We’re introducing a new weekly feature during the basketball season at UWDP, the Pac Hoops Need to Know. With roughly 700 college basketball games on the schedule every week, it’s tough for fans to keep up with what’s going on around the country. This mid-week post will give you a primer on what’s next for the Huskies, the Pac, and a few of the top teams in the country. Loyal readers might not be ready to take over for Jay Bilas, but at least they’ll be conversant at the proverbial water cooler.
The big news of the last week was UW’s win over #16 Baylor in Anchorage, AK to open the season. After a sloppy, frustrating first half, the Dawgs went on a second-half run fueled by excellent defense in their 2-3 zone. Naz Carter was the standout offensive performer with 23 points, including 4 made threes. As expected, Isaiah Stewart owned the paint and scored with his back to the basket and Jaden McDaniels scored efficiently from all over the floor. The win got the Huskies into the AP poll at #20, but they almost gave it back with a sloppy performance against Mount St. Mary’s, which required more second-half theatrics by Carter and Stewart to pull away down the stretch.
Coming off that ugly, workmanlike win at Hec-Ed, the Huskies will once again take a long flight over Canada for their next game. On Saturday afternoon, UW will take on Tennessee in the Naismith Classic from Toronto. While Tennessee is unranked, they will be another major challenge for the Dawgs. Last year’s Vols team ascended to the #1 ranking in the country behind Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Those stars are gone, but Rick Barnes still has balanced, smart squad. Senior Jordan Bowen is the classic scoring guard who is dangerous with the jumper or off the dribble. Senior Lamonte Turner is a prototypical point guard who tallied 14 assists last time out. 6’9 Junior John Fulkerson has an expanded role and leads the team in rebounding. Overall, the Vols play a deliberate offensive style that tries to get the ball in the paint for easy shots. KenPom currently rates them #23 in the country and UW will have to score more efficiently than they did against Mount St Mary’s to have a chance.
Looking to next week, the Dawgs return home to host Maine. Fortunately, this is a basketball game and not a hockey game. The Black Bears have a lot more success on the ice than the hardwood. They only rank 322 in KenPom, so that game shouldn’t create too many problems.
Three other Pac teams join the Huskies in the top 25- Oregon at 14, Arizona at 19, and Colorado at 25. Oregon faced the biggest challenge among that group and beat #13 Memphis 82-74 in Portland on Tuesday. Shakur Juiston, a grad transfer from UNLV, led the Ducks with a double-double, and Payton Pritchard also returns as a pest for the rest of the conference.
The Pac has been known in recent years for some embarrassing non-conference losses, but has dodged those bullets so far this year. WSU lost to Santa Clara in a close game, though SC is more competitive than many mid-major teams. UCLA had a nail-biter against Long Beach State that they ultimately won. The conference has more impressive wins than bad losses so far, headlined by Utah setting the largest-ever margin of victory at 143-49 against Mississippi Valley St. Oregon State’s win over Iowa State and Arizona’s blowout of Illinois are other solid wins to join the UW and Oregon victories mentioned earlier.
The most confounding and noteworthy team in the country so far has been Kentucky. They opened the season with a win over then #1 Michigan State behind an electrifying performance by Tyrese Maxey. On Tuesday, they dropped a home game to the lowly Evansville Purple Aces. You might think that this type of variability is symptomatic of a team full of true freshmen, but Calipari has only two freshmen (Maxey and Kahlil Whitney) among six players averaging at least 20 minutes per game.
Two other teams with notable success so far have been the tobacco road rivals Duke and North Carolina. The Blue Devils beat #3 Kansas to open the year and have a balanced roster with a decent amount of experience to support standout freshmen Cassius Stanley and Vernon Carey. Sophomore PG Tre Jones is the sort of controlled, smart offensive initiator who tends to take teams deep into the tournament. A few miles down the road, the Tar Heels feature their own thrilling PG- freshman Cole Anthony. The son of Greg Anthony has put up 34 and 20 with double-figure rebounds in each of his first two games and could play himself into contention for the top draft pick next spring.
Over the rest of the week, the Gavitt Games will pit some of the top Big Ten teams against the Big East, including Villanova vs. Ohio State and Michigan State against Seton Hall. This Friday, Gonzaga will travel to College Station to take on Buzz Williams and his Texas A&M squad. Many of the top teams will have the softer part of the non-conference schedule over the next couple weeks before holiday tournaments start.