Six days to prepare for a team, a mid-major one at that, and the Trojans can’t pull out the victory? Come on, that can’t happen to a school like USC. Army hadn’t beaten a Pac-12 team in 50 years until Saturday and USC was riding high on a four game winning streak. The fact that the Trojans couldn’t make it five in a row really disappointed a lot of people, but it wasn’t very surprising. Though the Black Knights aren’t a very talented team, they are coached well and in the end, the better coach won out. Zach Spiker is a rising head man in the industry and won the 2013 Patriot League Coach of the Year award. Andy Enfield might need to take some notes on his counterpart.
A positive that USC fans can take away from the game is that the Trojans are improving in transition. With this team, that’s good news since Enfield loves to get his teams out on the break. Earlier in the year, the Trojans turned it over a ton in transition — especially Jordan McLaughlin — and now they’re starting to get some points on the fast break. What the fast break does is it creates easy shots and doesn’t let the defense setup. USC isn’t exactly stupendous with half court sets so anytime the defense can’t set up, it’s good news for the Trojans.
Though McLaughlin has had some problems with turnovers in transition this season, he hasn’t had a problem scoring the basketball. He scored a career high 24 points on Saturday night and looks to be the best freshman point guard in the Pac-12. McLaughlin leads the Trojans in scoring averaging 14 points per game and is shooting about 41 percent from the field on the year. He’s taken the second most shots on the team and though this may seem ambitious from a freshman, it’s what the Trojans need from him. Katin Reinhardt has taken the most shots on the team, shooting a lowly 32 percent from the field. If the Trojans want to compete with some good teams in the Pac-12, that mark has to improve. Your best shooter can’t be shooting under 40 percent. One aspect of Reinhardt’s game that has improved immensely is his defense. Army guard Kyle Wilson must not have been impressed with Reinhardt’s defense as the junior dropped 30 points on Saturday. Even though Reinhardt wasn’t matched up on Wilson for the entirety of the game, if he’s is going to shoot below 35 percent from the field, he’s going to have to bring it on the defensive end. He didn’t do that against the Black Knights.
Nikola Jovanovic seems like he’s gotten comfortable with the players around him and he’s averaging close to a double-double now. He scored 14 points and brought down 13 rebounds adjacent Army. His Serbian counterpart Luis Gavrilovic had a bit of a rough game on Saturday as he was held scoreless and made a poor choice towards of the end of the game. After he had just secured an offensive rebound, instead of backing it out and running down the clock, Gavrilovic decided to put the ball back up and missed the contested layup. This play epitomizes where this team is at and shows how low their basketball IQ is. All good teams have players with high basketball IQ’s. Unfortunately for Enfield’s squad, the IQ level is very low and USC fans better hope it improves soon. If the players want any fans at their games, the IQ level is going to have to come up. Good coaching can only help that.
Top 25 Rankings
1. Kentucky (LW: 1)
Losing Alex Poythress is tough. Though the junior wasn’t scoring a ton of points and didn’t rank highly in any advanced metrics, he brought veteran leadership to this young team and that’s hard to replace. It wasn’t a problem against North Carolina on Saturday, but it could be one down the road. The excellent three point shooting masked his absence a little bit. With Poythress out for the year, Trey Lyles should see more playing time. The former 5-star recruit is a future first round draft pick and he has yet to play up to his potential. The Poythress injury could also clear some more time on the court for Tyler Ulis, seemingly everybody’s favorite player on this team. With Ulis in, one of the Harrison twins could slide to the three and Willie Caulie-Stein — now in the conversation for Naismith Player of the Year — could team up with Karl Towns to create a very solid starting five. It’s all up to Calipari, but if he wants to slide Ulis into that lineup, he’ll be putting a player out on the court who’s averaging 7.5 assists, 3 steals and shooting 50 percent from deep per 40 minutes, all tops on the team. That’s impressive for a point guard, but even more impressive considering he’s a freshman. The Wildcats should have no problem with UCLA on Saturday.
2. Duke (LW: 2)
3. Arizona (LW: 3)
Stanimal is a scary being. Watch out Pac-12, he’s coming for you in less than a month.
4. Wisconsin (LW: 5)
5. Kansas (LW: 10)
Saturday’s win against Utah was huge. The Utes are easily one of the best teams in the nation and although the Jayhawks did have home court advantage on (technically) a neutral court, the Utes gave Kansas a good run for its money. One thing that wasn’t too impressive was Kansas blowing a 21 point lead. Good teams don’t blow those kind of leads, but when you’re facing Utah, it’s not horrible. The Jayhawks got another big win against Georgetown earlier in the week, but learned after the game that Davonte Graham will miss at least a month with turf toe which is a pretty big blow to the depth of this team. Frank Mason will need to step up his play, increase his stamina, since he’ll be seeing a lot of the court, and there’s no doubt he’ll do this. He’s Frank Mason. He’s a bulldog. One player who has been a little disappointing this season is Wayne Seldon. The former McDonalds All-American is only averaging 9 points per game and gets ample time on the court to prove himself. Coming out of high school, he was projected as a first round draft pick, but that’s yet to show on the court. However, Seldon made the smart choice to stay in school and has lots of time to improve. With increased production from Seldon, this team could become elite, and even if they never get that kind of expected output from him, the Jayhawks will still sit in the top ten. Kansas has played the toughest schedule in the nation by far and only has one loss to show from it. That’s why the Jayhawks get the nod at number five this week.
6. Louisville (LW: 4)
The Cardinals drop two spots in this weeks rankings because of the lack of quality wins. Minnesota was an expected win and the victory against Ohio State was good, but Wisconsin and Kansas both have more quality wins than Louisville. The Cardinals will rise big time if they beat Kentucky in two weeks.
7. Gonzaga (LW: 8)
The Zags emerged with a solid win on Saturday against UCLA and might have the most complete roster in the nation. Kyle Wiltjer is another elite scoring threat on this team and when the Zags go inside out, they’ll knock down threes on you like no other. Gary Bell Jr. is shooting an absurd 47 percent from deep and Wiltjer is shooting 40 percent. Have fun guarding Karnowski and Sabonis on the inside and the deadly three point shooters on the outside. Though this is the most talented roster Mark Few has ever had, the Arizona loss might come back to bite them when it comes time to decide the number one seeds for the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has 21 games remaining on its schedule and every single one of those games — barring a few unforeseen victories — will be against an unranked team. The Zags won’t really move a ton in the rankings with a win, but with a loss, they could drop quite a bit. It’s a thin line to toe, but the Zags should only have one loss heading into the NCAA Tournament.
8. Villanova (LW: 6)
The wins against VCU and Michigan aren’t looking any better as the season goes on. Only reason the Wildcats drop this week.
9. Virginia (LW: 7)
The Cavaliers were idle this week and didn’t benefit from teams ranked lower than them playing well. Harvard should be a test come Sunday.
10. Texas (LW: 9)
11. Ohio State (LW: 11)
12. Utah (LW: 12)
The Utes won’t move up or down this week because although they lost to Kansas, it was a justifiable loss since the game was played in Kansas City. It was practically a home game for the Jayhawks and Utah nearly came out with the victory after being down by 21 points. Jordan Loveridge was still sidelined and the Utes only turned the ball over one time in the second half. That’s insane. You’ll rarely find that in college basketball these days, especially against an elite team like Kansas. One thing that was disappointing to see was how Utah handled the late game situation. Down three in overtime, with the ball and still possessing one timeout, Larry Krystowiak decided to let his kids play it out. A timeout probably should have been called there as the shot the Utes got was a corner three from Jakob Poeltl. Not ideal to say the least. At the end of regulation, the Utes had a shot to win it, but lacked the kind of player that just comes up with big time plays in big time situations. Delon Wright should be that guy, but he hasn’t consistently proved that yet. The Utes got a solid win over BYU earlier in the week and make no mistake, this Utah squad is one to be reckoned with. The Arizona-Utah game should be a battle come conference play.
13. Wichita State (LW: 13)
The Shockers had a quiet, but not easy week. They played Seton Hall, one of the most underrated teams in the nation and one that hadn’t lost up to that point, and Detroit, a pesky squad that has some talent. Wichita State is rolling after the close loss to Utah and Northern Iowa is the only team that stands in its way to an undefeated rest of the season.
14. Notre Dame (LW: 14)
15. Oklahoma (LW: 15)
Tulsa didn’t scare Oklahoma at all and the Sooners knocked off the Golden Hurricane by 20-plus points. This week presents a challenge though. Robert Upshaw and the Washington Huskies on Saturday in Las Vegas. The Ryan Spangler-Upshaw matchup should be a really fun one to watch. It’ll also be interesting to see how Mike Anderson does defending Buddy Hield. Shawn Kemp-TaShawn Thomas as well! Too many good battles to watch in this one. You should be glued to the TV set for this hard nosed, physical game.
16. Washington (LW: 21)
Most fans will look at Washington’s narrow win against Eastern Washington on Sunday as a bad win, but that couldn’t be any more wrong. It was actually a good win and the Huskies proved they deserve to be ranked in the top 20 as they came back from a double digit deficit. Robert Upshaw is the real deal and it would be very surprising not to see him start in this weeks games against Grambling State and Oklahoma. Entering Sunday’s game against EWU, Upshaw was averaging 20 points and 9 blocks per 40 minutes. That’s almost a double-double between points and blocks, which is nuts. Speaking of that matchup against Oklahoma, we’re all about to learn how good this team really is. The Huskies will have to prove it on the defensive end as the Sooners boast one of the best players in the nation, Buddy Hield, and bruising forward, TaShawn Thomas. Upshaw will have to handle Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler down low and Nigel Williams-Goss has a tough assignment in one of the best guards in the Big 12, Isaiah Cousins. The Oklahoma guard is averaging 13.4 points per game, good for second best on the team only behind Hield. It should be a fun Saturday night in Vegas.
17. Maryland (LW: 18)
Evan Smotrycz is back and that makes Terp fans very happy. Now only if Dez Wells could get back any sooner…
18. Iowa State (LW: 20)
19. St. Johns (LW: 19)
20. Georgetown (LW: 17)
The Hoyas only lost by five to Kansas this week, but center Josh Smith is starting to emerge as a real threat. The UCLA transfer scored 20 points against the Jayhawks and pulled down 5 rebounds. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this year and he’s slowly, but surely becoming the second best offensive player on this team behind guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who was held to just 10 points against the Jayhawks. Although the Hoyas have three losses on the year, each one of those defeats come to a team that has been inside the top 20 at one point this season. They don’t have many tough non-conference games left, but it should be fun to see the Hoyas battle in the Big East this year.
21. San Diego State (LW: 22)
22. Miami (LW: 24)
23. Arkansas (LW: 23)
24. Michigan State (LW: NR)
Well, well, well, look who we have here. Once again, Michigan State finds its way into the rankings, despite three losses on the year. The Spartans lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage and have only lost to top 15 teams in Duke, Notre Dame and Kansas. Michigan State doesn’t face a challenging opponent out of conference for the rest of the regular season, but the Big Ten should provide the Spartans with plenty of challenges. Tom Izzo is an experienced head man and it’ll be interesting to see how he does with a young team that’s progressing by the day.
25. West Virginia (LW: 25)
Added: Michigan State