Hoop Thoughts: Lessons learned from the Battle 4 Atlantis, more
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Three days, eight teams, 12 games, 20 pools, eight water slides, and countless ways to have fun. You think that adds up to a decent way to enjoy Thanksgiving week?
For the fifth straight year, I had the great pleasure of covering the Battle 4 Atlantis for AXS TV. During its brief life span, this event has quickly grown to become arguably the pre-eminent Thanksgiving week tournament, thanks largely to generous appearance fees (and ashorter trip than to Maui). For the thousands of fans who made their way to this year’s tournament, the games were but a joyful diversion between visits to pools, the slides and the casino. For the eight teams in the field, however, the holiday was all business.
The games were important, but more significant were the lessons the players and coaches gleaned about themselves. Playing three games in three days against top-notch competition is a terrific way to learn a lot about your team, good and bad. Thus, your resident Hoop Thinker is on hand to provide an ample serving of each dish for the octet who spent their Thanksgiving doing battle.
The good: Jim Boeheim seemed genuinely surprised at his team’s performance, not only because the Orange won the tournament but because they did it without playing their best. That shows the value of the three-point shot. During three games, the Orange converted 46.6% from behind the arc and made 34 three-pointers. For much of the time, they had four three-point threats on the floor. “That’s not an easy cover,” Boeheim said. “Villanova has had three guys in the past shooting threes, but if you have the fourth guy, it makes [the opponent’s] defense hard. Texas A&M tried to go zone a little bit, but we’re a hard team to zone.”
Moreover, if there was any doubt that 6’7” senior forward Michael Gbinije is capable of carrying this team, he erased it by averaging 18.7 points while shooting 50% from the floor (and 50% from three) en route to claiming the tournament MVP. Many of the NBA scouts I spoke with were impressed with his size, athleticism and scoring touch.
But the real revelation for the Orange was 6’8” freshman forward Tyler Lydon, who came off the bench to post a 15.7 average on 60% shooting (including 7-for-10 from three-point range). Lydon has a preternatural feel for the game. He never gets sped up, and he never seems to take a bad shot. “We’re not running anything for him, but he averaged a double-double down here,” Boeheim said. “He knows things that a lot of seniors don’t know. He’s just a really good player and he’s only 205 pounds. When he’s 230, watch out. He’ll be a monster.”
Finally, no team here did a better job taking advantage of the tight officiating than Syracuse. During the two wins over UConn and Texas A&M, the Orange attempted a combined 60 free throws to their opponents’ 32. This was partly because of their ability to drive the ball repeatedly, but mainly because they are so advanced when it comes to playing zone. Boeheim, of course, has played zone exclusively for the last six years. Other coaches might be ready to try it some more, but they have a lot of catching up to do. “You can’t play zone if you don’t practice it,” Boeheim said. “You have to at least give it 50% of your practice time and no coach is going to do that. If they have a zone, it’s going to be a bad zone.”
The bad: Even though the Orange won the championship, Boeheim sees trouble ahead. “You can’t go through a whole season with six guys,” he said.
Indeed, senior guard Trevor Cooney sat for four total minutes in three games at the Atlantis. In the last two games at the Atlantis, Lydon came off the bench but averaged 33 minutes, which is more than most starters play. That shouldn’t be happening in November.
Why is this team’s bench so thin? First, 6’9” senior forward DaJuan Coleman still appears to be limited physically from missing all of last season and two-thirds of the season before because of multiple knee injuries. He started all three games but averaged just 17.3 minutes during the tournament. Second, Boeheim had recruited Moustapha Diagne, a 6’9” freshman forward from Senegal, but Diagne did not enroll because the school did not believe the NCAA would clear him academically. Finally, Boeheim has clearly lost confidence in 6’3” sophomore guard Kaleb Joseph, who went 0-for-6 from the floor against Charlotte and played a total of eight minutes (without taking a shot) the rest of the tournament. When a reporter asked Boeheim after the win over Texas A&M what he thought of Joseph’s play, the coach replied, “I think you can answer that.”
The Orange had a lot of things go their way in the Bahamas, but there is plenty of cause for concern moving forward. Boeheim is always candid about his teams, and he is usually correct. So when he, “we’ve got some real issues,” we should believe him.
The good: The Aggies’ rivalry with Texas goes back forever, but it essentially ended when Texas A&M moved to the SEC in 2011. With Texas in rebuilding mode and the Aggies’ hopes riding higher than ever in Billy Kennedy’s tenure, it was imperative they get that first win. Mission accomplished.
Texas A&M was also glad to welcome back Jalen Jones, the 6’7” senior swingman who was suspended the first four games for playing in a private scrimmage two years ago at SMU. (Jones could have served the suspension last year, but he elected to have it deferred.) Though Jones looked rusty in coming off the bench, he finally got into a rhythm in the championship game against Syracuse, going for 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting.
The Aggies showed they have an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt. Not only did Jones rejoin all-SEC forward Danuel House (17.7 ppg in the tournament), but they also got nice performances from 6’10” sophomore Tonny Trocha-Morelos (who has already made 11 three-pointers this season after making none last year) and 6’10” freshman Tyler Davis (a fundamentally sound true center who had 14 points and four rebounds in the win over Texas). House and Trocha-Morelos were a combined 6-for-10 from three-point range against Gonzaga.
Bottom line: Texas A&M came to the Atlantis hoping to get noticed. The Aggies didn’t win the title, but they turned plenty of heads.
The bad: College basketball has long been a guard-oriented game, and that especially will be the case this season. So it was disconcerting to watch the Aggies’ starting backcourt fail to produce much offense. Anthony Collins, a fifth-year transfer from South Florida, and 6’5” senior Alex Caruso made a total of two three-pointers over the course of three games. You can win with one pass-first, defense-oriented guard in your lineup, but two?
In time, Kennedy may get some pop off the bench from freshman guards Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, but they didn’t do much popping this week. All told the quartet of guards was 8-for-28 from three.
Also, I realize this can be a slippery slope, but bear in mind that when the Aggies beat Gonzaga, the Zags shot 4-for-11 from the foul line. An opponent rarely gives a team that kind of gift, and still the Aggies only won by a point. Had they lost the game, their vibe coming out of the Bahamas would have been totally different.
Defensively, Texas A&M didn’t appear overmatched until the final against Syracuse, when the Orangeoutscored them from the foul line, 19–7. That had Kennedy saying afterward that, “we may have to play more zone,” but as Boeheim said, you can’t play it unless you practice it. It’s pretty clear the Aggies will need to spend a lot more time practicing their zone between now and the start of SEC play.
Third place (Def. Washington, 80–64; Lost to Texas A&M, 62–61; Def. UConn, 73–70)
The good: We already knew had the Zags had a terrific frontcourt, maybe the best in the country, but the guards were a big question. Mark Few used a rotation of four guards, varying their minutes and roles according to how each game was flowing. Individually, he does not have any superstars, but he learned that the group ain’t bad.
Each of the four came away with a better understanding of what he needs to improve upon. Redshirt freshman Josh Perkins, the team’s starting point guard, was terrific against Texas A&M (15 points, five rebounds, four assists), but he only scored five points in 17 minutes against UConn because of foul trouble. Eric McClellan, a 6’4” senior, only played 15 minutes against the Aggies, but instead of pouting he showed up ready to compete against UConn, scoring 15 points in 29 minutes.
Elsewhere, it was impressive to watch senior forward Kyle Wiltjer average 19.7 points on 50% shooting. It was equally impressive to watch the Zags rebound from the disappointment of their semifinal loss to dispatch a plucky UConn team in the third-place game. With a minute gone in the second half, the Bulldogs led by 21 points before hanging on for dear life down the stretch. “Showing up on Day 3, that’s a hard thing to do down here for everybody,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We were coming off a disappointing loss where we felt like we were in position to win. That really tests who you are and what you’re all about, and we showed some fight. That’s probably the best thing we learned.”
The bad: Wiltjer was terrific for most of the game against Texas A&M (18 points, seven rebounds, 4-for-8 from three), but on the game’s decisive possession, Few ran a play for Wiltjer but he elected to pass. The result was a forced shot by Perkins and a one-point Aggies victory. Few dismissed the idea that Wiltjer was “too nice” to be a superstar, but I can’t help but wonder whether Wiltjer has enough of a killer instinct. If he doesn’t have it, he better acquire it between now and March.
The same problem is hampering 6’5” senior Kyle Dranginis, the team’s starting two guard. Few lamented after the win over UConn that the coaching staff and the players have more confidence than Dranginis has in himself. He had 12 assists to just five turnovers, so he’s capable of running the offense, but he averaged just 6.3 per game. That’s not gonna cut it.
I didn’t like that Gonzaga blew a 21-point lead to UConn, and neither did Few. “I’m disappointed in the way we finished that game,” he said. “We’ve got to have guys step up and make shots at the end of these games, and we can’t be afraid to defend because we’re worried about fouling. We were fantastic on the defensive end, but then we just got really out of sorts and tentative.”
Otherwise, I noted two other areas of concern. The first is that this team is not very adept at stopping dribble penetration, which is why UConn was able to outscore the Zags in the paint, 48–34. Moreover, it is clear that the three best players on this team are Wiltjer, 7’1” senior center Przemek Karnowski and 6’11” sophomore center Domantas Sabonis, but Few rarely plays those three together because they get in each other’s way. How often do you see a situation where only two of the team’s best three players can be on the court at the same time?
Fourth place (Def. Michigan, 74–60; Lost to Syracuse, 79–76; Lost to Gonzaga, 73–70)
The good: The Huskies were my pick to win this tournament, and even though they went 1–2 in the Bahamas, I still believe they were the best team here. They just didn’t play well.
Their two best players, guards Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis, had come into the tournament shooting well over 40% from three-point range, but in the two losses they combined to shoot 5-for-21. Gibbs was especially horrid against Gonzaga, missing all six of his three-point attempts. “I don’t think Sterling is going to go 0-for-6 the rest of the year,” coach Kevin Ollie said.
And yet, the Huskies were in both games. They gave Syracuse a much tougher test than Texas A&M did in the championship, fighting back from a 10-point deficit with under eight minutes to play. Then they erased that 21-point deficit over the last 18 minutes of the third-place game against Gonzaga. That tells you a lot about the competitive spirit of this team. “I love the heart we showed,” Ollie said. “We’ve played three games in 36 hours. I was able to play a lot of people and I saw some stuff from our bench that came together. We just have to have better consistency on the defensive end.”
Indeed, when Gibbs was in the tank during that last game, Ollie gave more minutes to freshman point guard Jalen Adams. He played superbly, scoring 10 points and dishing out two assists over 17 minutes to spearhead the comeback. Overall, Ollie gave significant minutes to all six of his bench reserves, but Adams’s play was the most encouraging development. “Jalen was great but he’s got to play this way because I can’t play Sterling 35 minutes,” Ollie said. “I need to get him off the ball a little bit so we can get him some easy looks and save his legs.”
The bad: It’s nice that UConn came back, but falling behind by significant margins in back-to-back games is disconcerting. That puts a lot more pressure on the remaining marqueenonconference games against Maryland, Ohio State and Texas.
The Huskies were also suspect on the defensive end. Syracuse shot 48% against them (45% from three) and outscored UConn from the foul line by 10 points. The problem is that for the Huskies to be successful defensively, they must always be in attack mode, but that can be risky given the way the games are being officiated. “We’re not going to make that excuse,” Ollie said. “We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Finally, interior scoring is a concern. Junior center Amida Brimah is primarily a defensive specialist, and Shonn Miller, the 6’7” senior transfer from Cornell, is undersized, although he definitely showed a spark while going for 19 points against Gonzaga’s vaunted front line. If Miller can carry more of the load, that will alleviate the problems, but he has to develop the right mindset. “I just want him to be aggressive all the time,” Ollie said. “Everything is not going to be perfect, but I want him to play with the passion and the fire that I saw out there. He took the challenge against Wiltjer, mano a mano, and it was pretty good.”
Fifth place (Lost to UConn, 74–60; Def. Charlotte, 102–47; Def. Texas, 78–72)
The good: We know that Caris LeVert is special (he averaged 17.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists during the tournament), but he still can’t win games by himself. So it was a terrific sign for the Wolverines that 6’6” junior guard Zak Irvin appears to be getting his strength back. Irvin was dormant for three months following off-season back surgery. He sat out the opener and has been slowly working his way back into the rotation. He is also trying to get his rhythm back, as evidenced by his woeful 1-for-10 shooting in the loss to UConn. Irvin played his best game of the season in the win over Texas, scoring 13 points (2-for-5 from three-point range) in 28 minutes.
Junior point guard Derrick Walton had a solid if unspectacular week (10.3 ppg, 8-for-10 from three point range), but the most promising development was the emergence of 6’10” freshman forward Moritz Wagner. Unlike most international players, Wagner, a native of Berlin, came to Ann Arbor without any American high school experience. He weighed barely 200 pounds so John Beilein figured he would redshirt him, but the coach scuttled that idea early on when he saw how highly skilled the young man is. After having scored just four points in the first four games, Wagner erupted for 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting in the laugher over Charlotte, and then came back to post seven points and four rebounds in 18 minutes against Texas.
Wagner has a ways to go on the defensive end, but he plays with great energy, so I expect he will catch up. In the meantime, he can provide this team with an interior scoring presence that none of the other frontcourt players can. Incidentally, the players and coaches all call him “Moe.” So obviously his name henceforth will be Moe Buckets.
The bad: The theme of Michigan’s season has been its ability to beat up on bad teams like Elon and Charlotte, but get outclassed by good teams like Xavier and UConn. Texas falls somewhere in the middle, so I’m not sure that a six-point win is a slam-dunk sign of better things to come.
Michigan is heavily dependent on jump shots, which is fine as long as those shots go in. Otherwise, I have a hard time seeing the Wolverines winning games this season with their defense (they allowed both UConn and Texas to shoot 50% from the floor) or from the foul line (they averaged 15.3 attempts over three games).
Finally, while Irvin appears to be on the road back, there are scant signs of progress from senior point guard Spike Albrecht, who is likewise recovering from off-season hip surgery. Albrecht played a total of 18 minutes in the Bahamas but did not score a point. Albrecht is not a make-or-break type talent, but the Wolverines have showed early on that they are not operating on a huge margin for error, so it is imperative that they get all hands on deck.
Sixth place (Lost to Texas A&M, 84–73; Def. Washington, 82–70; Lost to Michigan, 78–72)
The good: On opening day, Texas lost to Washington, 77–71, in China. So to beat that same Washington team 13 days later is a sign of progress. That has to be encouraging as the program adjusts in year one of Shaka Smart’s tenure as head coach.
Also, while this team still has a ways to go defensively, it did appear to get better as the week wore on. The key for Texas this season will be whether it can defend aggressively without fouling. In the loss to Texas A&M, the Longhorns committed 31 fouls, which translated into 37 free throws for the Aggies. In Game 2—which was played at a breakneck pace—the Longhorns committed 25 fouls and allowed just 17 free throws. In Game 3, they committed 15 fouls and allowed 12 free throws. Like I said, progress.
A five-man senior class that has more than 200 total starts anchors Texas’s lineup, but the team will get better as its three freshmen improve. The Longhorns got a nice lift off the bench from Eric Davis Jr., a 6’2” guard from Saginaw, Michigan, who averaged 15.3 points while sinking 7-of-13 from three-point range. During the team’s first two games prior to the Bahamas, Davis was 4-for-17 from the field and 0-for-5 from three.
The bad: Those expecting to see Smart repurpose the “Havoc” defense from his days at VCU are going to be disappointed. The Longhorns rarely pressed fullcourt at the Atlantis. This indicates that Smart is going to build the culture smartly but slowly. With so many big men in the rotation, pressing fullcourt will only make it easier for the opposition to score.
In some respects, this works against the talents of his most important player, 6’1” sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor. Taylor is exceptionally quick, but he is not a good outside shooter. He made 11 threes all of last season, and in the Bahamas he shot 10-for-32 from the floor and 1-for-5 from three. Taylor is most effective while driving to the rim (he took 15 free throws in the win over Washington, making 12) and pushing the ball in the open court. Make him work purely in the halfcourt, and his flaws become more apparent.
This team also still does not do a good enough job feeding 6’9” junior center Cameron Ridley in the post. Much of this is on Ridley, who has issues with conditioning and foul trouble and does not demand the ball enough, but it is a team-wide deficiency. Ridley has worked hard on his body during his two years in Austin. When he gets the ball, good things usually happen.
Also, while Davis may have taken a big step forward at the Atlantis, his two freshman classmates, 6’6” wing Tevin Mack and 6’4” guard Kerwin Roach Jr., showed that they have a long way to go in the skill department. Those two combined to shoot 9-for-35 from the floor in the three games.
Defensively, the Longhorns play real hard, but they are young in places and not yet organized. That especially hurt them against Michigan, which runs a precise, patterned offense and shot 58% from the floor (56% from three-point range). Smart knows this team has a long way to go, and frankly it may not be good enough to make the NCAA tournament. He wants to win as many games as he can this season while instilling a culture that will produce in the long run.
Seventh place (Lost to Gonzaga, 80–64; Lost to Texas, 82–70; Def. Charlotte, 71–66)
The good: Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije may have walked away with the tourney MVP trophy, but I assure you no player was more valuable to his team than Washington guard Andrew Andrews. The lone senior in the lineup alongside four freshmen, Andrews repeatedly made plays for his teammates and drove to the rim, even though he is not much of a threat as a long-range shooter. In the three games at the Atlantis, Andrews attempted a total of 32 free throws and made 27. He was critical in the final game against Charlotte, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to rescue the Huskies from what would have been a demoralizing defeat.
In fact, Washington may have one of the best rebounding backcourts in the country. This is partly by necessity, but Andrews and 6’5” freshman Dejounte “Baby Boy” Murray are the team’s two leading rebounders. Murray averaged 8.3 rebounds during the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Best of all, the Huskies showed some pluck in coming back to beat Charlotte in the final game. This is the fifth-youngest team in Division I—and it showed—but they found a way to dig down and win a game they could not afford to lose. “We talked about how hard [the 49ers] play, but sometimes until you touch that stove, you don’t think it’s going to be that hot,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “That’s one of the biggest lessons we learned. We can’t just show up. We’ve got to be a junkyard dog, blue-collar team.”
The bad: The Huskies’ youthfulness is exacerbated when they are pushing the ball the way Romar likes to. The fast pace leads to bad decisions. Against Texas, for example, the Huskies committed 18 turnovers. They also took ill-advised risks on defense, which is why the Longhorns attempted 42 free throws compared to the Huskies’ 17. Four of Washington’s frontcourt players fouled out in that game. They looked like boys going up against men in the paint, and for the most part they were.
Several of the other freshmen showed signs of promise. Noah Dickerson, a 6’8” forward from Atlanta who originally signed with Florida before Billy Donovan left for the Thunder, had 13 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes against Charlotte. Romar said he could become the best big man he has ever coached, though I’d say he’s got a long way to be as good as Spencer Hawes. Generally, though, a team that starts four freshmen and brings two more off the bench is going to have a hard time making the NCAA tournament, much less compete for a Pac-12 title. None of these freshmen are one-and-done candidates, and Romar has another good class coming in next year that includes Markelle Fultz, a five-star guard from DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. So the future looks bright. In the short-term, alas, the picture is rather dim.
Eighth place (Lost to Syracuse, 83–70; Lost to Michigan, 102–47; Lost to Washington, 71–66)
The good: Conference USA is the official host of the Battle 4 Atlantis, so the league always places one team in the tournament. Since the field has become so strong so quickly, those teams are usually overmatched. This was especially true in the case of Charlotte, which lost basically its entire roster last spring after the school parted ways with coach Allan Major and replaced him with former NBA All-Star and Charlotte resident, Mark Price.
You will not see a worse game this season than the 49ers’ shellacking against Michigan, and the only reason I saw it is that I was calling it for AXS TV. Yet, less than 24 hours later, the 49ers came out and gave Washington all it wanted. I was impressed, and so was Price. “I preached to the guys, whether you lose by 50 or you lose by one, it’s just one loss. You’ve got to be able to get up off the floor and come back the next night,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys. I’m not a moral victory kind of guy, so losing is disappointing, but we’re young and we’re learning. I feel like we took some steps forward this week.”
The bad: When Price got hired last spring, he only had three scholarship players in the program, so he had scramble to fill his roster. I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s a reason those players were available that late in the recruiting process. The 49ers play hard and there is some talent there—freshman point guard Jon Davis grew up as the week went on, and Pitt transfer Joseph Uchebo, a 6’10” senior, grabbed 18 rebounds against Washington—but for the most part this group isn’t prepared to compete for a Conference USA title anytime soon. My guess is a handful of these players will transfer in the next year or two, which will give Price the chance to replenish.
Fortunately, it sounds like he is dedicated to seeing things through. “I had my eyes wide open when I came in,” he said. “I’m a competitor, I hate losing games, but I also understand it’s a process. It’s going to take a little time, but we’ll get there.”
Five games I’m psyched to see this week
The jury is still out on the Panthers because they have not played anyone of note to this point, but the guard duo of Jamel Artis and James Robinson has been solid and Michael Young is one of the best passing big men in the country. Pitt has had 20 assists in three of its four games. Purdue will be ready to defend, but in a rugged, black-and-blue affair, I’ll go with the home team in a mild upset.
Pitt 66, Purdue 60
Maryland at North Carolina, Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
It looks like Marcus Paige, who hasn’t played yet this season because of a broken hand, will make his return to the Tar Heels’ lineup. That will provide an emotional boost, but mostly Paige’s on-court leadership and pinpoint outside shooting will make the difference against a Terps team that is still finding its way.
North Carolina 78, Maryland 73
These teams have reputations for slog-it-out, halfcourt basketball, but both have shown the ability to score a lot of points if they get into a running game—although I doubt this affair will be played at a high pace. Bearcats senior guard Farad Cobb has drastically improved his three-point shooting (52.8%, up from 33.3% last season), which has made the Bearcats’ tough, physical defense that much more of an asset.
Cincinnati 67, Butler 61
The Cardinals haven’t played anyone of consequence to date, so the step up in competition should be pretty jarring.
Michigan State 77, Louisville 67
This is not the assignment the Hoosiers needed after a disastrous trip to Hawaii. Indiana has to develop a defense-oriented, blue-collar identity, but it looks like that is going to take a while. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils are starting to get some production out of their freshmen. Luke Kennard, the 6’5” swingman from Ohio, scored a season-high 22 points off the bench in Sunday’s rout of Utah State.
Duke 82, Indiana 69
This week's AP ballot
(Last week’s rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (2)
2. Michigan State (3)
3. Kansas (4)
4. Maryland (1)
5. Duke (5)
6. Villanova (9)
7. Iowa State (11)
8. Oklahoma (15)
9. North Carolina (7)
10. Syracuse (NR)
11. Texas A&M (NR)
12. Gonzaga (6)
13. UConn (10)
14. Purdue (16)
15. Vanderbilt (20)
16. Xavier (21)
17. West Virginia (NR)
18. Virginia (17)
19. Butler (22)
20. Oregon (23)
21. Miami (13)
22. SMU (24)
23. Cincinnati (25)
24. Providence (NR)
25. Louisiana Tech (NR)
I can’t remember the last time a team went from No. 8 to out of the rankings, but Indiana managed to pull that off. I still think this could be a very good team, but clearly the Hoosiers are much more of a work in progress than I anticipated. They were awful defensively while losing to Wake Forest (the Deacons shot 51% and out-rebounded Indiana by 13), and then they committed 21 turnovers in their loss to UNLV. I anticipate Indiana will be back in the top 25 at some point, but like everyone else, the Hoosiers are going to have to win their way in.
The same goes for California, which lost to San Diego State and Richmond at the Las Vegas Invitational. I realize Cuonzo Martin is breaking in some new players (freshman Jaylen Brown had 27 points in the loss to the Spiders), but you can’t let a guy hang 34 on you (as Richmond forward Terry Allen did) and expect to keep a number next to your name. Cal also lost to a San Diego State team that just one week before had lost at home to Arkansas-Little Rock.
Arizona was a little trickier because the Wildcats are playing without senior center Kaleb Tarczewski. I didn’t penalize North Carolina too much for losing at Northern Iowa because the Heels were playing without Marcus Paige, but frankly, I was already skeptical about how good Arizona would be this season. The loss to Providence, combined with the near-loss over winless Santa Clara, convinced me to leave the Wildcats out for now.
I usually do not drop a No. 1 team if it doesn't lose, but I felt compelled to acknowledge the realitywith Maryland. Yes, this team has really good pieces and loads of potential, but the Terps are not playing like the best team in the country right now.
Syracuse and Texas A&M were my big risers this week because of what they did in the Bahamas. You’ll also notice that UConn moved up three spots despite losing twice at the Atlantis. I’m gonna stay on the Huskies’ bus until they throw me off.
West Virginia acquitted itself well by winning the Las Vegas Invitational, but the Mountaineers have not had the strongest nonconference schedule to date. We’ll learn a lot more about how good they are when they play Virginia a week from Tuesday at the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden.
I was glad for the chance to slot Louisiana Tech in at No. 25. Under first-year coach Eric Konkol, the Bulldogs are 5–0 win a 12-point road win at Ohio State. They also beat a UT-Arlington squad that has road wins over Ohio State and Memphis. Louisiana Tech will play at Memphis on Tuesday.
There were a lot of off-the-radar programs I considered this week, but I couldn’t figure out a way to shoehorn one of them in. Monmouth was the best example. The Hawks won at UCLA on Nov. 16 and knocked off Notre Dame last week, but they also lost to Dayton, so if I was going to rank Monmouth, I’d have to rank Dayton—which I couldn’t do after the Flyers got blitzed by Xavier. Also among the almost famous were Davidson, which is 4–0 with road games coming up against Charlotte and North Carolina; George Washington, which is 6–1 with a win at home over Virginia; and Arkansas-Little Rock, whose undefeated record includes road wins over San Diego State and Tulsa.
Finally, keep your eye on Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks, which are 6–0 against an unchallenging nonconference schedule. In fact, it’s quite possible this team will still be undefeated when it opens SEC play at Auburn on Jan. 5. This is a high-octane group featuring five players who are averaging double figures in scoring, paced by senior forward Laimonas Chatkevicius’ 16.3 points per game.