After two weeks atop the rankings, Arizona suffered its first loss of the season to Purdue on Saturday. It means we need to change the No. 1 team for the fourth time this season, but it’s going to be a familiar one. Kansas opened at No. 1 before Purdue took over following Feast Week. With Arizona’s loss, who rises between the Jayhawks and Boilermakers?
Kansas was No. 2 last week and all the Jayhawks did was rally for their first true road win at Indiana. Purdue was No. 3, but knocked off the No. 1 in impressive fashion.
As far as quality wins, the Jayhawks have victories over UConn, Tennessee and Kentucky, with their lone loss coming on a neutral site by 14 to Marquette. Purdue, the only team in the country with five Quadrant 1 wins, counters with wins over Arizona, Marquette, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Alabama. The Boilermakers’ one loss came in overtime at Northwestern.
From a metrics standpoint, Purdue has the edge. The Boilermakers are No. 2 across the board in efficiency-based and résumé-based metrics, while Kansas is No. 10 at KenPom, No. 12 in the BPI, No. 16 in the NET.
Matt Painter’s team has a Maui Invitational title — the same event in which Kansas finished third — and is coming off one of the best wins by any team this season. So, Purdue rises back to the top.
On to this week’s awards and rankings.
No. 3 Purdue drains back-to-back 3s as they knock off No. 1 Arizona
Lance Jones and Braden Smith knock down two long balls to help extend Purdue’s lead vs. Arizona.
After giving that whole soliloquy above about Purdue’s case for No. 1, it couldn’t be a mystery for Team of the Week, could it? The Boilermakers won this award coming out of Feast Week, when they ran through a gauntlet of Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette to win the Maui Invitational. They deserve it again after knocking off No. 1 Arizona and rising to the top of the Power Rankings.
They didn’t beat the Wildcats the way they’ve defeated most of their opponents over the past couple of seasons. Zach Edey ended with an impressive stat line — 22 points, nine boards, five assists — but it was backcourt mates Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer who carried the Boilermakers for most of the game. The sophomore guards combined for 53 points and nine 3-pointers, hitting momentum-building shots throughout the first 25 minutes and then sealing the win with big baskets late. The two guards have been maligned since the NCAA tournament loss to Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, but if they play like they did on Saturday — and really, Smith has been doing it all season — they can cut down the nets in April.
Kevin Cross fights off defender for and-1
Kevin Cross fights off defender for and-1.
Cross has steadily improved in each of his four seasons at Tulane, going from 6.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 2020-21 to 19.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists in this campaign. But the former Nebraska Cornhusker transfer put together a historic week, becoming just the second Division I player to have a 20-point triple-double in consecutive games since assists became a universally kept stat in 1983-84. Another note via ESPN Stats & Information: Cross is just the third Division I men’s player since 2007-08 with back-to-back triple-doubles.
The 6-foot-8 forward started with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists (and six steals, for good measure) in a double-overtime win over Furman on Thursday, then followed it with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists (and four blocks) in a win over Southern on Saturday. Cross missed just four shots from the field all week, shooting 13-for-17 inside the arc and 2-for-2 from 3.
On one side of this matchup was a 9-0 Baylor team ranked sixth in the country, looking for another win heading into Wednesday’s showdown with Duke at Madison Square Garden. On the other side was a 4-5 Michigan State team in disarray, fueling “what’s wrong with Sparty?” columns and questions about Tom Izzo.
Two hours later: Michigan State 88, Baylor 64 — and it wasn’t that close.
The Spartans led by as many as 30 points in the second half, and Baylor needed five points in the final 35 seconds to get the margin down to 24. It was the program’s largest margin of victory vs. a top 10 team. Michigan State led by 15 within nine minutes, 25 within 16 minutes and 30 late in the first half. Tyson Walker‘s 25 points paced the Spartans.
When Gillion took over Chicago State in July 2021, the Cougars were among the worst programs in college basketball. They had gone 0-9 in 2020-21 before suspending the season due to COVID-19 and hadn’t won a conference game since 2018 (they were in the WAC before leaving to play as an independent program in 2022-23). What Gillion has done since getting the job, however, is fairly remarkable and was capped off this week with perhaps the biggest win in school history.
On Wednesday, Chicago State went into Northwestern — where top-ranked Purdue lost this season — and knocked off the No. 25 Wildcats 75-73. It was the Cougars’ first win over a ranked opponent after losing their previous 39 attempts. In those defeats, only one was by single digits. The 39 losses came by an average of 38.4 points, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Yet, Gillion led the Cougars into Evanston and came out with a win.
If that’s all Chicago State did this past week, Gillion still might have gotten this award. But the Cougars followed it with a 63-62 win at Valparaiso, coming back from down nine in the final four minutes to prevail on a Wesley Cardet Jr. layup with 2.8 seconds left. Cardet, by the way, totaled 58 points in this week’s two wins.
Three teams with questions
UCLA Bruins: The Bruins’ loss to Ohio State on Saturday dropped them to 5-4 and means their résumé will be relatively barren entering Pac-12 play. Their best victory is a one-point home win over UC Riverside and they haven’t defeated anyone ranked inside the top 250 at KenPom.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Not much was expected of the Fighting Irish in Micah Shrewsberry’s first season at the helm, given it was a complete roster overhaul. But Saturday’s overtime loss at home to Georgetown — in one of the few remaining games where they’ll be favored — drops them to 4-6.
USC Trojans: UCLA isn’t the only Los Angeles team in trouble. The Trojans dropped their third straight game on Sunday, going down double-digits to Auburn in the first 10 minutes and trailing by as many as 23 points. USC, which was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason poll, is 5-5 and needs to win plenty in league play.
Lance Jones and Braden Smith knock down two long balls to help extend Purdue’s lead vs. Arizona.
Braden Smith crosses half court and immediately steps into his shot to flush the triple.
Perhaps lost in the headlines about Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith — and the usual play from Zach Edey — was Lance Jones‘ impact against Arizona on Saturday. He hit a crucial 3 from the right wing with 4:54 left that pushed Purdue’s lead to seven when Arizona’s zone was flummoxing the Boilermakers. He also had four points in the final 25 seconds to ice the victory and dished out four assists to take heat off Smith.
Kevin McCullar Jr. and Dajuan Harris Jr. buckets seal a Kansas win
Kevin McCullar Jr. and Dajuan Harris Jr. help cap off a 75-71 Kansas win with two combined buckets vs. Indiana.
Kevin McCullar Jr.‘s transformation from high-level two-way player to legitimate go-to guy on a national championship contender has been one of the bigger storylines of the 2023-24 season. He’s nearly doubled his four-year career average in scoring, shooting a career best from the field and 3-point line — and was the catalyst in Kansas’ comeback against Indiana with 13 second-half points.
Donovan Clingan gets the and-1 to fall for UConn
Donovan Clingan gets the and-1 to fall for UConn.
UConn wrapped up its nonconference schedule with a convincing 76-63 win over Gonzaga in Seattle on Friday. It was Donovan Clingan‘s best performance of the season against a high caliber opponent, as he was simply dominant on the interior, finishing with 21 points, eight boards, three assists and two blocks. And led by Clingan, the Huskies are shooting a nation-leading 64% from inside the arc.
Arizona showed some character after getting punched in the mouth for the first time this season, fighting back from a 15-point deficit in the first half to take Purdue nearly to the wire. And it was a positive that Caleb Love (29 points) and Keshad Johnson (24 points) continued their strong starts. The big issue came on the defensive end, as the Wildcats simply weren’t able to effectively defend the perimeter in their man-to-man defense. Purdue scored 1.20 points per possession, by far the most Arizona has allowed this season.
Houston just keeps winning, hanging on to beat Texas A&M despite blowing a 16-point second-half lead. The biggest news this past week came after coach Kelvin Sampson announced that sophomore Terrance Arceneaux would miss the rest of the season with a torn right Achilles tendon. Arceneaux has played a key role off the bench this season, and his absence will put more pressure on Temple transfer Damian Dunn to return to form and sophomore guard Emanuel Sharp to continue his breakout campaign.
Marquette had a closer-than-expected win over St. Thomas (MN) on Thursday, but the Golden Eagles continue to develop an intriguing weapon in 6-11 sophomore Ben Gold. The New Zealand native has played a bigger role this season, and he’s scored eight points in two of his past three games. He gives Shaka Smart another player who can step out and stretch a defense, as 37 of his 50 field goal attempts are from behind the arc.
Freshmen guide No. 14 Kentucky past No. 9 UNC
The Wildcats’ young talent comes up clutch against the Tar Heels with 18 of their last 20 points scored by freshmen for the 87-83 top-15 win at home.
Kentucky assistant Bruiser Flint sparked some concern when he said before the North Carolina game that the Wildcats might have to change their up-tempo style with their big men getting healthy. Well, there was no sign of that against the Tar Heels, with Kentucky playing its second-fastest game of the season and attempting its most 3s since November. And John Calipari likely put an end to the debate after the game, saying, “This is who we are.”
Tennessee holds off NC State to seal win in Hall of Fame Series finale
Josiah-Jordan James scores 23 and Zakai Ziegler chips in 20 as No. 12 Tennessee beats NC State in San Antonio.
Tennessee’s win over NC State on Saturday night wasn’t its best performance, but it was a good sign the Volunteers were able to score 1.20 points per possession with Dalton Knecht going for just two points on 1-for-7 shooting. It was also a breakout performance for Zakai Zeigler, who finished with 20 points, eight assists and four steals. Zeigler was inserted back into the lineup five games ago, and the Vols have gone 4-1 during that stretch, with Zeigler averaging 10.4 points, 6.4 assists and shooting 39.1% from 3 in that time.
Green Bay Phoenix vs. Oklahoma Sooners: Full Highlights
Green Bay Phoenix vs. Oklahoma Sooners: full highlights.
Oklahoma improved to 10-0 with an easy win over Green Bay on Saturday, but the Sooners will face their toughest test of the season on Wednesday against North Carolina in Charlotte. A win there, and Porter Moser’s team should go into Big 12 play at 13-0. The game will likely come down to OU’s defense. The Sooners rank in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Tar Heels are in the top 10 on offense. Oklahoma has to keep Carolina off the free throw line.
Scott Drew will have to hope his team treats the blowout loss to Michigan State as a wake-up call, as there’s a short turnaround before the Bears go to New York to face Duke. What went wrong for the Bears on Saturday? Let’s start with the obvious. They shot just 31.6% from 3, the lowest percentage in more than a month for the No. 1 shooting team in the country. They had their highest turnover percentage and lowest offensive rebounding percentage this season. It was their worst defensive effort of the season. Michigan State shot 63.3% from the field and 66.7% from 3. Baylor will hope it’s just an anomaly.
UNLV upsets No. 8 Creighton 79-64
The 4-4 UNLV Rebels manage to upset No. 8 Creighton 79-64 Wednesday night.
It was a mixed bag for Creighton last week, which lost by 15 to UNLV and then turned around to beat Alabama at home. The Bluejays’ two losses of the season — both to Mountain West programs — have come by a combined 36 points, with 14-for-58 shooting from 3-point range. A good sign for Greg McDermott will be that, although they again shot poorly on Saturday, the Bluejays still managed to score 1.23 points per possession because they were aggressive at the rim and consistently got to the free throw line.
Brad Underwood’s team has been one of the best defensive groups in the country, ranking No. 13 nationally at KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency. It will be interesting to see how they defend in Big Ten play, though. Against Illinois’ three toughest opponents — Marquette, Florida Atlantic, Tennessee — the Illini have allowed 1.13 points per possession, compared to 0.80 points per possession against other opponents.
After looking like the most dominant force in college basketball not named Zach Edey for the first three games, Armando Bacot has struggled for most of the past month. Over his past seven games, Bacot is averaging just 12.4 points on 45.8% shooting, numbers that are buoyed by a 22-point effort against Tennessee. But he had just nine points (and six turnovers) against Kentucky over the weekend, his third single-digit scoring effort in the past month. He did this just twice last season.
After a difficult three-week stretch that included five games against teams ranked inside the top 100 in KenPom, Colorado State has entered its final stretch of nonconference play with two non-Division I opponents and a road trip to Loyola Marymount on Friday. The first of these came Sunday, with Isaiah Stevens scoring 18 points to lead the Rams to a win over CSU Pueblo. One personnel note: Sophomore Taviontae Jackson, who missed the first seven games with a hip injury, started his first contest and responded with 13 points and five steals.
FAU took care of business against St. Bonaventure over the weekend, setting up a chance at a true statement win against Arizona. It will be by far the Owls’ most difficult game until a trip to Memphis at the end of February. Dusty May did receive some positive news entering that contest, as Nick Boyd, who started 35 games last season, suited up against the Bonnies after missing the previous seven contests with a leg injury. He came off the bench and contributed seven points in 20 minutes.
Clemson Tigers vs. Memphis Tigers: Full Highlights
Clemson Tigers vs. Memphis Tigers: full highlights.
Memphis has quietly put together a very impressive résumé, with six wins over teams ranked inside the top 100 at KenPom. The Tigers are riding a three-game winning streak, just handed Clemson its first loss and should be getting Kansas State transfer Nae’Qwan Tomlin soon. David Jones has been on a tear, scoring at least 22 points in four straight games and dropping 36 points against Arkansas earlier this season.
In the waiting room
Clemson Tigers: The Tigers suffered their first loss on Saturday, falling by two at Memphis. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also Joseph Girard III‘s first subpar performance in more than a month. It was his first single-digit scoring game since the second contest of the season, and he shot just 3-for-8 from the field. The Tigers should bounce back with two home games before ACC play though.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Zags fall out of the top 16 after getting dropped by UConn in Seattle. Gonzaga has lost its three toughest games and its best wins in the first six weeks are neutral-court victories over UCLA and USC, two teams we mentioned are struggling. Mark Few’s team has found it difficult to score against good opponents, putting up fewer than one per possession in each of the three losses.
Virginia Cavaliers: The Cavaliers barely escaped against Northeastern on Saturday, needing to erase a double-digit second-half deficit. It was the offense that couldn’t get it going, scoring just 56 points and being held below 1.00 point per possession for the fourth time in six games. An intriguing trip to Memphis awaits on Tuesday.