Baylor became the record-tying seventh team this season to hold the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press’ weekly rankings. And if you think that shows how bizarre the college basketball season has been, consider that two New Jersey teams were voted into the Top 25 this week.
Seton Hall, atop the Big East Conference standings, rose to No. 10 in the poll, but the big news was Rutgers, making it in at No. 24 — its first ranking since 1979.
“New Jersey is a college basketball state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press. “That’s a big deal. I am not shocked, but it’s a great source of pride.”
This weekend’s games feature the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge, with 10 games matching teams from each conference. Here’s a look at what the weekend offers:
This turned from one of the showcase games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge to a chance to reflect on what happened at the Allen Fieldhouse four days earlier when a benches-clearing brawl broke out, resulting in the suspensions of four players. The Jayhawks’ Silvio DeSousa, who exacerbated a bad situation by standing over and taunting a Kansas State player, will sit out the next 12 games.
Yes, DeSousa was out of line and deserved the punishment, but the cries for him to be banned for the remainder of the season were a bit overdone. No matter how regrettable, the incident serves as a learning experience for young men who don’t yet have all the answers.
Of course, had an assistant coach not grabbed a stool that DeSousa had picked up with seemingly malicious intent, we’d be telling a different story.
Saturday’s game matches two of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Volunteers (12-6, 4-2) lead the SEC in points allowed (59.0 per game) and field-goal percentage defense (37.7%). The Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) have comparable figures: 60.6 points per game given up, 37.5% shooting.
Despite Gonzaga’s two one-sided wins last week, Baylor (16-1, 6-0) jumped over the Zags and into the top spot in the rankings, based in part on victories over Villanova, Butler, Arizona, Texas Tech and Kansas, all ranked teams. The Bears also play strong defense, allowing an average of 58.5 points.
The Gators (12-6, 4-2) narrowly missed an inspiring victory Tuesday, nearly overcoming a 10-point deficit in the last 1 minute, 11 seconds against Louisiana State. They appeared to have tied the game on a layup at the buzzer, but a review showed the shot came an eye blink late. They must keep Baylor off the offensive glass.
This is the only Big12/SEC challenge game matching ranked teams. The Wildcats (14-4, 5-1) have won back-to-back games since their stunning loss at South Carolina, and guard Ashton Hagans appears to have broken out of his shooting slump, going for 23 points, 9 assists and 4 steals in Tuesday’s win over Georgia.
The Red Raiders (12-6, 3-3) have lost three of their last five. This is their fifth game against Kentucky, and they are still looking for their first win.
The Aztecs (20-0, 9-0) have matched the 20-game start of their 2010-11 season, a team led by Kawhi Leonard, the most famous player in program history. They have benefited from three transfers: guards Malachi Flynn (Washington State) and KJ Feagin (Santa Clara) and forward Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt).
“This team has its own identity and its own goals, and it feels good,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “But they don’t hang banners for 20-0, only for conference championships. We’re trying to win a Mountain West title, and that’s our goal right now.”
The Wolverines (11-7, 2-5 Big Ten) went through a 6-for-34 shooting stretch in their home loss to Penn State. They are 4-7 since starting the season 7-0 and debuting in the AP poll at No. 4. But first-year head coach Juwan Howard isn’t worried about his team continuing its downturn.
“I’ve got that under control,” he said. “You can trust me on that one. There’s not going to be any doubt in that locker room. We will not lose trust in one another. There is a lot of season to be played.”
The Fighting Illini (14-5, 6-2) moved into a tie for first place in the Big Ten after Michigan State’s loss Thursday night to Indiana.
The Flyers (16-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10) own their highest national ranking in 52 years but now face a tricky road test. The Spiders (15-4, 5-1) are 9-1 at home and tied for second place in the conference with Duquesne and Rhode Island. They are shooting 47.5% overall and 37% from three-point range.
It doesn’t get near as much attention as its annual football game, but any time Army (8-6, 3-4 Patriot League) plays Navy (11-7, 5-2), you know everyone on the floor is going all out to gain a victory. The teams will play at 1:30 Saturday at Navy.
The Black Knights got 19 points and 11 assists from Archbishop Wood grad Tommy Funk in a 94-74 win Wednesday night over Lafayette.