Here are some things we learned that we can apply to the rest of the college basketball season.
Gonzaga could have an all-time great season
Gonzaga was missing arguably its best player, Killian Tillie, and still beat Duke. This team might be as good, if not better, than the one that made the national championship game two years ago.
The Bulldogs are only expected to lose one more game this season based on KenPom’s projections. That’s a Dec. 15 road game at North Carolina. This team has a chance to go undefeated, but even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to see them losing more than two games.
Gonzaga is a talented, well-constructed group. Rui Hachimura, averaging 22.5 points, has blossomed into a star. He went toe-to-toe with Zion Williamson on Wednesday and outplayed R.J. Barrett. But what’s really enticing about the Bulldogs is their shooting; they just don’t let you rest on the perimeter. Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins and Corey Kispert are all guys who can create, shoot and pass. And transfer Brandon Clarke is a walking mismatch. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mark Few divides the frontcourt minutes once Tillie returns.
Gonzaga is arguably the best team in the land right now, and that’s without Tillie, one of the top stretch centers in college basketball. You can’t overstate how impressive the Bulldogs have been thus far.
If Tre Jones isn’t the most valuable player on Duke, he’s close
No, Jones isn’t as talented as Williamson, Barrett or Cam Reddish. He’s not going to jump out of the gym or wow you with his size and athleticism combination. But he looks like a senior when he’s running the team, constantly in control of the offense. Jones is an elite decision-maker just a few weeks into his college career.
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Williamson has the highest offensive rating on the team, but Duke scores 125.1 points per 100 possessions when Jones is in the game. Barrett’s offensive rating is 107; Reddish’s is 122.1. Jones is shooting 54.5 percent from 3-point range and is only averaging 1.3 turnovers per game. He’s not going to show up on any highlight reels, but if you watch the Blue Devils play, you’d know he is crucial to their success.
In order to be a productive complementary player, you need to be able to make an impact without having the ball. Jones is capable of creating his own offense, but he’s also happy to chill in the corner and space the floor while his teammates go to work. Mike Krzyzewski has to be thrilled with his play thus far.
Kansas doesn’t need to play its best to beat quality teams
Kansas looked a bit sluggish over Thanksgiving week, but it still beat Marquette and Tennessee and has a top-five offense and defense. That’s the magic of Bill Self at work.
Kansas’ guards have cooled off since an impressive Champions Classic performance. Quentin Grimes went 1-for-4 with five points against the Volunteers. Devon Dotson has been really good, but he’s not overly involved in the offense.
But that’s OK, and it’s part of the appeal of the Jayhawks. They have so many ways to beat you. Dedric Lawson went for 24 points and 13 rebounds against Tennessee and scored 26 against Marquette. Every player in Kansas’ starting lineup has a chance to score 20 on a given night; not many teams can say that. Just wait until the whole team is clicking at the same time.
Virginia is probably going to dominate the regular season again
Virginia is in a tough spot, depending on your perspective. The Cavaliers look like they’re going to dominate the regular season again, but few are talking about them. They’ve reached the point where their March performance is all that matters to some.
But it’s worth pointing out that Virginia ran through the Battle 4 Atlantis, not allowing an opponent to crack 60 points for the tournament. This looks like a classic Tony Bennett team with one positive exception: De’Andre Hunter. Hunter defies the system, and that’s a compliment. He’s averaging 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just 28.7 minutes per game.
But most importantly, he’s making 46.7 percent of his 3s on a decent number of attempts. Shooting was supposed to be his weakness, because he can defend everyone and get to the rim at will. In a year where Williamson and Barrett didn’t play in the ACC, Hunter would be a legitimate conference player of the year candidate. Perhaps he still is. Regardless, don’t be surprised if Virginia snags another 1-seed come Selection Sunday.
We probably shouldn’t panic about Villanova that much
Yes, the losses to Michigan and Furman were ugly. But Villanova rebounded in a big way this week, beating two quality teams in Oklahoma State and Florida State.
The way Villanova beat Florida State was particularly impressive, and frankly, uncharacteristic. The Wildcats only took 14 3-pointers and made just three of them. They beat the Seminoles with defense. Without the stars of last year’s team, this group was never going to be as potent on offense. But they have the personnel to be just as good defensively, if not better. Eric Paschall and Saddiq Bey are really good defenders, and the guards are usually in the right spots.
We saw the Villanova defense come to life this week, and they’ll be back in the AP Top 25 after a rare omission. The Wildcats should still be expected to win the Big East until another team pops. That hasn’t happened yet.