Top-ranked Duke’s stunning loss at Boston College was the most significant outcome of the college basketball weekend so far. Here are some takeaways from that game and all the rest of the action:
1. Desperate Florida gets the bounce-back victory it needed
Having dropped three straight games after a sizzling start to the season, fifth-ranked Florida entered Saturday’s game against No. 17 Cincinnati desperate for a win.
The Gators got the slump-busting victory they needed, grinding out a hard-fought 66-60 victory over a Bearcats team searching for its first quality win of the season.
Florida’s victory should be enough to keep the Gators in the AP Top 25 next week despite their recent struggles. They previously squandered a 16-point second-half lead against Duke in the PK80 title game, got run off their home floor by 17 points against rival Florida State and dropped a stunner against unheralded Loyola (Chicago).
What had wrong for Florida? Their defense hasn’t been as formidable as the previous two years all season and their previously torrid 3-point shooting had gone cold. They went 8-for-44 from behind the arc in their losses against Florida State and Loyola.
Egor Koulechov (21 points) and Jalen Hudson (17 points) rediscovered their outside shooting strokes against Cincinnati, but it was point guard Chris Chiozza who made the biggest plays of the game. He scored the last six points of the game including a tie-breaking jumper that gave the Gators the lead for good with less than 90 seconds to play.
If the outcome was a relief for Florida, it was agony for Cincinnati. The Bearcats were trying to rebound from last weekend’s blowout loss to Xavier in their first game against a marquee opponent this season.
2. Deandre Ayton and Collin Sexton are good
We knew that already. But the the two projected lottery picks put on a show in Arizona’s 88-82 win over Alabama in Tucson. Neither team was ranked, but it didn’t look that way in a well-played, prime-time game that went down to the wire.
Ayton dominated. Arizona’s 7-footer, projected by many to be the top pick in next year’s NBA draft, had no match on the court. He cruised to 29 points and 18 rebounds on 12-of-18 shooting from the field.
Sexton, Alabama’s freshman guard, looked every bit the part of projected lottery pick with 30 points on a combination of distance shooting (3-for-6 on 3-pointers) and aggressive play that resulted in a whopping 15-of-16 performance from the free throw line. It was an impressive showing for a freshman in one of college basketball’s most intimidating road environments.
Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier, not to be outdone by his hyped younger counterparts, matched Sexton on the wing to the tune of 25 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds that also included a strong performance from the stripe (14-of-16).
A Wildcats team that started the season ranked No. 3 and promptly fell out of the rankings after three losses may be finding its footing. And Alabama looks like an NCAA Tournament team.
3. Jim Christian’s signature win is proof Boston College is ascending
While Duke showing its youth will be the major storyline that emerges from its 89-84 loss at Boston College, don’t forget to give the winning team some credit. Boston College has made some major strides after only winning a total of six ACC games in coach Jim Christian’s first three seasons.
The strength of this year’s Boston College team is its backcourt, and Eagles coach Jim Christian did a masterful job deploying those weapons against Duke. Again and again, Christian used high ball screens to get point guard Ky Bowman a mismatch against a Blue Devils big man. Again and again, Christian then asked Bowman to exploit that mismatch off the dribble and create for himself or his teammates.
Bowman scored 30 points on an array of driving layups and pull-up jump shots and also finished one assist shy of a triple-double. When help defense was late arriving, Bowman took advantage himself. When Duke’s defense collapsed on him, he’d kick out to Jerome Robinson or Jordan Chatman, who combined for 10 threes.
As a result of the unusual timing of the game, Boston College will be alone in first place in the ACC for the next couple weeks at 1-0. Don’t expect the Eagles to stay there — they lost their best big man to a season-ending injury and they probably don’t have enough frontcourt depth to contend for an NCAA bid.
But don’t expect Boston College to be the easy win it has been in years past either. Bowman and Robinson are among the better guards in the ACC, and Christian has the program slowly moving in an upward trajectory.
4. Atlantic 10 is down because two of its flagship programs are struggling
If the Atlantic 10 is going to avoid the embarrassment of only receiving a single NCAA bid this March, the league will probably have to do it without any help from its two biggest name-brand programs.
Neither Dayton nor VCU are performing like NCAA tournament teams so far this season.
Having lost its three leading scorers and its head coach this past offseason, Dayton was expected to take a step backward, but the Flyers appear to have fallen farther than expected. They’re now just 4-5 with zero top 100 victories after Saturday’s 78-70 home loss to Penn.
VCU isn’t in much better position after a coaching change and some similar roster transition during the offseason. The Rams (5-5) lost 90-67 at Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon and have nothing of note to show in conference play besides a decent win over Old Dominion.
Can the Atlantic 10 send two or more teams to the NCAA tournament if Dayton or VCU aren’t one of them? It’s possible, but it’s no lock. Preseason league favorite Rhode Island has largely lived up to expectations so far this season and St. Bonaventure has successfully weathered the early absence of star guard Jaylen Adams.
5. UCLA should be playing through Thomas Welsh more consistently
When UCLA examines why its finest defensive effort of the season still resulted in a 78-69 overtime loss at Michigan, the Bruins shouldn’t have too tough a time figuring out what went wrong. Their guards turned the ball over too often trying to make something happen off the dribble and their best player didn’t touch the ball often enough.
Sweet-shooting center Thomas Welsh scored 22 points on 12 shots, but he went long stretches of the game without any shots. He’s dependent on UCLA’s guards to get him the ball, whether on the low block for jump hooks or spotted up for perimeter pick-and-pop jump shots.
UCLA guards Aaron Holiday, Jaylen Hands and Prince Ali need to make a more concerted effort to get Welsh the ball in areas where he likes to score. Not only is he maybe UCLA’s most efficient scorer, he’s also a willing passer capable of creating for others.
Holiday, Hands and Ali are each capable of getting their own shots off the dribble, but the quality of looks UCLA generates improves when it plays through Welsh. Those three guards also combined for 14 of UCLA’s 20 turnovers on Saturday, a big reason why the game was still close enough for Michigan to make a late surge.
6. Wisconsin’s 19-year NCAA tournament streak is now on life support
Whatever slim chance Wisconsin had of extending its streak of consecutive NCAA tournament bids diminished rapidly on Saturday afternoon.
Not only did the Badgers fall to 4-7 with a one-sided home loss to Marquette, they also lost two key guards to injury.
Sophomore D’Mitrik Trice is scheduled to have surgery on his right foot Monday and won’t begin rehab for at least two weeks after the procedure. Freshman Kobe King is also out indefinitely with a left knee injury. Those are two of the more talented guards on a Wisconsin team that has struggled to find scorers capable of supporting elite big man Ethan Happ.
Freshman guard Brad Davison stepped up in the absence of Trice and King with a 20-point performance against Marquette, but the Badgers shot poorly from the perimeter once again and couldn’t stop the Golden Eagles’ high-powered offense. The Eagles shot 52.7 percent from the field and 14-for-22 from behind the arc en route to a blowout victory.
Wisconsin has now lost to every top 100 non-conference opponent on its schedule. To even play its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble, the Badgers might have to win 12 or 13 games in Big Ten play. Wisconsin has gone to the NCAA tournament every year since 1999.
7. USC needs DeAnthony Melton back
If USC has any chance to live up to its preseason top 15 ranking, the Trojans need to get suspended sophomore DeAnthony Melton back on the floor. The impact of Melton’s absence has been glaring the past two weeks as the Trojans (4-3) have suffered three consecutive losses against SMU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
What USC misses most about Melton most is the long-armed, quick-footed 6-foot-4 combo guard’s outstanding perimeter defense. Without him, the Trojans do not have a player capable of containing elite guards like Oklahoma’s Trae Young, SMU’s Shake Milton or Texas A&M’s Admon Gilder.
Not having Melton has also diminished USC’s effectiveness on offense too. Melton’s ability to initiate offense and serve as a secondary ball handler would inject some life into a USC offense that has gone stagnant for long stretches. His ability to force turnovers and grab-and-go on the defensive glass also helped fuel the Trojans in transition last season.
When will USC get Melton back? Only after the school’s compliance department is satisfied the Trojans would not be playing an ineligible player. Melton’s absence comes after USC assistant coach Tony Bland was arrested for allegedly accepting $13,000 in bribe money to steer players toward certain agents and financial advisers.
USC coach Andy Enfield told reporters Friday night that he feels Melton did nothing wrong but he’s unsure when the sophomore guard will be allowed to play. After watching his teammates drop their third straight, Melton left no doubt how he feels.
Just wanna hoop man
— DeanthonyMelton (@DeAnthonyMelton) December 9, 2017
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