- as its lone big man. Villanova and Wright have changed their style lately, with recruits like JayVaughn Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou dictating that the Wildcats no longer rely solely on the backcourt. Now the nouveau Cats face their old-school self in Missouri at the Jimmy V on Tuesday night. Frank Haith's hand was forced when Laurence Bowers was shut down for the season with an ACL tear. He's gone small because he's had no choice, but the ferociousness the Tigers are playing with during their 7-0 start has been eye-opening. • Is Harvard ready for prime time? We've been down this road before, told just how good an Ivy League team is even on a national level. Sometimes it's been true -- Princeton earned a No. 9 ranking and a No. 5 NCAA tournament seed in 1998. The Crimson hasn't quite reached that stage yet, but Tommy Amaker's team has been touted as a group to watch since the preseason, and with a 7-0 record that includes a win against Florida State, Harvard has done little do dissuade its fans. Now for the reality check -- a Thursday night game against Connecticut, and don't you know, the Huskies are at all full speed just in time for the Crimson. Ryan Boatwright became eligible Saturday and promptly dumped 23 points on Arkansas. A loss to UConn doesn't mean Harvard doesn't warrant watching, but where the Crimson fit on the big-time meter will certainly be determined in this game.
-- Dana O'Neil
Brennan on Jimmy V Classic
Places to be this week
New York City (Missouri vs. Villanova; Washington vs. Marquette): Mizzou was a buzz saw in its first two marquee nonconference games of the season, in which it dominated Notre Dame (before Tim Abromaitis' season-ending ACL tear) and Cal on consecutive nights in Kansas City. We'll see if the Tigers can maintain that pace in New York against a Villanova team that has struggled to find its footing in the first few weeks of 2011-12. As for the nightcap, Buzz Williams is coming off one of the biggest wins in his tenure, as his Golden Eagles became the rarest of breeds: a team with a win at Wisconsin's Kohl Center. Next up is Washington, a young but talented team that could make a statement about its Pac-12 title candidacy with a win -- or even an impressive performance in a loss -- at the Garden on Tuesday night.
Gainesville, Fla. (Arizona at Florida): The Gators have taken their lumps on the road this season, first at Ohio State and last week at Syracuse, so UF will be happy to have at least one name school come to Gainesville before the start of SEC play. Arizona is a young team lacking a go-to post presence, which could mean a big night for physical Florida forward Patric Young.
Denver (Iona at Denver): The Denver Pioneers are one of the sneakier mid-major surprises of the season, having already ended Utah State's 33-game home win streak, and with wins over Saint Mary's and Southern Miss. Meanwhile, Iona is the most talented true mid-major in the country. A trip to the Mile High City may have looked like an easy road win when it was initially scheduled, but the Gaels may find this one to be trickier than expected.
Storrs, Conn. (Harvard at UConn): These teams had the chance to meet in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, but UCF's upset of Connecticut prevented the title-game matchup from materializing. Harvard would have surely preferred a more neutral locale for this one, but either way, the Crimson -- a dominant defensive team that hardly looks like a product of the Ivy League -- will give the Huskies a test all the same.
Richmond, Va. (Richmond at VCU): Neither of these teams appears poised to relive the highlights of 2011, when Richmond made a run to the Sweet 16 and VCU made its miraculous streak from the First Four to the Final Four. No matter. These teams share a city and a provincial and cultural hoops rivalry that should make this an intense, entertaining affair Friday night.
New York City (Washington vs. Duke; Pitt vs. Oklahoma St.): We'll see how Washington fares against Marquette on Tuesday, but if the Huskies struggle, they'll have another opportunity to come up with a big win here a few days later. UW has a lot of proving to do this week. It has two losses already; the first was at Saint Louis and the second an OT loss at Nevada. The Huskies could do a lot this week to prove those are more growing pains than long-term concerns. As for the second game, Pittsburgh nearly combusted this weekend at Tennessee, but the Panthers were able to hold on for a late win over a scrappy Vols team. Still, Jamie Dixon's team has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete for the Big East title, and in the next month it will be doing so without point guard Travon Woodall, who suffered a groin strain and abdominal tear Wednesday against Duquesne.
Cincinnati (Cincinnati at Xavier): Cincy has struggled early, while Xavier looks like one of the toughest outs on the country whenever Tu Holloway is on the floor in crunch time. In other words, this game doesn't look quite as enticing as it did when the Bearcats were a Top 25 team. But don't let the rankings fool you. This crosstown clash -- one of the more underrated rivalries in college hoops -- is always tightly contested.
Madison, Wis. (UNLV at Wisconsin): UNLV rocketed to the top of every college hoops fan's must-watch list with its win over then-No. 1 North Carolina last week, but the Rebels proved slightly less potent a week later during a blowout loss at Wichita State on Sunday. We'll see whether first-year coach Dave Rice's promising club can get back on track, as it were, at Wisconsin -- and whether the Badgers can rebound from Saturday's extremely rare home loss to Marquette.
Lawrence, Kan. (Ohio State at Kansas): The Buckeyes' schedule has included its share of top teams -- Duke and Florida, to be exact -- but it hasn't included any road challenges yet. The Buckeyes will certainly get one here when they travel to the rowdy Allen Fieldhouse to take on Kansas. Not only is this a big, meaningful game, it's also a matchup of two of the best power forwards in the country, KU's Thomas Robinson and OSU's Jared Sullinger. Must-see stuff, this.
Bloomington, Ind. (Kentucky at Indiana): The last time Kentucky visited Indiana, John Wall was on campus and the Hoosiers were still stuck in their brutal post-Kelvin Sampson talent crater. They've climbed out since, adding impressive freshman forward Cody Zeller to an improved, balanced team. Assembly Hall will be rocking. But it will be enough to upset John Calipari's stacked group? That seems unlikely, but it will be fun to watch the Hoosiers give it their best shot.
Spokane, Wash. (Michigan St. at Gonzaga): The Zags sometimes have trouble finding opponents willing to travel all the way out West to play in the Kennel; Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, as is his wont, apparently has no such reservations. The Spartans have looked impressive since season-opening losses to UNC and Duke, especially on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Gonzaga fell short at Illinois on Saturday. This game may feature some measure of redemption, at least where the "quality wins" metric is concerned.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Medcalf on Ohio State-Kansas
Upset pick of the week
Dayton over Alabama, Wednesday: What has happened to the Flyers after winning the Old Spice Classic? Last week, Dayton lost by 29 at home to Buffalo and then lost by 17 at Murray State. Huh? Now here comes Alabama. Oh boy, right? But the Crimson Tide lost a heartbreaker at home to Georgetown and could be ripe for a road upset here. Nothing suggests that the Flyers can take out the Tide, especially inside. But this is just a hunch that UD's mini-slide stops here and the Flyers get up for this game and pull off the upset.
-- Andy Katz
Leung on Harvard-Connecticut
They Said It
"It's all 'cause of my backcourt main man, Tu Holloway. I love him because of the way he plays. [He's] a killer on the court, and he won the game for us in overtime."
-- Xavier's Mark Lyons on Tu Holloway, who scored 10 of his 24 points in overtime of an 82-70 win at Vanderbilt.
"I saw them. It was great motivation to show off for them because they show off for us all the time on TV."
-- Deshaun Thomas on seeing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the front row during Ohio State's 85-63 victory over Duke.
"Maybe they shouldn't have come at all. We might have won by 20."
-- Cody Zeller joking about his parents leaving Indiana's 86-75 win at North Carolina State early to watch his brother, North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, in his game against Wisconsin.
"Jason [Clark] didn't have anything so he went to Hollis, and Hollis did what Hollis does."
-- Georgetown coach John Thompson III on Hollis Thompson's game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining in his team's 57-55 win at Alabama.