First thing’s first. After a crazy, busy and wonderful Saturday of college hoops, there are no undefeated teams left. Villanova lost at Butler. TCU was defeated on its home floor by Oklahoma and Trae Young (39 points, 14 assists). Lastly, Arizona State fell at Arizona.
In the span of a few hours, the No. 1 (‘Nova), 3 (ASU) and 10 (Horned Frogs) teams all lost. For good measure, No. 5-ranked Texas A&M also lost, handily, at Alabama.
What does it all mean going forward? Glad you asked.
This is one of those “There are no great teams” years
We didn’t even make it to the last day of December before every team in Division I had lost at least one game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that is close to unheard of. This marks the first season in the AP poll era (since 1948-49) where no undefeated teams have survived to greet the new year.
We thought in the preseason that there would be no great teams along the lines of, well, 75 percent of the 2015 Final Four (I’m looking at you, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky). Still, it’s good to have confirmation of our preseason hunches come from actual games.
The Pac-12 has what could be a jewel of a rivalry
Arizona defended its home court and beat Arizona State 84-78, but perhaps this was merely the first salvo in what could, with luck, be an outstanding rivalry. The Pac-12 is a league built around five natural rivalry pairings (plus two rivals of convenience in the form of relative newcomers Utah and Colorado). Now, finally, both teams in one of those pairings are good at the same time.
In fact, it’s not too much to say that the Wildcats and the Sun Devils should battle each other for the league title this season. The two best teams in the conference hail from the same state and, for now, feature diametrically opposed styles on offense. Will the size and rebounding of Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic and Allonzo Trier supply the winning formula, or will the speed and 3s of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin usher in a new era in the Pac-12?
These are questions we didn’t foresee asking just eight weeks ago, and getting the answers promises to be highly entertaining.
The Big East could finally push Villanova this season
I’ve already voiced an opinion to the effect that Villanova will weather this whole “losing a game” storm, and I still like the Wildcats as the odds-on favorites in the Big East. That being said, it looks like the league, at long last, is poised to at least give Jay Wright’s team some competition for a change.
Xavier had to come from behind on its home floor to beat DePaul in its most recent outing, and that’s hardly the strongest statement for a team that wants to topple Wright from his perch atop the conference. Nevertheless, the Musketeers do rate out as one of the stronger non-Villanova teams the league has produced over the last few seasons. Chris Mack’s guys are almost as accurate from the field as the Wildcats themselves, and Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are killing opponents by shooting a combined 88 percent at the line.
Nor is Xavier the only team that could exert pressure on Villanova. Seton Hall is far and away the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, Creighton is led by an incredible, if underappreciated, one-two duo in the form of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, and then there’s the small matter of the Butler team that, you know, just beat Villanova. A fifth consecutive league title for the Wildcats is still likely, but it won’t be a cakewalk by any means.
The much-improved SEC will be wide open
Coming into the season it was agreed that Kentucky would be the favorite to win the SEC regular-season crown. Then, within the span of a few hours, Texas A&M hammered West Virginia (in a game played at an Air Force base in Germany — the Mountaineers haven’t lost since), and UK looked eminently non-terrifying in home wins against the likes of Utah Valley and Vermont. In that moment, the Aggies became a popular choice as the “real” favorite to win the league title.
Who knows, maybe Billy Kennedy’s team will indeed earn a second league title in three seasons (A&M shared the regular-season crown with Kentucky in 2015-16). But an even more likely scenario is shaping up, one in which there is no favorite. Kentucky is young, yes, but youth has a way of evaporating as the season progresses, and John Calipari’s guys looked pretty tough beating Louisville by 29 at Rupp Arena. Florida is dangerous, Arkansas is a multi-bladed buzzsaw on offense and Tennessee is three or so possessions away from being 11-1 with wins over North Carolina and the aforementioned Razorbacks.
It’s been too easy in recent years to think of the SEC as Kentucky and Florida on one hand, and “everyone else” on the other. The Wildcats and the Gators are still in the mix, certainly, but everyone else has now joined the discussion. This shapes up as an excellent basketball conference for 2017-18.
Last thing: Trae Young is Trae Young, but let’s not get too blasé just yet
We’ve now reached the point where we expect Young to record numbers like 39 points and 14 assists, even on the road against a ranked opponent. So be it, but remember the bottom-line value of these heroics. Just one year removed from an 11-20 season, Oklahoma now has one of the best offenses in the country.
Young’s individual feats of improbability are wondrous to watch, yes, but they are also propelling the Sooners into the upper reaches of the Big 12 along with the likes of Kansas and West Virginia. No one saw that coming, and therefore every day that Young does what he does — even though we now expect it — qualifies as just a little bit nuts.