What most people didn't expect was for Wainwright to scoot off of it. Especially not this fast. In one of the more surprising stories of the young college basketball season, Wainwright's Blue Demons are 3-1, with their lone setback coming in a four-point loss to 11th-ranked Tennessee in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam.
The following night DePaul defeated St. Joseph's despite the absence of leading scorer and rebounder Mac Koshwal, who missed the game because of an injury.
DePaul – which also touts a victory over a Northern Iowa squad that was picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference – isn't the only school that has made noticeable strides despite being picked to finish near the bottom of its league.
• Colorado, which went 1-15 in the Big 12 last season, led Gonzaga for most of the game Monday before losing 76-72. The following night the Buffaloes took tradition-rich Arizona to overtime before losing. It may be premature to say this, but Jeff Bzdelik's squad looks as if it could compete with any school in its conference outside of Kansas and Texas.
• One season after going 3-13 in the Big East, Stan Heath's South Florida Bulls are off to a 4-1 start with wins over SMU, Davidson (both on the road) and Virginia. Dominique Jones is averaging 19.4 points, but the biggest difference has been the emergence of forward Augustus Gilchrist, who is playing with more passion and consistency, and the addition of junior college transfer Jarrid Famous.
• North Carolina State, which finished 10th in the ACC last season, is 4-0 with wins over Auburn and Akron. Coach Sidney Lowe needs his team to put forth a strong showing in 2009-10 or he will surely start feeling some heat.
• On a lesser scale, Ernie Kent's Oregon squad jumped out to a 3-0 start before dropping back-to-back games to Montana and Portland. Still, with new assistant Mike Dunlap now on staff to handle more of the Xs and Os, the Ducks will almost certainly improve as the season progresses. The question is whether it will be enough to save Kent's job.
On to our conference power rankings. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1. Duke (5-0) – Cross your fingers for a title matchup with Connecticut on Friday. (1)
2. North Carolina (5-1) – Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas still ahead. (2)
3. Clemson (4-0) – The Tigers have won 30 straight in November. (3)
5. Georgia Tech (3-1) – The Yellow Jackets showed encouraging signs in loss to Dayton. (4)
7. Maryland (4-1) – Cincinnati proved the Terps were overrated. (5)
8. Virginia Tech (3-0) – The Hokies should be winning more convincingly. (6)
10. Florida State (3-1) – The Seminoles lost to unranked Florida 68-52. Not good. (8)
10. Boston College (3-2) – It looks like it could be a long season in Chestnut Hill. (9)
Miami – The Hurricanes picked up their best win of the young season Sunday by defeating a South Carolina squad that will contend for an NCAA tournament berth. The Gamecocks were without standout Dominique Archie for most of the game, but that didn't lessen strong performances by James Dews (22 points) and Dwayne Collins (17 points, 15 rebounds). A showdown with Minnesota looms.
Virginia – First-year coach Tony Bennett should be given at least a year or two before he becomes fair game for criticism. After all, the former Washington State coach took over a dismal situation. Still, because he's such a good Xs and Os guy, the thought was that Bennett would at least be able to separate the Cavaliers from other bottom-tier teams in Big Six leagues. Instead Virginia has already suffered losses against South Florida and Stanford, two of the worst teams in their respective conferences.
THREE TO WATCH
Michigan State at North Carolina – Will the Spartans avenge last season's national title game blowout?
1. Syracuse (5-0) – The Orange have all the pieces. (5)
4. Connecticut (4-0) – The Huskies' lineup has changed but the physical style hasn't. (4)
6. Louisville (4-0) – We'll know more about the Cards after this weekend. (3)
7. Marquette (4-0) – The guards have been solid for the Golden Eagles. (7)
8. Georgetown (3-0) – The Hoyas are as deep as a kiddie pool. (6)
10. Notre Dame (5-0) – The Irish haven't been tested, but that could change this weekend. (8)
11. Seton Hall (3-0) – Herb Pope is averaging a double-double. (12)
12. Providence (4-1) – Prediction: The Friars will be the most improved team by March. (10)
14. DePaul (3-1) – No Mac Koshwal, no problem for the Blue Demons against St. Joe's. (16)
15. St. John's (3-0) – The Red Storm won their last two games by a combined four points. (14)
16. Rutgers (2-1) – A win over Massachusetts on Friday would be a momentum jolt. (15)
Cincinnati – The Bearcats advanced to the title game of the Maui Invitational by defeating a pair of NCAA tournament-caliber teams in Vanderbilt and Maryland. Mick Cronin has obviously done a nice job of blending touted recruit Lance Stephenson into a lineup that already had a pair of proven stars in Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates. A Dec. 13 showdown at Xavier will provide another good test.
Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were supposed to be so much better with the return of Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique – and the addition of Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell. Instead Rutgers has already dropped a game to Vermont. A few days earlier it barely escaped Drexel 58-56. This team needs to improve – fast – if Fred Hill wants to keep his job.
THREE TO WATCH
Connecticut vs. Duke in the Preseason NIT – The Huskies will give the Blue Devils their first tough test of the season.
1. Purdue (4-0) – A win over Tennessee was the best victory thus far for league. (3)
2. Michigan State (4-0) – Florida and North Carolina are next. (2)
3. Ohio State (4-1) – A disappointing showing last week against the Tar Heels. (1)
4. Michigan (2-0) – One game in 11 days. Must be nice. (4)
5. Illinois (4-0) – The Illini are averaging 87 points. Full moon out? (5)
7. Wisconsin (3-1) – The Badgers are playing well considering inexperience. (7)
11. Iowa (1-4) – The Hawkeyes may not have hit rock bottom – but they're close. (11)
Purdue – The Boilermakers' 73-72 victory over No. 11 Tennessee in the championship game of the Paradise Jam justified their No. 6 national ranking and sent a strong message that Michigan State will be far from alone in the race for the Big Ten title. E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel are averaging 16 and 15 points, respectively, for a squad that has remaining non-conference games against Wake Forest and West Virginia.
Indiana – The Hoosiers didn't arrive in Puerto Rico last week planning to lose to Ole Miss, George Mason and Boston University. But that's exactly what happened during an incredibly disappointing road trip for Tom Crean's squad. Crean is an excellent coach, and his young team will improve, but not many teams opened the season in such disheartening fashion.
THREE TO WATCH
Minnesota vs. Butler in the 76 Classic – A victory over the No. 12 Bulldogs would be one of Tubby Smith's signature moments as Gophers coach.
Florida vs. Michigan State in the Legends Classic – Hopefully the Spartans aren't looking ahead to Tuesday's showdown at North Carolina.
Wake Forest at Purdue – Al-Farouq Aminu and the Demon Deacons aren't as good as last year, but they'll be a tough test.
1. Kansas (3-0) – Easy schedule until Dec. 6 game at UCLA. (1)
6. Texas A&M (3-0) – The Aggies' strength is in their balance. (6)
7. Missouri (3-0) – Can the Tigers hit 18 3-pointers against Vanderbilt, too? (7)
11. Texas Tech (6-0) – A two-point win over Stephen F. Austin? C'mon Raiders. (8)
Colorado– One season after winning just nine games – and only one league contest – Colorado appears capable of beating just about anyone in the Big 12 outside of Kansas and Texas. In the Maui Invitational they lost to Gonzaga by four points and Arizona in overtime in games that were supposed to be blowouts. That's a huge credit to head coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose second-leading scorer is a true freshman (Alec Burks, 16.8 ppg).
Oklahoma – After the No. 17 Sooners lost to Virginia Commonwealth, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said he "knew our team wasn't as good as everyone had us." Maybe not, but that doesn't excuse losing to VCU. Oklahoma trailed by as many as 17 points and got just eight points from All-American candidate Willie Warren, who missed all eight of his 3-point attempts. Bad loss for the Sooners – and the league.
THREE TO WATCH
Texas A&M vs. Clemson in the Phillips 76 Classic – Beating a top-25 team would be a huge momentum boost for the Aggies, a solid team that lacks starpower.
Saturday Iowa State vs. Notre Dame in the Chicago Invitational – The Cyclones have been pegged as the Big 12's most improved team. Will they prove it against a formidable foe?
Missouri at Vanderbilt – Supposedly the Tigers have a chip on their shoulders about being picked to finish seventh in the league. Will they take it out on the Commodores?
4. Washington State (3-0) – The Cougars are ranked this high by default. (7)
5. Arizona State (4-1) – How long before the Sun Devils get exposed? (3)
7. USC (1-1) – The Trojans gave up a 12-point, second-half lead in loss to Loyola Marymount. (6)
8. Stanford (3-3) – Bring back the Lopez Twins! (10)
10. Oregon State (1-3) – The Beavers can't even beat Sacramento State. Yikes! (9)
Arizona – It'd be tough to find someone doing as good a job as first-year Wildcats coach Sean Miller. In the past seven months, Miller left Xavier for Arizona, signed a top-flight recruiting class and then opened his inaugural season in steady fashion. Finally, the Wildcats have some stability.
Oregon – Just when Ernie Kent's program appeared to be turning the corner, the Ducks lost back-to-back games against Portland and Montana. Now that's how you keep your job. Then again, those teams are probably better than most of the schools Oregon will face in the Pac-10 this season, so there may still be hope.
THREE TO WATCH
Nebraska at USC – Surely the Trojans can win a home game against the worst team in the Big 12. Can't they?
Wednesday UNLV at Arizona – The Rebels are solid, but they won't be any better than the teams Arizona faced in Maui. Look for a big game from Nic Wise.
Washington State at Gonzaga – Ken Bone has his first big game as the Cougars' head coach.
2. Tennessee (4-1) – There's no excuse for almost losing to DePaul. (1)
3. Mississippi (4-1) – Clearly the SEC's third-best team – and maybe the second. (4)
6. Mississippi Sttae (3-1) – The Bulldogs have won three straight against patsies. (7)
9. Alabama (2-1) – Nice win over Providence. Is Baylor next? (9)
10. Auburn (3-3) – The Tigers' loss to North Carolina State isn't good for the resume. (11)
11. Arkansas (2-2) – Losing to Morgan State is bad, doing it at home is worse. (10)
12. Georgia (2-2) – Quick, name one Bulldogs player. Or at least a good one. (12)
Mississippi – The Rebels have one of the top guard tandems in America in Terrico White and Chris Warren, who helped them in a victory over a solid Kansas State squad in Puerto Rico. A healthy Ole Miss team would've made the NCAA tournament last year. The Rebels won't have any excuse if they don't earn a berth this season.
South Carolina – Even with the loss of Dominique Archie, the Gamecocks should be playing better than this. They struggled to beat LaSalle and South Florida before getting drilled by a mediocre Miami squad. Expectations are high in Columbia this season but, so far, Darrin Horn's squad isn't living up to them.
THREE TO WATCH
Alabama vs. Baylor in the Old Spice Classic – Can the Crimson Tide shut down LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter and the hot-shooting Bears?
Florida vs. Michigan State in the Legends Classic – The Gators don't have much depth, but they've got a great coach. Then again, Michigan State does, too.
Missouri at Vanderbilt – The athletic, defensive-minded Tigers are a tough team for which to prepare. This one won't be easy for the Commodores.
- Michigan State
- North Carolina