This college basketball season has been about much more than just the blue blood programs. The season has been wide open — four of the top five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 lost last week. Similar upsets are allowing several nontraditional names to step into the spotlight.
Things could very well stay that way all season.
What We Learned
Chris Beard will keep Texas Tech nationally relevant. The Red Raiders, who dropped out of the rankings at the beginning of December, again showed why they have become one of the toughest teams in college basketball since Beard became coach. Despite three consecutive losses and a leg injury to the star freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech earned a signature victory last Tuesday over Louisville at Madison Square Garden. “It’s a confidence builder,” Beard said. “You’ve got to have success to validate what you’re doing every day.” Texas Tech, which made the national final last season before losing to Virginia, held Louisville to 34 percent shooting and 18 percent from 3-point range. It jumped to No. 24 in the A.P. poll on Monday, while Louisville dropped to No. 3.
Ryan Woolridge is Gonzaga’s unsung presence. The graduate transfer from North Texas has stabilized the Bulldogs’ backcourt after the losses of Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell from last season’s team. “He’s been our most valuable player,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said of Woolridge, who has averaged 9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4 assists while defending against top players from other teams. In an impressive 4-point win over Arizona in Tucson on Saturday, Woolridge held Nico Mannion to just 7 points on 3-of-20 shooting.
North Carolina is officially facing a crisis. The Tar Heels are 6-4 after a home loss on Sunday to Wofford. North Carolina freshman Cole Anthony is also out indefinitely because of a knee injury. The 6-3 Anthony was averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. The team’s supporting cast was in question before Anthony’s injury. No other player on North Carolina’s roster has made more than 10 3-point shots this season. The Tar Heels will next play Gonzaga on Wednesday in Spokane.
What We’re Looking for This Week
Auburn finally faces a power conference team. The Tigers (9-0) are one of four remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, along with San Diego State, Duquesne, and Liberty. But Auburn’s game against North Carolina State on Thursday will be its only game against a high-major opponent before league play in the Southeastern Conference begins on Jan. 4 against Mississippi State.
Seton Hall tries to regain momentum. Despite being picked to win the Big East by coaches before the season, the Pirates are just 6-4 entering Thursday’s game against Maryland in Newark. Seton Hall does not have a marquee win on its résumé. It also does not have a roster that is even close to full strength. Senior guard Myles Powell did not play in the second half of Saturday’s loss at Rutgers because of a concussion, and forward Sandro Mamukelashvili is out until at least mid-January with a wrist injury.
Kansas plays a true road game for the first time. The Jayhawks (9-1) are scheduled to visit Villanova on Saturday, and have not lost since falling to Duke in their season opener. Kansas has arguably the sport’s top inside-outside duo in point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike. Eight of the Jayhawks’ nine victories have come by at least 10 points.
More to Consider
Payton Pritchard of Oregon is playing like an all-American. Pritchard, a senior point guard, shined in an overtime win at Michigan on Saturday. The 6-foot-2 Pritchard had 23 points against the Wolverines, including 13 straight for his team spread over the end of regulation and the beginning of overtime. “I’ve probably never been in an offensive rhythm like that in a setting like that,” said Pritchard, who is averaging 19.2 points, 5.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds. The Ducks’ win at Michigan came without forward Shakur Juiston.
Memphis continues to show that it has an incredibly high ceiling. The Tigers beat Tennessee on Saturday on the road without James Wiseman or Lester Quinones. Once the Tigers are fully stocked, they are capable of beating anyone. Memphis’ only loss so far this season was against Oregon on Nov. 12 in Portland.
Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans is starting to blossom into much more than just a great defender. In the Wildcats’ six wins since losing to Evansville, the 6-3 sophomore is averaging 16.3 points and 8.7 assists. He’s also shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range during that span. If Hagans becomes a consistent offensive threat, he will be one of the best two-way guards in college basketball.
Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana is quietly playing like one of the best freshmen in the country. “He’s an old-school power forward who probably could have played in the ’80s or ’90s,” Indiana Coach Archie Miller said. “He’s got great hands and great agility. He’s different than any guy I’ve had in the sense that he’s a true big man.” Jackson-Davis had 25 points and 15 rebounds in Indiana’s win over Nebraska last Friday. He leads the Hoosiers in both scoring and rebounding.
Georgetown guard Mac McClung is on an offensive tear, averaging 25 points over his last three games in wins over Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist and Syracuse. McClung shot 48 percent from 3-point range in those games. “I’ve just tried to stay aggressive,” McClung said. Georgetown’s roster has had serious upheaval lately with four players transferring, including two players who had a restraining order issued against them, ordering them not to communicate or go near a fellow student who said she was threatened and stolen from.
Louisiana State will get a major boost this week when Marlon Taylor returns to the lineup. The 6-5 wing has yet to play because of a foot injury. “We were 21-3 with him in the starting lineup last year,” L.S.U. Coach Will Wade said. “He’s going to play both forward spots for us.” The Tigers are 7-2, with their two losses coming by a combined 4 points.
Duquesne is 9-0 for the first time since the 1968-69 season. The Dukes have not been to the N.C.A.A. tournament since 1977. Many observers wondered why Coach Keith Dambrot left the comfort that he had at Akron for Duquesne. It’s hard to argue with the results. Dambrot is a combined 44-29 in his three seasons with the Dukes.
Games to Watch
All times are Eastern.
TUESDAY Florida vs. Providence (7 p.m., ESPN2), Oklahoma at Creighton (9 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
WEDNESDAY Tennessee at Cincinnati (7 p.m., ESPN2), North Carolina at Gonzaga (9 p.m., ESPN2), Utah vs. Kentucky (11 p.m., ESPN2)
THURSDAY Maryland at Seton Hall (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1), North Carolina State at Auburn (9 p.m., ESPN2)