- Basketball recruiting insider.
- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Graduate of University of Delaware.
All the complaints about a quiet first week of the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season quickly disappeared over the past seven days, with blockbuster games seemingly every night, including the Champions Classic, Gonzaga at Texas and the Continental Tire Classic. And can you remember a Sunday quadruple-header featuring games like Virginia vs. Illinois, Baylor vs. UCLA, Kentucky at Gonzaga and Houston at Oregon … in November?!
This is the jump-start the campaign needed, and it won’t slow down this week, with Feast Week in full swing. The Maui Invitational kicks off Monday, the Battle 4 Atlantis starts Wednesday and the absolutely loaded Phil Knight Invitational and Phil Knight Legacy events get going on Thursday.
Here are a couple of things from each event that will impact next week’s Power Rankings:
Maui Invitational: It will be the first time this season that the three best teams in the field are going to be seriously tested. Creighton, Arkansas and Arizona have combined to play exactly one program ranked inside the top 150 at KenPom. It’s also a chance for San Diego State to rack up some statement wins for its résumé. And the big question: Will Nick Smith Jr. finally make his debut for the Razorbacks?
Battle 4 Atlantis: Kansas enters this tournament as the favorite, but does Tennessee look more like the team that throttled Gonzaga in the preseason or the one that lost in Nashville to Colorado last week? The other thing worth monitoring is how Dayton looks now that the Flyers are at full strength.
Phil Knight Invitational: North Carolina is the team to beat here, but will Villanova show signs of life out in Portland, Oregon? The bottom half of the bracket is wildly intriguing too: UConn, Oregon, Alabama, Michigan State. UConn and Alabama look the part but need to show it, while Michigan State had as good a week as anyone in college basketball.
Phil Knight Legacy: There are a few teams with a lot to prove in this one. Favorites Duke and Gonzaga both suffered a loss last week, while Xavier is hoping to show it belongs in the top-25 conversation, despite its loss to Indiana. How good is Purdue this season? Can Florida find some consistency?
Onto this week’s awards and rankings.
Team of the Week: Virginia Cavaliers
In a strictly on-court sense, Virginia would be the pick. Victories over Baylor and Illinois to win the Continental Tire Main Event would give them the nod anyway. But to do what they did in their first games after the shooting in Charlottesville that left three Cavaliers football players dead and the emotion involved in the trip out to Las Vegas? The Cavaliers deserve to be the team of the week. They honored the victims prior to tip on Friday, holding a moment of silence and wearing shirts with the football players’ names written on the back and “UVA Strong” on the front. “We played for them today,” Virginia guard Armaan Franklin said after the win versus Baylor. “We played for the whole Charlottesville community.”
On the floor, Virginia is looking much more balanced and versatile offensively than it was last season, with Reece Beekman taking a step forward, Franklin finding his shooting stroke and Kadin Shedrick and Ben Vander Plas giving Tony Bennett some more frontcourt presence. They’ve moved all the way into the top five of our rankings.
Player of the Week: Jalen Wilson, Kansas Jayhawks
There were other great candidates, of course. We’ll get to Terrence Shannon Jr. in a little bit, and Adama Sanogo and Trayce Jackson-Davis have been dominant too. But Wilson is looking like the star of a potential Final Four team. He developed into Kansas’ go-to guy before our eyes in Tuesday’s win against Duke, finishing with 25 points (on 26 shots), 11 rebounds and five assists and looking aggressive and confident late in the game when the Jayhawks needed some answers offensively. He upped his game against Southern Utah on Friday, going for 33 points, six boards and four assists. Wilson has been one of the best players in America through two weeks.
Win of the Week: Texas Longhorns 93, Gonzaga Bulldogs 74
Texas went into last season with tons of hype. The Longhorns hired Chris Beard, who hit the transfer portal and landed perhaps the most highly touted transfer class of all time. But all the new players never quite clicked. This season, with those athletes a year older and mixed in with a few choice newcomers, that hasn’t been an issue. The Longhorns had as good a performance as we’ve seen all season, dominating Gonzaga from start to finish en route to a 19-point win in Austin. They forced 20 turnovers, made 13 3s, shot nearly 64% inside the arc and really bothered Gonzaga’s guards. If Texas’ offense is going to produce at this clip moving forward, combined with the typical Beard defensive prowess, the Longhorns are going to be a top-five team for a long time.
Coach of the Week: Tom Izzo, Michigan State Spartans
About 10 minutes into Michigan State’s loss to Gonzaga a couple of weeks ago, it was clear the Spartans were underrated entering the season — even if they ended up losing to the Bulldogs. Michigan State went into the Champions Classic as the lone team ranked outside the top 10 but knocked off Kentucky in double overtime. The Spartans followed that up with a home win over Villanova, hanging on in the final minute for a really nice week of victories. Izzo has done a great job getting the A.J. Hoggard-Tyson Walker backcourt working, as well as bringing the best out of Mady Sissoko against Drew Timme and Oscar Tshiebwe. But the coach gets the award this week mostly due to this play:
Michigan State | EOG Full Court Special
COACHING MASTERCLASS FROM TOM IZZO pic.twitter.com/Cm7DTtxKSw
Three teams with questions
South Carolina Gamecocks: Not much was expected of South Carolina in Lamont Paris’ first year in Columbia, but the Gamecocks just got swept at the Charleston Classic and looked barely competitive in two of their three defeats. Five-star recruit and potential first-round draft pick G.G. Jackson is producing, but he doesn’t have nearly enough help.
Washington State Cougars: It feels like we could put a new Pac-12 team in this section every week. But Washington State lost by 11 at Prairie View A&M on Tuesday, only a few days after falling at Boise State — the same Boise State with losses to South Dakota State and Charlotte this season. Mouhamed Gueye and Justin Powell combining for 10 points on 13 shots against the Panthers just won’t cut it.
TCU Horned Frogs: TCU played with fire the first two games of the season, barely surviving Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the opener and struggling with Lamar before winning. Then the Horned Frogs lost at home to Northwestern State. They bounced back against Louisiana Monroe, but this is not the team that we had ranked in the top 20 last month. They need Mike Miles Jr. and Damion Baugh. Badly.
1. Houston Cougars (5-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Kent State (Saturday)
Another week, another new potential option emerging for Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars. ESPN 100 recruit Terrance Arceneaux was one of the best pure scorers in the 2022 class, with the size and three-level ability to play at the next level. With so many perimeter players returning, though, Arceneaux had only really flashed once this season, going for 14 points and three 3s against Oral Roberts on Monday. Until Sunday night at Oregon. In the first half, Marcus Sasser was 0-for-3, Tramon Mark was 0-for-2 and Jarace Walker had two fouls. Up stepped Arceneaux, who had 10 points and four rebounds in 10 first-half minutes, en route to 15 points and three 3s in the Cougars’ 10-point victory.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Phil Knight Invitational (first game: vs. Portland on Thursday)
Outside of the second half against Charleston, North Carolina hasn’t quite gotten it rolling on the offensive end just yet, particularly in perimeter shooting and offensive rebounding. The Tar Heels are shooting 28.8% from 3 through four games and haven’t made more than 32% of their attempts in any contest. R.J. Davis and Caleb Love are a combined 11-for-47 from behind the arc. And although it’s still early, UNC has its lowest offensive rebounding percentage since KenPom’s database began in 1997. Armando Bacot grabbing eight offensive boards (and a career-high 23 total rebounds) on Sunday could kick-start his team on the glass, though.
3. Texas Longhorns (3-0)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Northern Arizona (Monday), vs. UT Rio Grande Valley (Saturday)
We discussed Texas’ win over Gonzaga earlier, so let’s focus on the Tyrese Hunter-Marcus Carr backcourt. This is a duo who had question marks over compatibility entering the season. But Hunter and Carr have figured out a balance that has worked so far, and they continued their fantastic first-week start against the Zags, with Hunter scoring 26 points and Carr finishing with 16 points and seven assists. Through three games, the former transfers are combining to average 41.0 points, 7.0 assists, 3.0 steals — and making more than three 3s per game.
4. Virginia Cavaliers (4-0)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (Friday)
Tony Bennett spoke glowingly of Reece Beekman in the offseason, saying he wanted him to do two things over the summer — add some physicality and get better from the perimeter — and Beekman went out and attacked both areas. And it’s showing. Beekman, one of the nation’s elite defensive players, has clearly taken strides offensively. He had 10 points and 10 assists in the win over Baylor on Friday, making both of his 3-point attempts. He then finished with 17 points against Illinois and was the catalyst in the final minutes. Oh, and he also helped slow down the Fighting Illini’s Terrence Shannon Jr. and, late in the Baylor game, Keyonte George.
5. Kansas Jayhawks (4-0)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Battle 4 Atlantis (first game: vs. NC State on Wednesday)
All the attention so far this season has been on Jalen Wilson, and rightfully so, as he has been awesome. But junior point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. deserves more, given his high-level play at both ends of the floor. Remember, this is a guy who started 39 games last season — on a national championship team. He has shouldered a bigger role offensively this season while still not sacrificing his defensive ability. As a facilitator, Harris has totaled 25 assists to just four turnovers, and he has scored in double figures twice in four games, including 14 much-needed points in Friday’s win over Southern Utah.
6. Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-1)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Phil Knight Legacy (first game: vs. Portland State on Thursday)
The Zags felt both ends of the spectrum this past week, getting pummeled by Texas in Austin by 19 points on Wednesday then handling Kentucky with relative ease on Sunday, winning by 16. The biggest difference between the two games was Drew Timme getting help on the offensive end and Gonzaga not allowing Kentucky to get free finishes at the rim or in transition. Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton combined for 44 points and seven 3s against the Wildcats after totaling 24 points and going 7-for-16 from the field versus Texas. It helped that Kentucky shot just less than 50% inside the arc after Texas shot nearly 64%.
7. Creighton Bluejays (4-0)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Maui Invitational (first game: vs. Texas Tech on Monday)
It’s time for Creighton to put its newfound offensive prowess to the test as it heads to Maui to face Texas Tech, followed by a potential matchup with Arkansas then likely one of Arizona or San Diego State. That’s quite a step up from the Bluejays’ first four opponents. But since struggling for the majority of their season opener, the Bluejays have scored at least 80 points in three straight games and registered at least 1.22 points per possession. Ryan Kalkbrenner averaged 19.3 points and 6.0 boards in the three most recent contests, and Ryan Nembhard totaled 27 assists and just two turnovers over Creighton’s four outings.
8. Michigan State Spartans (3-1)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Phil Knight Invitational (first game: vs. Alabama on Thursday)
The backcourt duo of Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard are creating tons of issues for opponents through the first couple of weeks of the season. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hoggard has taken on more of a playmaking role, averaging over eight assists so far — including 10 against Villanova on Friday. His size, physicality and one-on-one ability make him nearly impossible to keep out of the lane. Walker, meanwhile, keeps defenders off-balance with his ability to pull up quickly or get by his defender. He also is unafraid to take big shots. The former Northeastern transfer had 22 against Nova.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: vs. Lindenwood (Friday)
While Terrence Shannon Jr. had his struggles with Virginia’s defense, his performance against UCLA on Friday was one of the best we’ve seen so far this season. Shannon finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, and he shot 8-for-9 from 3. To put that into perspective, according to ESPN Stats & Information, only two players over the past 25 seasons have had 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight 3s in a top-25 matchup: Trae Young in 2018 and Shannon on Friday. Don’t forget, that performance by Shannon came after he dropped 30 against Monmouth on Monday.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-0)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Little Rock (Wednesday), vs. Jackson State (Friday)
Amid all the blockbuster games last week, Indiana’s road win versus Xavier shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s a victory that should look better and better as the season progresses — and it also was, as the Indy Star’s Zach Osterman pointed out on Twitter, Indiana’s first true nonconference road win over a top-40 KenPom team in exactly 21 years. Twenty-one years! Indiana! Just a remarkable stat. Trayce Jackson-Davis was dominant against the Musketeers, finishing with 30 points and six boards, and he then came back against Miami (Ohio) on Sunday for 17 points and 16 rebounds.
11. Baylor Bears (4-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. McNeese State (Wednesday)
Baylor split its outings in Las Vegas, losing to Virginia on Friday but bouncing back with a win on Sunday over UCLA. The big standouts from the desert? Scott Drew’s veteran guards. LJ Cryer is clearly healthy again after missing much of last season injured, totaling 67 points and shooting 11-for-20 from 3 range over the past three games. Adam Flagler had 22 points and four assists against UCLA, including a couple of tough buckets late to seal the win. But Baylor needs a lot more from Jalen Bridges; the West Virginia transfer didn’t make a single shot in two games, scoring just two points.
12. Duke Blue Devils (3-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Bellarmine (Monday), Phil Knight Legacy (first game: vs. Oregon State on Thursday)
We’re getting closer to seeing a full-strength Duke team, but we’re not quite there yet. Former No. 1 high school recruit Dereck Lively II missed the first game of the season and came off the bench for the next two, before moving into the starting lineup against Delaware — but playing only 15 minutes and fouling out. Dariq Whitehead, the No. 2 recruit, made his season debut against the Blue Hens on Friday after undergoing foot surgery in late August. He came off the bench but made the most of his time, taking 11 shots in 15 minutes. He has the mentality to be a go-to guy offensively, though, so early aggressiveness isn’t a huge surprise.
13. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Maui Invitational (first game: vs. Louisville on Monday)
Despite all the hype surrounding the Razorbacks’ incoming recruiting class, which featured three five-star prospects, Eric Musselman has been leaning on — surprise! — transfers so far this season. Ricky Council IV (Wichita State) has been the team’s most consistent offensive threat, averaging 18.7 points and 3.7 assists, while Makhi Mitchell (Rhode Island) has started all three games. Former Missouri forward Trevon Brazile is putting up 14.0 points and 10.0 rebounds off the bench … and also did this:
14. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Phil Knight Invitational (first game: vs. Michigan State on Thursday)
Brandon Miller has been the best freshman in the country so far in 2022-23, averaging 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds through four games and shooting nearly 52% from 3-point range. But we’ll have plenty of time to write about him. So how about the return of Jahvon Quinerly? Quinerly tore an ACL in the NCAA tournament against Notre Dame, and he already is back in live action. He played four minutes against South Alabama and upped it to 17 minutes against Jacksonville State, against whom he dished out eight assists off the bench.
15. Auburn Tigers (4-0)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Cancun Challenge (first game: vs. Bradley on Tuesday), vs. Saint Louis (Sunday)
Keep an eye on Chance Westry this week. A top-50 recruit, Westry missed the first two games of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in October but returned to average 17 minutes in wins over Winthrop and Texas Southern. Before he was sidelined, Westry was pushing for a spot in Bruce Pearl’s starting lineup. He has good size, is a versatile perimeter player, can pass effectively and keeps defenses honest from 3. He’ll be an asset for the Tigers.
16. Arizona Wildcats (3-0)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Maui Invitational (first game: vs. Cincinnati on Monday)
After mowing through Nicholls State, Southern and Utah Tech in the first three games, the Wildcats will finally be put to the test out in Maui. One key thing to watch this week is whether Oumar Ballo’s early-season production holds up against stiffer competition. The 7-foot former Gonzaga transfer has been dominant, averaging 17.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just 22 minutes. If Ballo can continue to produce consistently — even if it isn’t to that extent — Arizona could come out of the Maui Invitational with higher expectations.
Dropped out: Kentucky Wildcats (No. 4), UCLA Bruins (No. 8)
In the waiting room
Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky’s reliance on Oscar Tshiebwe was very apparent this past week. The reigning national player of the year returned from injury against Michigan State and was dominant off the bench, going for 22 points and 18 rebounds — until he fouled out and his team fell apart in the second overtime to lose. Tshiebwe was then the only one to get off the bus in the first half against Gonzaga, going for 14 points and seven rebounds in the opening period. By the time he got any help in the second half, the game was essentially out of reach.
UCLA Bruins: In their losses against Illinois and Baylor this past week, the Bruins showed a tendency to get bogged down if Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. aren’t both producing at a high level offensively. The duo were terrific in the first half against Illinois, but Sencire Harris stifled Campbell in the second half. Campbell continued to struggle to make shots against Baylor, but Jaylen Clark then stepped up. The Bruins’ 1.16 points per possession allowed against Baylor would have been their third-worst performance all of last season, per KenPom.
San Diego State Aztecs: The buzz about Jaedon LeDee during the season he sat out following his transfer from TCU was consistently positive, and he has backed that up during the first couple of weeks of play for the Aztecs. Against Stanford, when Matt Bradley and Darrion Trammell were struggling, it was LeDee who stepped up with 14 points. He is averaging 16.0 points and 4.7 boards off the bench.
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