Commentary

College hoops headlines early on

Credit: Lance King/Getty Images

College basketball is no newcomer to upsets, buzzer beaters and filthy dunks, and being just a third of the way through the season, we’ve already seen all the above.

But we’re used to those exhilarating moments — they’re a part of hoops.

What we’re not used to is three top-10 powerhouses each losing a few games in a row, a three-on-five contest or an NBA star playing in college.

Here are a few of the stranger things in NCAAM so far:

Arizona struggling early

Sean Miller’s Wildcats started the 2017-18 slate No. 2 in the nation, coming off a Sweet 16 finish the season prior. A 3-0 cap in a week’s span rapidly flipped 180 degrees to a 3-3 mark after Nov. 22-24, when Arizona was swept in the Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. The three losses came in as many days to NC State, SMU and Purdue and saw Miller’s team fall out of the top-25 rankings.

Coming into the season, Arizona returned a trio of guards in Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins and Second Team All Pac-12 honoree, Allonzo Trier. JC led the team in assists last year while Alkins was tied for third in scoring and Trier paced the way with 17.2 ppg. Also consider freshman Brandon Randolph, an ESPN top-40 recruit, and freshman 7-footer Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall prospect of 2017. The talent is there, no arguing that. But in the losses, the Wildcats shot just 19 percent from deep while opponents shot 42 percent, and offensive production relied solely on Trier and Ayton until the Purdue game.

It’s a long season, of course, and Miller and company will continue to turn their season around as they’re currently riding a four-game win streak including a confidence-boosting victory over No. 7 Texas A&M which bumped them back to a No. 23 spot in this week’s ranking.

Crimson Tide played with three guys

A second-half altercation on Nov. 25 between Alabama and Minnesota resulted in the entire ‘Bama bench getting ejected for stepping onto the court, a violation of NCAA rules. The Tide was then left with five players with 13:34 remaining in the game. Two minutes later, Dazon Ingram fouled out, leaving Alabama with four bodies. But it got worse. Less than a minute later, John Petty exited the game with an injury, and the Tide had just three guys for the final 10:50 of the Barclays Center Classic championship. They lost the match a respectable 89-84, but managed to outscore the Golden Gophers 30-24 with just a triplet of players. A major takeaway from the game was Alabama freshman guard Collin Sexton whose 40 points, six assists and five rebounds has him in the discussion as the country’s best point guard. His monster performance even caught the attention of a future hall of fame NBA guard.

Gators and Jayhawks briefly sink with multiple losses

Now No. 22 Florida was 5-0 through a handful of games including a double-overtime win over then No. 12 Gonzaga. Scoring wasn’t a problem as the Gators were putting up 102.6 points a night and hit 61 threes on 47 percent shooting. A hot start, evidently. Florida has been a profoundly perimeter-based team over the past five years or so, often attaching itself to the phrase “live by the three, die by the three.” That showed over the next four games. Head coach Mike White’s group shot just 28 percent from deep over their following 160 minutes on the court, losing three straight before knocking off No. 17 Cincinnati. And though guard play is crucial come March Madness, the Gators’ top four leading scorers are guards, three of which have attempted at least 46 triples this season. If this team has one off game from the perimeter in postseason play, it could be a short run to the Final Four.

Big-12 powerhouse Kansas, formerly No. 2 and now No. 13, took down No. 8 Kentucky in mid-November before winning another five straight to jump to 7-0. The Jayhawks were then shocked at home with back-to-back losses to a pair of Pac-12 schools. Washington got the first taste of victory in Lawrence, KS before No. 5 Arizona State, previously No. 16, rattled off a 95-85 win on Sunday. The Sun Devils poured in 58 second-half points in the contest, prompting Bill Self to say this team is the softest he’s had since he’s been at Kansas — he’s in his 15th season, for the record. Not a good sign for the Jayhawks who typically defend home court, as they had a 54-game winning streak over the past couple years before Iowa State downed them last season on Feb. 4. With five players posting double-digit scoring for Kansas, scoring won’t be a problem, and neither will defense as opponents are hovering around 66 points a game. But toughness and grit is what Self is looking for from his team which will be looking to make a deep postseason run come Spring 2018.

2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year – Marvin Bagley III

OK, he’s not in the NBA yet, but if he was in the Eastern Conference right now, Marvin Bagley III would be an All Star. Don’t @ me. The 6-foot-11 freshman phenom is averaging 21.3 points and an absurd 11.5 boards per game, leading Duke in both categories. Oh, and he’s shooting 61 percent from the floor (insert palm-to-face emoji). His awareness around the basket and ability to track the ball is insane and his soft touch is a key reason to his high shooting rate. The Phoenix, Ariz. native had an eye-popping 34-point, 15-rebound game against Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns. Bagley will likely be the No.1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, especially with Michael Porter Jr. being out for the season, giving scouts and GM’s limited chances to see Porter play. But back to Bagley who will have numerous opportunities to showcase his talent as now No. 4 Duke has a handful of televised primetime games this season. The Blue Devils will be a top seed come March, led by Bagley, freshman guard Trevon Duval and senior swingman Grayson Allen. Can’t forget the GOAT Mike Krzyzewski leading the pack from the sideline.

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