SI’s college basketball stock report is back, taking inventory of the teams, players and trends that stood out—for better or for worse—in the last week. Who’s trending up and down as we enter another week of exciting NCAA action?
The Buckeyes made one of the biggest early statements of the season with a destruction of No. 10 Villanova in a 76–51 rout in Columbus. Ohio State opened the game with a 19–3 run and never looked back, nearly doubling up the Wildcats at halftime before winning by 25. That the Buckeyes’ defense was up to the task was not particularly surprising; rather, its offensive explosion was. OSU recorded 1.19 points per possession, shooting 61.8% from two and 56.2% from three on the night. The offensive output wasn’t a result of any one player going off, as five Buckeyes finished in double figures, led by Duane Washington’s 14. This was an important step forward for an Ohio State team that was too limited and inconsistent offensively last season, but brought in several pieces (like freshman D.J. Carton and transfer C.J. Walker) to help remedy that. Chris Holtmann’s team won’t always torch the nets the way it did on Wednesday night, but it showed how dangerous it can be it’s firing on all cylinders.
Thirty-nine players were ranked higher than Arizona freshman Zeke Nnaji in the 2019 247Sports composite recruiting rankings, but the 6’11” power forward is already playing like he deserved a much-higher billing. Nnaji has been a beast for the No. 12 Wildcats so far, averaging 21 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 assists through four games. His 86.8% shooting percentage on two-pointers is 10th nationally and first among players who have taken more than 25 attempts.
Even more impressively, Nnaji has made 17 straight shots from the floor, including a combined 15-of-15 mark in Arizona’s last two games. And when he gets to the free-throw line, he’s knocking them down there as well, going 18 for 21 (85.7%). While Wildcats guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green were more highly regarded than Nnaji coming out of high school, the big man’s play will be just as important to the team’s success this season.
Last season was largely one to forget for the Atlantic 10, which sent just two teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006-07, back when Xavier was still a member. Already in 2019-20, the conference is starting to look like its old self again. While not everyone has stepped up (Davidson, for example, is 1–2 with an uninspiring road loss to Charlotte), A-10 teams are picking up the kind of non-conference wins the league needs both for its overall reputation and individual team résumés. VCU beat a ranked LSU team at home and is 4–0; Rhode Island defeated Alabama at home; Richmond edged Vanderbilt; Saint Joseph’s beat UConn in Hartford and St. Bonaventure snapped a three-game skid with a win over Rutgers. In all, seven Atlantic 10 teams are still unbeaten, and the more victories over major conference teams the conference can earn before league play starts, the better it will be suited to send multiple teams dancing come March.
It’s never a good thing when you appear in the “stock down” column two weeks in a row. The Gators followed up a disappointing opening week by needing a late escape to beat mid-major Towson at home before falling on the road UConn on Sunday. Florida scored a total of 125 points in the two games, exacerbating the offensive struggles that doomed it in a 63-51 loss to Florida State. To make matters worse, the Huskies were coming off an upset loss to Saint Joseph’s where the Hawks torched them for 96 points (1.14 per possession). The Gators could only manage 59 points (0.89 per possession), with Andrew Nembhard (14 points, all in the second half) and the fouled-out Kerry Blackshear (15 points) being the only UF players to reach double figures. With Blackshear out, Florida’s offense in the final minutes rested almost entirely on Nembhard trying to make things happen, a good reminder of the Gators’ youth despite all of their talent. Until Mike White's team sorts out its offense, it shouldn’t be considered top-25 good, let alone the top-10 status it started the year with.
The No. 1 Ranking
Perhaps newly minted AP No. 1 team Duke needs to watch its back. Two weeks into the college basketball season, we’ve already seen two different teams (Michigan State and Kentucky) lose while ranked first in the country. The Wildcats’ loss last week was particularly stunning, as John Calipari’s team fell by three to Evansville, a team that was a 25-point underdog and entered the night ranked 169th on KenPom. It snapped Kentucky’s streak of 52 straight wins against unranked non-conference opponents at Rupp Arena.
Rutgers was always going to have an uphill battle to break its 28-year NCAA tournament drought this season, but the Scarlet Knights seemed plenty capable of building on 2018-19, when they won seven Big Ten games for the first time. And maybe they still are. But only four games in, their start hasn’t been encouraging. Despite playing one of the softest non-conference schedules in the country so far, Rutgers beat Bryant (No. 286 on KenPom) and Drexel (No. 243) by a total of seven points at home, then lost over the weekend to previously winless St. Bonaventure by six in Toronto. With a brutal December schedule looming, the Scarlet Knights have precious time to start getting on the same page.