Hoop Nation is back once again to check out all the goings-on for the NCAA basketball season. In this edition, we take a look at strong starts by Baylor and the Tar Heels, good things going down in South Carolina, what’s fueling Virginia’s hot play, and the unstoppable force of Kentucky. We’ve also added a “What to Watch” list of the some of the major upcoming matchups to keep you on top of everything hoops.
Baylor’s Hot Start: Baylor began its season getting left off of the major preseason polls. but, here we are in the fourth week of the season, and the Bears sit at No. 9 in the most recent poll. They even received one first-place vote! The Bears have been incredibly impressive in their victories over ranked teams such as, No. 23 Oregon (11/15), Michigan State (11/24), and No. 14 Louisville (11/25). Those last two came en route to winning the Battle 4 Atlantis championship. The Bears will be a team to look out for as the season progresses.
Kentucky Looks Unbeatable: Every season the Wildcats are a title contender, due to the fact that they get a great freshman class year in and year out. This year is no different, as the No. 1-ranked Wildcats have looked completely dominant in all of their games thus far defensively and offensively. They are currently averaging 95.6 points per game, while only allowing 65.0. They have the looks of the same UK group that almost went undefeated a couple of years ago. This team will really prove itself soon, as they play both Louisville and North Carolina in the coming weeks.
South Carolina Rides Good Defense: No. 20 South Carolina under Frank Martin has always been competitive and consistently competes in the SEC, but it always seems the Gamecocks slip up just enough in the end and miss the tournament. The Gamecocks are trying to change that this season. They were able to grab a few résumé builders this past week, the first of which came against Michigan (11/23) in what was an incredible defensive performance, allowing just 46 points. Then, SC topped No. 22 Syracuse (11/26) in Brooklyn, holding the Orange to only 50 points. Two incredible defensive performances against ranked teams has the Gamecocks looking to challenge Kentucky in the SEC.
North Carolina Takes Maui By Storm: The Maui Invitational is always incredibly entertaining. This year’s field was incredibly stacked with the likes of No. 3 North Carolina, Georgetown, No. 17 Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Oklahoma State. The tournament did not disappoint, and neither did the favored Tar Heels, as they coasted to the title with a 71-56 finals win over Wisconsin (11/23). This marks the third Maui win in the history of the Tar Heels’ program.
Gonzaga Wins the Advocare Invitational: No. 8 Gonzaga was one of the favorites to win the Advocare Classic going in, but the Bulldogs were going to have to make it through a tough No. 24 Florida team and a really good No. 19 Iowa State team to do so. Both games turned out to be very close and were very fun to watch. The Bulldogs were able to be sneak away with a 77-72 win in the semifinals over the Gators (11/25) and then took the championship with a tense 73-71 victory over the Cyclones (11/27).
Virginia’s Dominant Defense: Under coach Tony Bennett, No. 6-ranked Virginia is always one of the best — if not the best — defensive teams in the country. This year looks like it will be more of the same out of the Cavaliers. They are currently allowing opponents only 41.3 points per game. They were also able to coast to the Emerald Coast Classic Title, with their only real test coming against Providence in the final (11/26), where the Cavs picked up a 63-52 win.
Butler Runs the Table in Las Vegas: As has become theme so far, No. 18 Butler won itself an early season tournament. The Bulldogs did so by beating a very scrappy Vanderbilt team 76-66 (11/24), as well as well as taking down the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats (11/25) in the finals 69-65 to take the Las Vegas Invitational. Butler, along with No. 7 Xavier and No. 10 Creighton, should give defending champs (and current No. 2) Villanova all they can handle when we get around to conference play in the Big East.
Florida Impress Against Tough Competition: After struggling most of last year under new coach Mike White, Florida was looking to come out and rebuild into a powerhouse this year. The Gators have been able to pick up three very impressive wins over Belmont (11/21), Seton Hall (11/24), and Miami (FL) (11/27) so far. The Gators also looked solid in their only defeat so far: a 77-72 loss to Gonzaga (11/25). The Gators, along with South Carolina, look poised to have very special seasons in the SEC.
Big Injury Blow to Mississippi State: The Mississippi State Bulldogs weren’t going to compete at the top of the SEC this year, but they looked to improve last year’s work. Starting two freshman is something that is incredibly difficult, but now becomes even harder with the loss of star sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon, who will miss the rest of the year with torn wrist ligaments. Mississippi will now likely have to start three freshman. It could be another long season in Starkville, which makes this Bulldog sad.
Fort Wayne Snags Huge Upset: Fort Wayne, formerly IPFW, isn’t exactly known to be a great basketball program, as it has never made the NCAA tournament. No. 13 Indiana, on the other hand, is a prominent program in the history of college basketball. One would expect when these two schools face off, Indiana would come away with a dominant victory. On November 22, 2016 though, Fort Wayne was able to beat Indiana in overtime 71-68 for a staggering upset in the land of the Hoosiers.
What to Watch:
ACC/Big 10 Challenge Games (11/29-11/30)
St. Mary’s vs. Stanford (11/30)
Cincinnati vs. Iowa St. (12/1)
UCLA vs Kentucky (12/3)
West Virginia vs. Virginia (12/3)
Baylor vs. Xavier (12/3)
Rhode Island vs. Providence (12/3)
Gonzaga vs. Arizona (12/3)
Syracuse vs. UConn (12/5)
Florida vs. Florida St. (12/11)