Here are six things we learned.
Duke is unbeatable when R.J. Barrett is playing well
Tre Jones is an incredibly valuable player whose impact extends far beyond the box score. We know this. But when Barrett plays like he did against Virginia, Duke is unbeatable regardless of Jones’ availability.
Barrett scored 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting and got to the free-throw line 11 times. The latter is key. Barrett is at his best when he’s attacking; he’s outstanding at drawing contact, and there aren’t many defenders who can stay in front of him. When Barrett falls in love with his jump shot, Duke tends to struggle. He might become a good enough shooter one day to justify the James Harden comparisons, but Barrett isn’t there yet, and that’s OK. Because he torched one of the best defenses in the country and proved that he’s kind of unguardable when he builds up a head of steam to the rim.
In Duke’s two losses this season, Barrett has missed a combined 38 shots. Zion Williamson is consistently great; Barrett’s performances have been a little more scattered. But nobody is beating Duke if Barrett plays like he did on Saturday.
Kansas looks vulnerable, but it will still probably win the Big 12
Kansas lost to West Virginia on Saturday, which was 0-5 in the Big 12 going in. The Jayhawks hardly got anything out of their bench, and the freshman backcourt didn’t do a whole lot, either.
The good news: the Big 12 may be deep, but there doesn’t look to be a real challenger to Kansas’ conference championship streak. Texas Tech and Oklahoma both lost on Saturday, and Kansas is currently in a four-way tie for the league lead with Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas Tech.
Those are all tournament teams. But even with Kansas playing poorly, it’s hard to imagine any of them dethroning the Jayhawks. Time will tell, but one of those schools needs to establish some consistency before we believe Kansas won’t extend the streak to 15.
Ethan Happ is a boss
We may not have technically ‘learned’ this, but Saturday was a helpful reminder. Wisconsin dealt Michigan its first loss of the season and Happ dominated from start to finish, in all facets. He scored 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished seven assists.
The assists stand out. There are a lot of scoring and rebounding monsters in college basketball. But Happ’s playmaking sets him apart; he was really the only player who could create a shot against the stingy Michigan defense, and create, he did. No other Badger had more than three dimes. On a similar note, no other Badger scored in double figures.
Williamson might run away with the Naismith. But most years, Happ’s season would be Naismith-worthy.
Kentucky has turned a corner
Sure, the Wildcats almost blew their game against Auburn in the final minute. Whatever. A win at Auburn is a big deal this year considering how formidable the Tigers are. And Kentucky outplayed them handily for most of the game.
Every player in Kentucky’s starting lineup is dangerous. Tyler Herro had 20 points on Saturday, and if he finds his stroke, look out. Ashton Hagans is a defensive stud with some offensive chops. Keldon Johnson has been steady all year long, and while there are still some fit concerns with P.J. Washington and Reid Travis, they’re both really good players.
The Wildcats are 7-1 in their last eight games with road/neutral wins over Auburn, North Carolina and Louisville. They will challenge Tennessee for the SEC crown.
Tennessee’s experience is an asset late in games
Speaking of the Volunteers, they certainly didn’t play their best against Alabama. But they did just enough to survive in the game’s closing moments, which is the mark of a veteran team.
Credit the Crimson Tide for playing the SEC’s best so closely. But on a day where Admiral Schofield went 4-for-17 and Tennessee went 3-of-12 from 3-point range, it still beat a quality team.
The Vols’ top six players yesterday, in terms of minutes, were all juniors are seniors. And despite a poor showing early in the second half, Tennessee was able to prevail. You don’t want to face these guys come March.
Purdue’s homecourt advantage is real
If you watched any of the Purdue-Indiana matchup, you were likely struck by the Boilermakers’ home crowd. It is relentless, and deafening. There are plenty of excellent college basketball venues, and Indiana-Purdue is a big-time rivalry. But the noise at Mackey Arena may affect teams like nowhere else.
Purdue has lost six games this season, but it’s undefeated at home. The Boilermakers are much better than their 12-6 record indicates. They are ranked 10th at KenPom and five of those losses came to teams in the top 30.
Purdue is now 5-2 in the Big Ten and will host Michigan State next week. That’s a must-see game. Outside of Duke, perhaps, there’s probably not a single team you’d expect to beat Purdue in West Lafayette right now. That’s how good that crowd (and Carsen Edwards) are.