Are Gonzaga’s hopes of a fourth straight 1-seed in the NCAA tournament already over?
After the Bulldogs’ loss to Baylor on Friday, that might be the case. They’re now just 5-3 on the season, with losses to Texas and Purdue in addition to the Bears in South Dakota. It’s their most losses at this point in the season since 2011, when they ultimately finished 25-10 and earned an 11-seed on Selection Sunday. In the 10 NCAA tournaments since then, Mark Few’s program has earned a 1-seed on five occasions, a 2-seed once, a 4-seed once, and a 7-seed or lower three times.
Given the Zags’ remaining schedule and the lack of quality near the top of the West Coast Conference this season, a sixth 1-seed in 11 tournaments might be out of their grasp. A game in Birmingham against Alabama on Dec. 17 and two meetings with Saint Mary’s in conference play are the only contests remaining against teams ranked inside the top 85 at KenPom. The WCC of past years, with four or five NCAA tournament-caliber teams, isn’t happening this season — meaning Gonzaga just doesn’t have the opportunities to rack up résumé-boosting wins like it has in the past.
Wins over Kentucky, Michigan State and Xavier in the first month of the season are a very good start. But the three losses might have already buried Gonzaga’s 1-seed chances.
On to this week’s awards and rankings.
Entering the season, the Terrapins were picked 10th in the unofficial Big Ten media poll. Kevin Willard was taking over a massively disappointing team that went 15-17 last season and was losing its top two scorers. The Terps weren’t expected to be this good this quickly. One month in, they can make a case as the second- or third-best team in the league.
With neutral-court wins over Saint Louis and Miami already on the résumé, Maryland started the week with a 25-point win on the road against a hapless Louisville team. It then welcomed Illinois to College Park for its Big Ten opener and knocked off the Fighting Illini 71-66 — going on a 17-2 run midway through the first half to get some breathing room, with Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young hitting a huge 3 in the final minute to clinch the win. The Terrapins are old, they have size and they’re led by a coach who consistently produces some of the best defenses in the country.
Plus, we got this gem postgame from Willard:
Kevin Willard everyone: pic.twitter.com/Z1JGmC8HFi
— Ben Dickson (@bendickson__) December 3, 2022
Murray was expected to take a big step forward in his production entering 2022-23. But reaching the level of his brother, Keegan — the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft who averaged 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in 2021-22 — seemed unlikely. Through seven games, though, Kris Murray is averaging 21.0 points and 10.6 rebounds, shooting 40.5% from 3-point range. Those numbers were boosted Tuesday by one of the best individual stat lines we’ve seen this season: 31 points, 20 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 4 3-pointers in a 16-point win over Georgia Tech.
Had Marquette not lost on Saturday to Wisconsin, Shaka Smart’s group would have been the clear Team of the Week. But the Golden Eagles’ blowout win over Baylor was enough to earn them some recognition. To see the Bears, a veteran team with experienced guards, just get overrun by Marquette’s pressure was wildly impressive. The game was never close. The Golden Eagles were up 26 at halftime, their largest halftime lead over a top-25 team in the past 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. On the other side, it was Baylor’s largest loss to an unranked team since 2007. Olivier-Maxence Prosper had 24 points, Kam Jones had 20, Tyler Kolek made 11 assists — and Marquette forced 20 turnovers. It was a tremendous performance.
Coach of the Week: Richard Pitino, New Mexico Lobos
In his second season in Albuquerque, Pitino has quietly positioned the Lobos to be competitive in the Mountain West this season. They dominated six straight games to open 2022-23, including a road game at SMU, but sent a statement last week by knocking off Saint Mary’s in Moraga, California. That the Gaels went to Fort Worth and nearly beat Houston three days later only made the win look better. Pitino has stacked the top of his roster with former high-major talents: Morris Udeze (Wichita State), Jaelen House (Arizona State) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (Minnesota) form one of the best trios in the league.
Three teams with questions
SMU Mustangs: It was always going to be a difficult first season at the helm for Rob Lanier. But the Mustangs lost at home to Jackson State on Saturday and are now just 3-5, with games against Arizona State, TCU and Iona left before conference play. SMU won’t be favored in many games the rest of the season.
Colorado State Rams: The early return of star point guard Isaiah Stevens was expected to jump-start the Rams. But they suffered a surprising home loss to Northern Colorado over the weekend and now have Colorado, Saint Mary’s and USC over a two-week stretch. They need to win a couple of those to keep at-large hopes alive.
Seton Hall Pirates: It hasn’t been the easiest opening month for Shaheen Holloway at Seton Hall. The Pirates beat Memphis on Thanksgiving but have since lost three straight — including to Siena and by 26 at Kansas. After the Siena loss, Holloway said he had “never been part of something where guys don’t want to play basketball.”
Purdue’s Zach Edey uses his big frame to rise over a Minnesota defender for a highlight-reel slam.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (8-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Hofstra (Wednesday), at Nebraska (Saturday)
Yep, we’re already getting to that point with Zach Edey, where typically ridiculous stat lines are beginning to become the norm. Against Minnesota on Sunday, Edey finished with 31 points and 22 rebounds (eight on the offensive end), going 11-for-23 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free throw line. He has scored at least 20 points in each of the Boilermakers’ past seven games, with double-doubles in all but two. Overshadowed by Edey’s recent exploits has been the play of freshman guard Fletcher Loyer, who is averaging 15.8 points and 4.3 assists over his past four games, shooting 45.8% from 3-point range.
2. Texas Longhorns (6-0)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Illinois in New York (Tuesday), vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Saturday)
His numbers don’t stand out so far this season, but five-star freshman Dillon Mitchell has really shined through one month due to his motor and willingness to buy into his role. He’s taking around only five shots per game and hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer yet, but he’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the country and has shown tremendous versatility as a defender. He’s able to guard nearly every position on the floor and even took some possessions against Creighton 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner last week. Throw in explosiveness in transition, and Mitchell is doing all the little things well so far in his Texas career.
3. Houston Cougars (8-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. North Florida (Tuesday), vs. Alabama (Saturday)
Houston needed to hold off a valiant closing effort from Saint Mary’s on Saturday night but remained unbeaten. Perhaps the bigger concern was star guard Marcus Sasser leaving the game in the final minutes with a left shoulder injury. Coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game that Sasser should be fine, and it wouldn’t be a long-term issue. Up front, J’Wan Roberts continues his surprising breakout season, going for 15 points and eight rebounds against the Gaels — his sixth double-figure scoring effort so far this season. It’s something he did just twice in his first 62 games with the Cougars.
4. Virginia Cavaliers (7-0)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. James Madison (Tuesday)
Virginia’s 3s have dried up some since the first couple of games in the season. The Cavaliers made 11 3s in the season opener against North Carolina Central, 13 in their second game against Monmouth and nine in the win over Baylor in Las Vegas. Since then, they’ve made just 19 in four games, and hit more than one-third of their attempts just once in that stretch. Some of it has to do with a renewed emphasis on getting Jayden Gardner touches on the interior, but Virginia will have to shoot more effectively from the perimeter — especially in the Dec. 17 showdown with Houston.
5. UConn Huskies (9-0)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Florida (Wednesday), vs. LIU (Saturday)
The Jordan Hawkins breakout season is certainly underway. He missed two games and the majority of a third after entering concussion protocol, and played just six minutes in a fourth game due to foul trouble. In the other five games this season, though, he has averaged 18.2 points and shot 44.6% from 3. He had 26 points and went 5-for-9 from beyond the arc in last week’s win over Oklahoma State. And he has established himself as the perfect perimeter balance to Adama Sanogo‘s paint domination. Hawkins is comfortably the best shooter Dan Hurley has had since taking over at UConn in 2018.
6. Arizona Wildcats (7-1)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Indiana in Las Vegas (Saturday)
Arizona had quite the reality check last Thursday, going to Utah on the heels of a Maui Invitational title and top-five ranking — and getting outplayed from start to finish by the Utes, 81-66. The Wildcats had a difficult time containing 7-footer Branden Carlson, who connected for five 3s and kept forcing Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis to make a decision on whether to come out and guard him on the perimeter or stay closer to the rim. But the Wildcats bounced back against California, with Tubelis putting up 25 points and 12 rebounds — his fifth 20-point game in the first month of 2022-23.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Houston (Saturday)
Brandon Miller received most of the plaudits in Alabama’s freshman class entering the season. Based on this first month of the season, it was well-deserved. But there was also some positive buzz coming out of Tuscaloosa about ESPN 100 recruit Noah Clowney, and he’s backed that up through eight games. Clowney has started every game this season, notching double-digit rebounds in three of his first four and going for a career-high 22 points against South Dakota State over the weekend. He came out of nowhere to go 5-for-12 from 3 — in the first seven games of the season, he shot 2-for-16 from deep.
8. Kansas Jayhawks (8-1)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Missouri (Saturday)
Kansas had its two best offensive games of 2022-23 last week, scoring 87 points in the win over Texas Southern and dropping 91 in Thursday’s win over Seton Hall. The Jayhawks shot better than 60% inside the arc and better than 40% from 3 in both. One noteworthy development has been the increased role of Joseph Yesufu. After barely having a role down the stretch last season and playing nine or fewer minutes in five of the first six games in the past month, the former Drake transfer had 14 points in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game loss to Tennessee, then started the next game against Texas Southern and scored another 14. He’s provided a needed lift with Bobby Pettiford out with a hamstring issue.
After recording his first career start in No. 11 Arkansas’ 99-58 win over San Jose State, Nick Smith Jr. states how thankful he is to be back on the court.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks (7-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. UNC Greensboro (Tuesday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)
Welcome to college basketball, Nick Smith Jr.! Arguably the best NBA prospect in college basketball this season, Smith missed the first six games due to precautionary measures for his right knee and then played just five minutes in his season debut against Troy. But Eric Musselman shifted him right into the starting lineup for Saturday’s victory against San Jose State, and Smith responded with 16 points, five assists and three 3s in 24 minutes. Given the way Anthony Black, Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazile have started this season, Arkansas’ best five is looking as talented as it gets in college right now.
10. Maryland Terrapins (8-0)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: vs. Tennessee in Brooklyn (Sunday)
Kevin Willard has done a remarkable job with this Maryland team through one month, and the Terrapins picked up a statement win on Friday when they knocked off Illinois in College Park. The catalyst for this group has been Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young, who hit the game-clinching shot. Young had 24 points in the game, including four 3s, and has hit double figures in seven of eight games. Veteran big man Donta Scott was dominant in back-to-back wins over Saint Louis and Miami earlier this season, while sophomore Julian Reese has shown flashes of the ability that had some thinking he was an NBA draft pick at the start of his career.
11. Tennessee Volunteers (7-1)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. Eastern Kentucky (Wednesday), vs. Maryland in Brooklyn (Sunday)
Five-star freshman Julian Phillips arrived in Knoxville as the type of player who could be the X-factor in the NCAA tournament and cause matchup issues in March. And after an up-and-down start, Phillips is beginning to show those signs of making a consistent impact for the Volunteers. He has hit double figures in five of his last six games, including 25 points and eight rebounds against USC in the Bahamas. He’s coming off a very solid week, going for 12 points, five rebounds and four assists on Wednesday against McNeese, and 18 points, four boards and three assists on Sunday against Alcorn State.
12. Indiana Hoosiers (7-1)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Nebraska (Wednesday), vs. Arizona in Las Vegas (Saturday)
It was the definition of a mixed week for Indiana. The Hoosiers looked tougher, more physical and more aggressive than North Carolina in Wednesday’s 12-point win, a game where they showed why they were the Big Ten favorite and why Trayce Jackson-Davis deserved first-team preseason All-American recognition. And then came Saturday, when Indiana went to the house formerly known as the RAC and got handled by Rutgers by 15, scoring just 48 points in the process. The biggest difference in the two games came around the rim. Against Carolina, Indiana shot 57% from 2 and had 50 points in the paint. Against Rutgers, it was 36% from 2 and just 14 points in the paint.
Kevin Willard everyone: pic.twitter.com/Z1JGmC8HFi
— Ben Dickson (@bendickson__) December 3, 2022
13. Baylor Bears (6-2)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Tarleton State (Tuesday)
Baylor was going to be sent careening out of the power rankings after the 26-point loss at Marquette — but a neutral-court win over Gonzaga on Friday was enough to save its spot. For now. While the Bears have yet to find consistency this season, their guards still give me optimism for their ultimate ceiling come March. Keyonte George is one of the best guard prospects in the country and was on fire against Gonzaga early; Adam Flagler has grown in confidence and hit multiple big shots late against the Zags; and LJ Cryer had averaged 20.4 points in his last five games leading up to Gonzaga. The Bears just can’t have more 20-turnover performances.
14. Iowa State Cyclones (7-1)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: at Iowa (Thursday), vs. McNeese State (Sunday)
Iowa State handled its business this past week, beating North Dakota and St. John’s heading into this Thursday’s rivalry showdown at Iowa. Through the past month, the Cyclones rank No. 1 nationally in defensive turnover percentage at KenPom. They’re forcing turnovers on more than 30% of their defensive possessions — coincidentally edging out UNLV, head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s former stomping grounds. They finished sixth in that category last season, spearheaded by Tyrese Hunter at the point guard spot. And they’re still forcing turnovers at an extremely high level, even with Hunter now at Texas.
15. Auburn Tigers (8-0)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Memphis in Atlanta (Saturday)
K.D. Johnson is starting to wake up, which is a great thing for Auburn. After starting the final 31 games of 2021-22, Bruce Pearl moved him to the bench this season — theoretically suiting Johnson’s microwave-style of offensive production. He didn’t shoot the ball well early, making just 26.1% of his shots and 21.4% of his 3s in the first three games. Since then, he has been much more effective offensively. He’s averaged 13.2 points in his last five games, shooting 42.1% from 3 and coming off a 16-point effort against Colgate, in which he went 4-for-5 from behind the arc.
16. Duke Blue Devils (8-2)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Iowa in New York City (Tuesday), vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (Saturday)
This past week saw major strides from No. 1 recruit Dereck Lively II, who had a very slow start to his college career. But he had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks against Ohio State, then eight points and three blocks against Boston College. It seems the Blue Devils are figuring out how to more effectively use him, in particular getting him involved with lobs on rolls to the rim. Another frontcourt freshman, Mark Mitchell, has also had success in recent days, finishing with 15 points against Boston College after scoring single digits in four of his previous five games. Neither Lively nor Mitchell hit the ground running like classmate Kyle Filipowski, but there’s still plenty of time for all three to click.
Dropped out: Creighton Bluejays (No. 7), Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 11), Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 13)
In the waiting room
Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Zags dropped their third game of the season to Baylor on Friday, and are now 5-3 — the program’s worst start through eight games since starting 4-4 in 2010-11. The schedule eases up some the rest of the way, but a showdown against Alabama in Birmingham is two weeks away.
Illinois Fighting Illini: While Brad Underwood needs Matthew Mayer to be more of a factor in big games, one positive of the last few weeks is the emergence of RJ Melendez. The sophomore guard is averaging 15.0 points over his last three games, shooting 46.2% from 3 over that span.
Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats went all the way to London for their biggest win of the season, beating Michigan by four. It was freshman Cason Wallace who was the star, going for 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, making all four 3-point attempts — including the game-clinching shot in the final minute.
Maryland enters, Gonzaga drops out