(NOTE: All rankings in the recaps (e.g., “(#1) Indiana”) reflect the updated rankings, not the rankings of the teams going into that day’s games. Hope that makes sense.)
The Most Notable Game: (#54) Baylor 64, (#87) Kentucky 55
Kentucky (4-3, 0-0) has a lot of questions to answer very early in the season. The most important of them is whether John Calipari’s penchant for youngsters is finally catching up with him. This is the first time since 2008 that Coach Cal hasn’t had a true-freshman floor general the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, or Marquis Teague, but Archie Goodwin looks to be stepping into that role. While Goodwin had a good game against Baylor (5-2, 0-0) on Saturday (17 points, six rebounds, and five assists), Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer combined to shoot 4-for-25. As a team, the Cats shot under 30% from the field, and only made 9 of their 18 free throws. This is a very young squad that does not have a lot of time to figure things out. The only good win that Calipari has on the year was in the opener against (#43) Maryland, and even that came in a struggle. It could be a long year in Lexington if the young guns keep misfiring.
Baylor, on the other hand, answered a few questions of their own Saturday, taking down Kentucky in Rupp Arena – never an easy task (see: UK’s just-snapped 55-game home winning streak). All of the Bears’ starters were in double figures, and PG Pierre Jackson made up for some sloppy play (7 TO) with a solid stat line of 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals. The loss to (#93) Charleston is looking like a fluke, while their only other slip-up was a loss to (#37) Colorado, who was enjoying an undefeated season until Saturday (more on that below). For the time being, it seems like fans can breathe easy in Waco.
A Couple Major-Conference Teams Who Could Be Legit: (#8) Minnesota, (#13) Virginia Tech
Minnesota (8-1, 0-0), as expected, drubbed (#291) North Florida on Saturday, 87-59. (#11) Duke remains their only blemish on the season so far. The Gophers are rebounding and distributing their scoring very well, and they seem to have a rotation that goes eight- or nine-deep under head coach Tubby Smith, who is no stranger to basketball success. Early wins over (#110) Memphis, (#98) Florida State, (#92) Stanford and (#69) Richmond suggest that Minnesota will be a handful in the Big Ten this season – although (#4) Michigan, (#27) Ohio State, and (#58) Michigan State will all have something to say about that. Conference play is where the Gophers have struggled in the past, but they have a solid core of players in Minneapolis (Rodney Williams, Jr., Austin Hollins, and Trevor Mbakwe, to name a few) who could push them over the top this year.
Senior point guard Erick Green and Virginia Tech (7-0, 0-0) are off to an undefeated start after handing (#46) Oklahoma State (5-1, 0-0) their first loss on Saturday in Blacksburg. Green, the only senior on the team, is their undisputed leader and has the Hokies hitting on all cylinders. His 28 points and seven rebounds negated a strong performance from the other point guard on the court: the Cowboys’ star freshman, Marcus Smart. Virginia Tech was picked to finish 10th in the ACC this season, but they are playing well above those predictions. If Green can keep Virginia Tech at this level, we’ll be watching the Hokies in mid-March.
A Couple Mid-Major Schools to Keep an Eye On: (#7) Wyoming, (#56) Illinois State
The Mountain West is going to be a tough, tough conference this year. With (#24) UNLV, (#15) New Mexico, and (#42) San Diego State all nationally-ranked, and (#17) Colorado State receiving votes, the team that I can’t take my eyes off of is Wyoming (8-0, 0-0). The Cowboys are turning out to be a force to be reckoned with, and they have Laramie buzzing. Forwards Leonard Washington and Larry Nance, Jr. are behind the din, and Washington – nicknamed “The Boss” – is looking like a conference POY candidate early on. He is stepping up in big situations, and he can shoot and rebound with anyone, and he plays defense, too. A great game against a previously-undefeated Colorado (6-1, 0-0) squad (who, as I said, has a win over Baylor) kept Wyoming undefeated and has them looking like legitimate contenders in what is fast becoming one of the best conferences in college basketball. The kid below could have a lot to cheer for this year.
Elsewhere, Illinois State (5-2, 0-0) showed on Saturday that they can play with the big boys. I had my doubts early on this year when they crept up in the DPI Top 20, but their performance against (#20) Lousiville (6-1, 0-0) – one in which they led for a large portion of the game – was eye-opening. Their only other loss was to (#65) Northwestern, who is looking pretty solid thus far. Jackie Carmichael has been a force in the post for the Redbirds, and guard Tyler Brown has been coming on strong the last few games. These guys were a buzzer-beater away from taking Rick Pitino’s team to overtime in Louisville. Take note, (#22) Creighton and (#12) Wichita State – the Missouri Valley Conference is going to be more than a two-team race this year.
(#1) Indiana (8-0, 0-0) is really, really good. Need I say more?
What to Watch on Sunday (15 games total):
(#43) Maryland @ (#102) George Mason
(#18) California @ (#77) Wisconsin
(#12) Wichita State @ (#66) Air Force