Fox’s Top Ten: Plenty of Early-Season Surprises5 min read
Early season tournaments always help educate us on just how good certain teams are (though to be fair, it’s still November, teams can certainly change from how they’re playing at this moment). For example, Baylor proved its blowout of Oregon was no fluke by winning the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis. Even so, the Bears are just on the outside looking in this week. Louisville, who blew a 22-point lead to Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis final, and Arizona, who fell victim to Andrew Chrabascz time and time again grabbing his nuts and falling over (lending momentum to the #bancharges movement), depart from the Top 10 this week. Creighton and Gonzaga both make their debuts. Let’s get into it.
10. Indiana (Last Week: 4)
I know this seems like a homer move to leave IU in the Top Ten after losing at Fort Wayne without OG Anunoby, but honestly it’s akin to losing at Penn State or Northwestern in January–shouldn’t cause people to freak out. After spending last week talking about how it looked like Indiana finally was completely healthy, it appears that I spoke too soon. OG’s stomach bug kept him out for the better part of a week, and now James Blackmon Jr.’s left knee is giving him issues again. The Big Ten’s second-leading scorer missed Sunday’s rout of Mississippi Valley State and is questionable for Wednesday’s titanic clash with North Carolina.
9. Creighton (Last Week: Not Ranked)
What a difference a year has made for Creighton. After plodding through last season with Maurice Watson Jr. and not much else, the Jays are one of the surprises of the season so far. A home win against then-#9 Wisconsin was followed up by a Paradise Jam tournament title, giving Creighton four wins over Power Five opponents within its first five games. Watson has still been great as a scorer and a distributor, averaging 8.5 assists per game, but its been the additions of Marcus Foster (transfer from Kansas State), and Justin Patton (redshirt freshman center), that have helped to ignite this potent offense. Creighton’s defense is an Achilles heel thus far (KenPom has it 72nd, the worst of any top-20 team), and that will certainly need to be improved before going up against the Villanovas and Xaviers of the world.
8. Gonzaga (Last Week: Not Ranked)
I am the biggest Gonzaga supporter (outside of perhaps someone who attends the school) you will ever meet; it is mind-boggling to me year after year how Mark Few’s team is called overrated or receives a lack of national respect. The Zags knocked off Florida and Iowa State in their run to AdvoCare Invitational title, and also have blown out a solid San Diego State squad. A frontline of Przemek Karnowski (think Hodor from “Game of Thrones”), Jonathan Williams, and Zach Collins is one of the nation’s best, and Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss anchors an equally talented backcourt. This is one the deepest teams Few has ever had, with five players currently averaging greater than 11 points per game. The Zags are an Elite Eight-caliber team–at least–and can further prove their worth this weekend against Arizona.
7. Xavier (Last Week: 8)
Chris Mack’s team faced Northern Iowa for the second time in six days and beat the Panthers convincingly. Kaiser Gates saw his first action of the season as the Musketeers suffocated Northern Iowa defensively and never let the game get close. Xavier has an extremely tricky week, first hosting Summit League co-favorite North Dakota State before traveling to Baylor.
6. Virginia (Last Week: 7)
I’ll admit, I was a little worried about Virginia when Austin Nichols was dismissed. Here’s the thing: the defense is still the best in the country. The Hoos have allowed the following point totals: 51, 32, 38, 34, 41, 52. It should come as no surprise that Virginia leads the country in defensive efficiency, and it also should come as no surprise that this team does not yet have an offensive star (assuming it ever will). Seven (excluding Nichols) Cavaliers average seven points per game, but only Darius Thompson averages double digits (checking in right at 10 points per game). This kind of balance makes Virginia difficult to defend, and obviously this is a team whose identity is formed with defense, but sooner or later someone is going to need to fill Malcolm Brogdon’s shoes–especially with Ohio State and West Virginia looming this week.
5. Duke (Last Week: 6)
Luke Kennard cooled off significantly last week, going 2-13 from behind the arc as Duke won a pair of blowouts. The Blue Devils remain the equivalent of college basketball’s sleeping giant–letting everyone else gain some confidence before adding three of the best players in the country. In other bad news for everyone else, Grayson Allen seems to be just about back to normal, scoring 21 points in just 18 minutes against Appalachian State.
4. Kansas (Last Week: 5)
The Jayhawks quietly won an early-season tournament of their own, knocking off UAB and Georgia to win the CBE Classic. Josh Jackson has discovered that basketball gets a lot easier when you’re not being guarded by Anunoby, and he has settled in nicely to the tune of 14.3 points (second on team) and 5.8 rebounds (first on team) per game. Bill Self had struggled to figure out how to play his two big men simultaneously but now has switched to primarily utilizing a four guard lineup. Kansas’ play has in turn continued to improve. The Jayhawks’ biggest game this week will come when they host 6-1 Stanford on Saturday.
3. North Carolina (Last Week: 3)
Maui was supposed to finally provide a challenge for the Heels. Instead, North Carolina breezed to the title with margins of 43, 32, and 15 points. Kennedy Meeks led the way with 15 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. UNC’s defense proved up to the task along with its high-scoring offense, holding Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes to just 3-11 shooting (1-7 from distance) in the final. There’s no bigger game in college basketball this week than when the Tar Heels visit the recently renovated Assembly Hall.
2. Villanova (Last Week: 2)
The Wildcats eased by Charleston in their only game last week, after a busy start to the season that saw them play four games in seven days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the frenetic schedule has caused one casualty. Phil Booth has missed three straight games due to left knee inflammation, but Jay Wright doesn’t anticipate Booth missing much more time. Villanova has two Big 5 games this week against Penn and Saint Joseph’s, and those are always highly entertaining affairs.
1. Kentucky (Last Week: 1)
Kentucky hasn’t scored under 100 points in over a week, and also boasts the nation’s third-most efficient defense. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Kentucky right now.