By Kyle Beery
While you were busy stuffing your face, visiting with family, and watching football, it may have been easy to forget about the glory that we know as “Feast Week.”
Over the last 10 days, there were a lot of good college basketball teams in action, and a whole lot of good games. While there is nearly the entire season left to go, we learned a lot about where teams are at in the early going.
This is your home for a snapshot of what college basketball looks like following Feast Week. I’ll be grading each team in the power conferences, plus a handful of mid-major teams. Here’s a look at the Pac-12
Best win: vs. Cal State Bakersfield, 91-57
Worst loss: vs. NC State, 90-84 (Battle 4 Atlantis)
This may be the most dramatic early season drop off we’ve ever seen. The Wildcats went from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to out of the poll in a matter of one week. Arizona had a horrible trip to the Bahamas, losing three straight games in the Battle 4 Atlantis, all against teams that are now unranked, though Purdue entered the tournament ranked 19th before losing it first two games.
The Cats’ downfall started when they made just 2 of 17 three-point attempts in the tournament opener against NC State. Things boiled over when they again relied too heavily on the three (5-for-20) against SMU. By the time they faced the Boilermakers, the Wildcats were rattled and couldn’t overcome a more poised Purdue team.
Don’t let this fool you, though. Arizona is still a very talented team. Freshman DeAndre Ayton was one of the top recruits of this freshman class. Allonzo Trier can score like no one’s business. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is an experienced player too. The Wildcats should rebound and beat some good teams over the course of the season. But they’ll need to step it up when they face a pair of ranked SEC teams (No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 24 Alabama) next week and work these kinks out before opening Pac-12 play against in-state foe No. 20 Arizona State.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Best win: vs. No. 15 Xavier, 102-86 (Las Vegas Invitational)
Worst loss: none
The highest ranked Pac-12 team comes from Arizona, it’s just not the one we all expected. Arizona State won the Las Vegas Invitational and notched a quality win along the way. Tra Holder scored 40 points in the win over Xavier, officially putting the Sun Devils on the map as an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
It remains to be seen whether they’re just an early-season flash in the pan, but Holder (23.3 PPG) and Shannon Evans II (19.5) have scored at a clip that makes me think otherwise. Romello White and De’Quon Lake are a pretty good tandem in the post and Bobby Hurley looks like he’s got a good thing going on in Tempe.
Cal Golden Bears
Best win: vs. Wofford, 79-65
Worst loss: vs. Chaminade (DII), 96-72 (Maui Invitational)
The Bears were the first team to lose to Maui Invitational host, DII Chaminade, since Texas in 2011, a team that ended up as an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cal would be lucky to even come close to NCAA Tournament discussions this year.
The Golden Bears hung around with No. 6 Wichita State in the tournament opener, but it was all downhill from there. They got blown out in each of the next two games, including against Chaminade. And let’s not forget to mention a bad loss to UC Riverside in the season opener. It’s going to be a long year in Berkeley.
Best win: vs. Mercer, 79-70 (Paradise Jam)
Worst loss: none
Colorado has won each of its first six games, though none of them have been very impressive. You could say beating Mercer in the finals of a holiday tournament is a decent win, but it was a very weak field.
Nonetheless, life without Derrick White (18.1 PPG last season) is going rather smoothly for the Buffs. Three players are averaging double figures, led by George King (16 PPG, 8.8 RPG). Colorado ranks just inside the top 100 in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency, but again their schedule has been something of a cupcake, ranking 305 in kenpom’s rankings.
Best win: vs. DePaul, 89-79 (PK80 Invitational)
Worst loss: vs. UConn, 71-63 (PK80 Invitational)
Oregon lost a lot from its Final Four team a year ago. No more Dillon Brooks. No more Jordan Bell. No more Tyler Dorsey or Chris Boucher. Ouch. So a transition period is to be expected for the Ducks. Payton Pritchard and New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown have picked up some of the slack and have played pretty well through seven games.
This is a team still looking to find its identity. There are worse early season losses than UConn and Oklahoma out there. Oregon can easily recover from this, but it will continue to search for someone to fill the void in the paint left by Bell and Boucher.
Oregon State Beavers
Best win: vs. Long Beach State, 89-81
Worst loss: vs. Long Beach State, 74-69 (Advocare Invitational)
The Beavers lost each of their first two games in the Advocare Invitational and showed that they’re still a ways away from competing for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Beyond Tres Tinkle (one of the best names in college basketball), the Beavers don’t have much to boast. The good news in Corvallis is that the Beavers have a pretty easy remaining schedule before getting into Pac-12 play. The bad news is, not many of them are guaranteed wins.
Best win: vs. Northeastern, 73-59
Worst loss: vs. Eastern Washington, 79-71
The Cardinal showed a little resiliency by beating Northeastern on the heels of a bad loss against EWU. But they have lost four straight since. Granted, two of them were against AP top 10 teams and another solid team in Ohio State. But losing to Portland State to wrap of the PK80 Invitational is not a good way to end the holiday.
Stanford ranks outside the top 100 in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s okay. But it’s not okay when your strength of schedule ranks outside the top 250. It’s going to be a long year for the Cardinal.
Best win: vs. Missouri, 77-59
Worst loss: vs. UNLV, 85-58 (MGM Grand Main Event)
Though the Utes have played a pretty weak schedule (257th, according to kenpom), they have put up some pretty good numbers, ranking 55th in kenpom’s overall rankings. Utah is averaging 80 points per game led by five guys in double figures and holding opponents to 66 per game.
After an up-and-down 2016-17 campaign that saw the Utes’ season come to an end in the first round of the NIT, expectations were a little low in Salt Lake City, as they were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. So far, Utah hasn’t done anything overly impressive, but they have played some sound basketball — save the loss against UNLV — and with the state most of the conference is in, the Utes may be able to play their way into bubble conversations by the end of the year. A long ways to go, but it’s not out of the question.
Best win: vs. Wisconsin, 72-70 (Hall of Fame Classic)
Worst loss: vs. Creighton, 100-89 (Hall of Fame Classic)
We all know what a nightmare LiAngelo Ball and two teammates caused for the Bruins program in China right before the season tipped off. While the three freshmen were expected to play fairly significant minutes for the Bruins this season, UCLA hasn’t looked all that bad, even after losing Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf to the NBA. 100 points is a lot to give up to Creighton, but the Bluejays are making a name for themselves, ranking 25th in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll.
This team can run and it can put up a lot of points. We all knew Aaron Holiday would be an important player, and thus far he has been. But 7-foot senior Thomas Welsh has been one of the most important guys on the team, averaging a double-double and posting a 49.2 effective field goal percentage (a kenpom formula that gives extra weight to made three-pointers). UCLA may not be as good as it was a year ago, but this team is still one of the top three in the Pac-12 without a doubt.
Best win: @ Vanderbilt, 93-89 (OT)
Worst loss: vs. Texas A&M, 75-59
After a couple good recruiting classes and last year’s surprise performance in the NCAA Tournament — and let’s be honest, also Arizona’s sputtering start — the Trojans have emerged as the favorite in the Pac-12. The home loss to Texas A&M is a disappointment for Andy Enfield’s team, but he has a trio in Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and Jordan McLaughlin that can do it all.
All three guys are averaging at least 14 points and five rebounds, and McLaughlin is running the point well with 5.6 assists per game. He also has a team-high 54.5 eFG% and went off for 35 points in the OT win at Vanderbilt. USC and UCLA have quite the storied rivalry in football, but mark your calendars for Feb. 3 and March 3 when these two square off because they’re sure to be a pair of entertaining games, especially after the Trojans knocked off a top-10 Bruins team a year ago, officially rekindling the rivalry.
Jordan McLaughlin with ice in his veins!#USC and Vanderbilt are heading to overtime. pic.twitter.com/eKoCc4FvUF
— Max Meyer (@TheMaxMeyer) November 20, 2017
Best win: vs. Belmont, 86-82
Worst loss: vs. Virginia Tech, 103-79 (2K Classic)
Expectations were not high for the Huskies entering this season, as they were picked to finish 10th in the league in the preseason media poll. Washington has failed to deliver a decent win in its only two opportunities against Providence and Virginia Tech.
Jaylen Nowell has been pretty impressive in the early going, averaging a team-high 18 points per game. But the Huskies’ defense has been a liability. It’s lowest points allowed total on the season was 69 against Eastern Washington, who has scored that many points in just one other game against a DI opponent in seven games. 5-2 is not a bad start for the Huskies, but things are about to get tough with back-to-back games against top-15 opponents (Kansas and Gonzaga) on the docket next week.
Washington State Cougars
Best win: vs. No. 21 Saint Mary’s, 84-79 (Wooden Legacy)
Worst loss: none
Picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Cougars are one of just three remaining undefeated teams in the conference. Sure, the schedule hasn’t been very tough, but beating a Saint Mary’s team that is threatening to dethrone Gonzaga in the WCC is a pretty good win.
The Cougars don’t have a very tough schedule throughout the rest of non-conference play, so it will be tough to get a true gauge on what they’re all about until we get into the Pac-12 schedule. Robert Franks and Malachi Flynn are combining to average more than 36 points per game, but Washington State isn’t too deep beyond those two players. Franks has been impressive from long distance with a 48.5 three-point percentage and an eFG% of 62. We’ll wait and see how they fare against more stiff competition, though.
Check back soon for more conference report cards: Big Ten | Big East
All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.