Player of the week: Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Fredette had only one game last week but it might have been his most memorable.
The timing couldn't have been any better. College football's national championship game had taken place the night before, so the opening was there for college basketball on Tuesday to take center stage. In steps Fredette with a 47-point outing that had everything from a half-court, end-of-half buzzer-beater that he nonchalantly buried to a comical missed dunk. Fredette made six 3s, converted all nine free throw attempts and was 16-of-28 overall from the field. In addition, he totaled six assists and two steals. Oh, and he committed just one foul. The game was against BYU's hated rival, Utah, on the road at the Huntsman Center.
BYU and Utah are heading to different conferences in 2011-12. The Cougars will go to the WCC, the Utes to the Pac-10. So there's no guarantee they'll play twice in a season, although once has been promised. That added even more to the performance, knowing this could be the end to the traditional in-season, in-conference home-and-home series.
Fredette's shooting display rightly led "SportsCenter" that night, and he was trotted out for national interviews. He had impeccable timing to capture the midweek vacuum for the sport and, whether he knows it or not, advance his national player-of-the-year candidacy. There were plenty of other deserving performances from the week, notably Khris Middleton's 28 points for Texas A&M in a win over Missouri and Kawhi Leonard's back-to-back double-doubles in wins over UNLV and New Mexico. But Fredette, a preseason first-team AP All-American, gave a reason for those now paying attention to the sport to find his games and chart his progress toward a possible Stephon Curry-like Davidson run, circa 2008.
-- Andy Katz
More performances that wowed us
Terrence Jones, Kentucky: He didn't start but didn't sulk, instead coming off the bench to set a UK freshman scoring record with 35 points (and eight boards) in a 78-54 win over Auburn.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell: The 6-foot-10 big man posted 33 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks and easily outperformed American's Vlad Moldoveanu in an important 75-60 win over the Eagles, a fellow Patriot League contender.
Marcus Morris, Kansas: In making 11 of 15 shots at Iowa State, Morris set career highs with 33 points and 13 rebounds, the first 30-10 game by a Jayhawk in four years. He then followed up with another double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) against Nebraska, shooting 71 percent (17-24) for the week.
Derwin Kitchen, Florida State: When you're a senior and you lead your team to a win over No. 1 in arguably the finest game of your career, you wow us. That's what Kitchen did with his 22 points (9-13 FG) and 10 rebounds against Duke.
Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota: After competitive road losses at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Gophers -- saddled with the Trevor Mbakwe off-court distraction -- really needed to win one of these close games against a Big Ten contender. They did just that against Purdue behind Hoffarber's 26 points, which tied a career high.
Allen Crabbe, California: While Washington State guard Klay Thompson scored more points (36), Crabbe's Golden Bears got the overtime win against the Cougars, and it was in large part due to Crabbe (30 points; 10-15 FG, 4-6 3-point FG). It was his first game with more than 17 points and the most by a Pac-10 freshman since O.J. Mayo in 2008.
Aaron Brackett, UNC Greensboro: Entering the game against Appalachian State, the 0-15 Spartans were one of two winless Division I teams. Coming into that game, Brackett was averaging a pedestrian 5.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg. After it was over, he had 28 points (14-20 FG) and 15 rebounds, and Greensboro had its elusive first victory.
D.J. Gay, San Diego State: The point guard struggled earlier in the week against UNLV but came back with a vengeance by scoring a career-high 30 points (7-11 3-point FG, including a 55-footer before halftime) in an 87-77 win against New Mexico at the Pit. We've almost come to expect it at this point, but the 34 points and 32 boards by teammate Kawhi Leonard in those two big wins shouldn't be taken for granted.
Derrick Williams, Arizona: For the second time in his past three games, Williams unleashed a 31-point performance, this time in a win over rival Arizona State. He also added 10 boards for the 15-3 Wildcats.
Diante Garrett, Iowa State: After scoring 27 in a close loss to Kansas, the senior guard put together a great all-around game with 16 points, 11 assists and five rebounds as the surprising Cyclones continued to impress with a 72-57 win over Baylor. Jamie Vanderbeken's seven 3s in that game also deserve a shout-out.
Isaiah Thomas, Washington: With Abdul Gaddy out for the season, Thomas' playmaking ability is on display even more for Huskies. That was evident Sunday night in Berkeley, where he finished with 27 points and a career-high 13 assists in a 92-71 win over Cal.
Verdell Jones III, Indiana: In a game his team desperately needed, Jones made 9 of 10 shots and totaled 24 points in an 80-61 win over Michigan that snapped the Hoosiers' six-game losing streak.
-- Brett Edgerton
Team of the Week: Florida State
The Seminoles showed no signs that they were a team capable of beating Duke. FSU had lost at home to Florida and Ohio State earlier in the season. They fell to Butler in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, and while they did follow that up with a win over Baylor the next day, the Bears have proven to be a bit fraudulent on the national scene. After beating Baylor, the Seminoles lost by five to lowly Auburn and started ACC road play with a 12-point loss at depleted Virginia Tech. So why would anyone assume a win over Duke would occur?
Florida State defends well, but the Seminoles have trouble scoring. Against Duke, however, Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen were in sync to lead the Seminoles to a 66-61 win over the Blue Devils in the only meeting between the schools this season. The Seminoles now have their signature win. But to make that matter they had to build on it, and they did by beating NC State by 13 at home Saturday. That's good enough for team of the week honors, and good enough to save the season. But it's not enough to salvage a potential NCAA tournament berth. NC State beat Duke at home last season and didn't have anything to show in March for a postseason berth. FSU must now win games it should, like at Georgia Tech and Clemson, and steal a road win or two -- say, at Maryland or at North Carolina -- to prove itself worthy of a berth in March. There is still plenty of work to do. The Duke win was a start. The NC State win was a necessary next move. Now the chore for Florida State is to continue to be relevant over the next six weeks.
More teams that impressed us
San Diego State: The Aztecs continue their impressive run through college basketball. San Diego State is off to a historic 19-0 start, with 11 of those 19 wins away from San Diego. The Aztecs pulled away from New Mexico in the second half Saturday behind D.J. Gay's 30 points, including a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that was well behind the midcourt line.
Colorado: The Buffaloes have put themselves in position for a possible NCAA berth with one of the most significant weeks since the Chauncey Billups era in Boulder. Colorado won at Kansas State behind Levi Knutson's 20 points. Then Colorado came back on Oklahoma State after trailing at the half to beat the Cowboys and move to 3-0 in the Big 12.
Michigan State: The Spartans hardly looked dominating. They survived two home games that they easily could have lost -- to Wisconsin and Northwestern, both in overtime. But they still found a way to win both games. Let's see if the Spartans can actually get on a roll with an even more difficult road stretch awaiting them.
Texas A&M: The Aggies had two home games. They won both in different ways. The Aggies crushed Oklahoma State and then had a gritty, exciting overtime win over Missouri. The Aggies are atop the Big 12 -- and so far deservedly so.
UCLA: The Bruins showed signs of life in the Pac-10 by beating the teams they're supposed to beat, sweeping Oregon State and Oregon on the road. The Oregon win was impressive in that it came during the opening weekend of Matthew Knight Arena on arguably the most eye-disturbing court on television to date.
Duquesne: The Dukes are the surprise of the A-10, sitting atop the standings with a 3-0 start after convincing wins over Saint Louis and league favorite Temple at home. The Dukes have a rising star in Bill Clark, who leads the team with nearly 17 points a game.
Syracuse: The Orange went on the road, dismantling St. John's in Madison Square Garden and then pulling away from Cincinnati for another quality week.
-- Andy Katz
More scores that caught our eyes
Penn State 57, Illinois 55: It's time to start paying attention to what's happening at Penn State. A putback slam by Andrew Jones delivered the Nittany Lions their second straight win over a ranked opponent for the first time in 57 years. And the way the team fought in a three-point loss at Ohio State over the weekend was just as encouraging.
SMU 64, Memphis 58: How do the Tigers lose for a second straight season at SMU? Well, being on the wrong end of a late 17-0 run doesn't help. Maybe coach Josh Pastner's temporary suspension of Wesley Witherspoon will help, as Memphis looked like a completely different team in a rout of Marshall on Saturday.
Rhode Island 78, Richmond 74: It almost seems as if the Atlantic 10 is doing its best to keep its at-large bids to a minimum this season. But give credit to Nikola Malesevic and the Rams, who had lost seven straight in Richmond.
North Carolina 64, Virginia Tech 61: Speaking of Virginia teams that seemingly don't want to be anywhere but the bubble, we present the Hokies, ladies and gentlemen! Virginia Tech is playing well considering its injury woes, but blowing a 16-point lead in Chapel Hill on a night when they had a chance to perhaps establish themselves as the ACC's second-best team was a crusher.
Oregon 68, USC 62: By now, you've surely seen the court at the new Matthew Knight Arena. You're probably either an Oregon fan or you hate it. But glares or no glares, trees or no trees, the young Ducks put on an impressive performance against the Trojans during the building's opening night.
Tennessee 67, Vanderbilt 64: "GameDay" was in the house and the season was basically on the line for the struggling Vols, who found themselves down 30-13 at one point in what can only be termed a hideous first half. But Scotty Hopson and Brian Williams led the charge after halftime, and Tennessee finally showed a pulse heading into this week's road trips to Georgia and Connecticut.
Louisville 71, Marquette 70: Speaking of large comebacks, they don't get a whole lot better than what Louisville pulled off Saturday at the Yum! Center. Down 18 with 5:44 left, the Cardinals outscored the Golden Eagles 24-5 down the stretch. Yet another crushing loss in a long list of crushing losses for Marquette.
Kansas 63, Nebraska 60: This score from Lawrence, combined with Colorado's thoroughly impressive 3-0 conference start, makes you wonder if the Big 12 truly will be "better from top to bottom" next season. It appears the Buffaloes and Cornhuskers have finally figured out how to play basketball.
Southern Miss 86, UCF 69: Last weekend's loss to middling Houston was troublesome, but it was the Knights' first. Then came this blowout in Hattiesburg. Sure makes you wonder about Central Florida. And makes USM's 30-point loss at Marshall even more mystifying.
Green Bay 74, Illinois-Chicago 50: Speaking of mystifying, that UIC win over Illinois looked strange at the time and just looks outright bizarre at this point. It's not that the Illini are rolling by any means, but the Flames are, how should we put this ... terrible. They're 0-7 in the Horizon League and have lost 11 of their past 12. You know who the one win came against.
South Carolina 72, Florida 69: Every time it seems the Gators are ready to turn the proverbial corner, something like a home loss to South Carolina (or Jacksonville) happens.
Xavier 81, Dayton 76: One of the more remarkable droughts out there is Dayton's inexplicable inability to win at Xavier. Ever. This is a fun rivalry, but it's not all that fun for the Flyers to make the short drive to Cincinnati, where they've now lost 26 straight to the Musketeers. Tu Holloway, with 24 points and a key shot with 31 seconds left, made sure the UD misery continued.
West Virginia 68, Purdue 64: JaJuan Johnson was great again, as he was a few days earlier at Minnesota. But the Boilermakers lost again, as they did against the Gophers. The Mountaineers are playing their best ball of the season and won this game on the boards. And if anyone is still debating the Big Ten versus the Big East for 2010-11, please just stop.
Indiana State 61, Creighton 59: The Sycamores did nothing to distinguish themselves in nonconference play but suddenly find themselves 6-1 in the Missouri Valley after Carl Richard's tip-in at the buzzer lifted them to their best league start in 11 years. We figured it would be at least a three-team race in the MVC this season, but who knew Indiana State might be involved?
-- Brett Edgerton
The week in quotes
• "I've said repeatedly that D.J. Gay is our most important player, and I somewhat qualified it and probably made him mad by saying he is not our best player. I said tonight after the game he's inching up to not being only our most important player but our best player."
-- San Diego State coach Steve Fisher after Gay scored 30 against New Mexico in a win that extended the nation's longest winning streak.
• "I told them that your head coach, Bruce Pearl, would be extremely happy watching the game at his home because you exemplified his skills of having a never-say-die approach."
-- Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones after the Volunteers beat Vanderbilt to notch their first win while Pearl remains on SEC suspension.
• "We have not been in a game like that. They knocked us back. You just learn from the experience. We have a long way to go."
-- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to the Associated Press after his top-ranked team lost at Florida State.
• "It's something we take very seriously at this point. It's very serious. However, there is not nearly enough information at this point for us to determine what is going to be done here."
-- Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, acknowledging that police are investigating allegations against one of the school's student-athletes.
• "To tell you the truth, the refs honestly are terrible."
-- UCLA center Joshua Smith to reporters after a loss to USC in which he was in foul trouble, a comment that earned him a public reprimand from the Pac-10.
Observations from the week that was
• 1. Memphis coach Josh Pastner is earning his salary, going through the most trying season of his young career. And that includes a season on the staff of Arizona interim coach Kevin O'Neill, who took over after Lute Olson's health problems caused him to take a leave of absence. Pastner was supposed to cruise to the Conference USA title with one of the nation's top-three recruiting classes. That hasn't happened.
The players on the roster, both returnees and newcomers, have challenged him more than imagined. Will Barton's eligibility was an issue in the summer, but he was cleared and all seemed calm. Then Jelan Kendrick didn't adhere to the standards of the team, and Pastner decided to jettison him (he eventually transferred to Ole Miss). Angel Garcia decided he needed to make some cash and went back to Spain prior to the conference season. Losses in the "up" games against Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee piled up before a stunning loss at SMU.To add to Pastner's misery, after the loss to the Mustangs on Wednesday, his top returning player, Wesley Witherspoon, who had already missed a few games with an injury, opted to be insubordinate. Witherspoon reportedly grabbed the microphone on the team bus and proceeded to mock a member of the coaching staff. So Pastner had to suspend Witherspoon. To his credit, he didn't flinch or cave in to play a valued player. He's now empowered by the result -- the Tigers beat upstart Marshall without Witherspoon. Memphis might have to win the conference tournament in El Paso to get a bid, and if so it will be well-earned.
• If Tony Bennett could ever catch a break at Virginia and have his whole team available, the ACC might see quite a turnaround. The Cavaliers are playing without their best player, Mike Scott, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. But the Cavs had North Carolina on the ropes before losing at home and then pushed Duke for more than half of its game Saturday before the Blue Devils flipped a switch and rolled. Virginia will be a pest the rest of this season, but once the Cavs are whole, they will be a factor in a league that is going through a transitional period, save Duke. Remember, this Virginia team won at Minnesota and at Virginia Tech.
For more of Katz's observations, see the complete post in the Nation blog.
• If you're one of the teams that plays Kansas, Ohio State or Duke in the next week or so, now's your time to strike. The Blue Devils have already lost their first game of the season, and they were tested by Virginia all the way through the second half at home Saturday. At nearly the same time, Ohio State was narrowly escaping a home loss to suddenly dangerous Penn State, and Kansas was clawing its way to a three-point win over a defensively impressive Nebraska team. Ohio State's combined margin of victory in its past four games -- in wins over Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State, not exactly the Big Ten's toughest four-game stretch -- is a whopping 15 points. KU's combined margin of victory in its past three games -- against Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska -- is 15 points. (That number is slightly skewed, too, thanks to the seven-point overtime win at Michigan. That game's regulation margin of victory is technically "zero," right?)
We entered this week with five unbeaten teams. One of them lost. Two of them struggled. Only Syracuse and San Diego State rolled. For now, the trend seems obvious: The nation's four undefeated teams aren't likely to stay that way for long.
• Who is the second-best team in the ACC? Virginia Tech is still making its case, but until the Hokies actually win an impressive game -- they missed a major opportunity at UNC on Thursday -- the answer might just be Maryland (what, you didn't see North Carolina's game at Georgia Tech on Sunday night?). Those who watch college hoops without an eye on Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency numbers were probably surprised by Maryland's double-digit second-half lead at Villanova on Saturday, but the simple fact is that the Terrapins play tougher defense than any team in the nation -- yes, they're ranked No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency to date -- and, as a result, have one of the best 15 or so statistical profiles in college hoops this season. Don't sleep on the Terps. This young team might still be developing, but it's already awfully tough.
• Mark Turgeon's Texas A&M Aggies -- who have a way of annually remaining under the radar almost regardless of performance -- should be top of mind in the Big 12 from here on out. That's thanks to A&M's impressive 91-89 win in overtime over Missouri on Saturday, which cast a much-needed national glare on the quietly impressive bunch in College Station, Texas. Turgeon's team entered the season with minimal hype thanks to the loss of three senior starters, including star guard Donald Sloan; those losses seemed set to plunge the Aggies into rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future. Instead, this team got even better. Credit the emergence of forward Khris Middleton -- who scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished four assists in the win over Mizzou -- and the Aggies' solid brand of hard-nosed defense and highly active rebounding. Middleton is a shy guy who avoids cameras, the kind of player for whom the "lets his play do the talking" cliché is not only applicable but apt. In other words, he's the perfect star for this team.
For more of Brennan's observations, see the complete post in the Nation blog.
3:30 p.m.: Villanova at UConn (ESPN)
5:30 p.m.: Kansas State at Missouri (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Charleston at Chattanooga (CSS)
7:30 p.m.: Syracuse at Pitt (ESPN)
9:30 p.m.: Kansas at Baylor (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Michigan State at Illinois (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Colorado at Nebraska (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: Tennessee at Georgia (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: Kentucky at Alabama (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Duke at NC State (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Cincinnati at Notre Dame (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: St. John's at Louisville (ESPN3)
7 p.m.: Memphis at Southern Miss (CSS)
9 p.m.: Texas A&M at Texas (ESPN)
9 p.m.: Iowa State at Oklahoma State (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: Indiana at Wisconsin (ESPN)
9 p.m.: Virginia Tech at Maryland (ESPN2)
10:30 p.m.: Arizona at Washington (FSN)
11 a.m.: George Mason at JMU (ESPNU)
Noon: Villanova at Syracuse (ESPN)
Noon: Ohio State at Illinois (CBS)
2 p.m.: Kansas State at Texas A&M (ESPN)
2 p.m.: Tennessee at UConn (CBS)
2 p.m.: Saint Mary's at Vanderbilt
3 p.m.: Temple at Xavier (ESPN2)
4 p.m.: Texas at Kansas (CBS)
4 p.m.: Cincinnati at St. John's (ESPN3)
6 p.m.: Kentucky at South Carolina (ESPN)
7 p.m.: Memphis at UAB (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: Arizona at Washington State (FSN)
9 p.m.: Michigan State at Purdue (ESPN)
9 p.m.: Iowa State at Missouri (ESPNU)
9 p.m.: BYU at Colorado State (Mtn.)
1 p.m.: Wisconsin at Northwestern (BTN)
Andy Katz on Saint Mary's-Vandy
O'Neil: Three questions
• Is Penn State really better? Full disclaimer here: I'm a Penn State graduate. Of course, that also makes me a Penn State realist. I saw the smoke and mirrors that was the Crispin brothers' run to the Sweet 16 a decade ago as not a sign of a team getting better, but a team catching magic in a bottle.
So what to make of the Nittany Lions' past three games -- upsets of Michigan State and Illinois and a down-to-the-wire loss to Ohio State? Is this more smoke and mirrors?
I say no. Penn State is playing better. The Lions are making better decisions and playing sounder defense, and they have an air of confidence that this team hasn't had in years.
Credit coach Ed DeChellis for his patience in developing this team and Talor Battle for his willingness to carry the Lions until his peers figured it out.
And that's really been the difference: Battle is no longer a one-man band. Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson, all seniors, have had a lightbulb-going-off moment at precisely the same time. The trio of forwards have learned how to score and work the boards, making it impossible for opponents to concentrate all of their efforts on Battle.
The big question, of course, is can Penn State sustain it? Can a team that lost to Maine actually get into the NCAA tournament conversation? The reward for four straight games against ranked foes: a game against a fifth, at Purdue on Wednesday.
It would help Penn State's cause considerably to get one of these upsets on the road.
• Is Draymond Green the answer to Michigan State's problems? The Spartans have been desperate for a leader to pull them out of their doldrums and Green is the perfect man to do it.
The junior forward has the on-court ability to make for matchup nightmares and the on-court vision to help set up his teammates. But Green has been almost unselfish to a fault this season, dishing when he should have been scoring.
Now, during Michigan State's mini win streak, Green appears to have found a way to do a little bit of both. Against Wisconsin, he scored 26 to go with nine rebounds and four assists, scoring eight to open overtime for Michigan State. Then, against Northwestern, Green came up with 16 points and eight boards.
Most everyone knows that counting out a Tom Izzo team before March is flat-out silly, but that logic counts on a player to behave on the court like Izzo acts on the sideline.
Perhaps Green is that guy.
• Can someone please explain the SEC? The league is about as predictable as the stock market.
Arkansas beat Tennessee, lost to a terrible LSU team and then beat an Alabama squad that looked to be getting things together for coach Anthony Grant with wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Meantime, Florida -- which finished its nonconference schedule by drubbing Xavier and Rhode Island and was beginning to live up to its preseason expectations -- beat Mississippi and Tennessee, but lost to South Carolina. That would be the South Carolina team that beat Vanderbilt and the Vanderbilt team that beat Georgia but then all but dissolved in a lose-from-ahead disaster against Tennessee.
The Tennessee team, remember, that lost to Arkansas and Florida.
Insiders will label that parity. Outsiders might be more inclined to go with mediocrity.
Tomato, tomahto, the only thing anyone knows for sure: Kentucky is good.
-- Dana O'Neil
Dana O'Neil on Pittsburgh
Places to be this week
Storrs, Conn. (Villanova at UConn)
The biggest Big Monday we've seen in 2011 kicks off with a doozy. Villanova escaped Maryland's double-digit lead Saturday thanks to Corey Fisher's late 17-point outburst, which led his team to a game-changing 19-0 run that eventually put the pesky Terps away in the Wildcats' 74-66 home win. Connecticut breathed new life into its national perception with a win at Texas last week, a win owed in large part to forward Alex Oriakhi and freshmen Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith, who have increased their productivity and forced defenses to guard national player-of-the-year candidate Kemba Walker with some measure of honesty. Connecticut has been iffy at home at times, and Villanova is the more efficient team on a per-possession basis, but it's never easy to win road games in the Big East and this one should be as hard-fought, exciting and entertaining as any game this week.
Pittsburgh (Syracuse at Pitt)
Like I said: This Big Monday rules, and not just because we're honoring the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Syracuse at Pittsburgh is the undisputed Game Of The Century (Of The Week) this week, a battle of two top-five teams with major implications on the Big East title race. Syracuse is undefeated heading into Pitt; a win would make the Orange the most impressive team in the nation to date, bar none. A loss would confirm what we already expect -- that both of these stellar teams will have something to say about the Big East (and national) title races before the season is out.
Austin, Texas (Texas A&M at Texas)
Is this the biggest game of the week? No. Is it near the top? You bet. Texas A&M is coming off Saturday's hugely impressive overtime win over Missouri, the kind of game that should deservedly boost the underappreciated Aggies' national profile. (How many casual college hoops fans could name A&M star Khris Middleton? Or, for that matter, coach Mark Turgeon? You get the point.) If Texas A&M wants to really turn some heads, winning at Texas would be a good way to do so. It won't be easy: The Longhorns are one of the nation's best defensive teams. They hold opposing offenses to the lowest effective field goal percentage of any team in college basketball, and sophomore Jordan Hamilton has morphed from occasionally confused freshman into one of the nation's best offensive players. If Texas is vulnerable, though, it's vulnerable on the glass. That's good news for A&M, which just so happens to be one of the best all-around rebounding teams in the nation. If Turgeon's charges use their comprehensive glass-scrubbing ability to gain an advantage, they could very well leave Austin with their biggest statement win of the season to date.
Seattle (Arizona at Washington)
If anyone can make the Pac-10 title race a two-team affair, it's the Arizona Wildcats. Coach Sean Miller's team has had a head-scratching result or two to date, most notably its Jan. 2 loss at Oregon State. But the underlying signs are strong in Tucson. That's because forward Derrick Williams is one of the nation's best players, period, a hyperefficient forward who, according to Pomeroy, owns the nation's third-best effective field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and its second-best true shooting percentage (74.3 percent). Williams also dominates the Zona glass. Thanks in large part to his individual brilliance, Arizona has made an early leap back into national relevance this season. The next step would be winning at Washington, the Pac-10's putative favorite and one of the nation's most statistically impressive teams in its own right. Until further notice, the Pac-10 is Washington's to win. We'll see if Williams and the Wildcats can do anything to alter that perception Thursday.
Syracuse. N.Y. (Villanova at Syracuse)
What a week for Villanova, huh? As if traveling to UConn on Monday wasn't bad enough, coach Jay Wright's team goes to the Carrier Dome on Saturday for another major Big East matchup. Villanova is still a bit of a mystery, despite its success thus far. By the time this week is over, we'll know a lot about the Wildcats -- whether they're built to contend at the highest levels of the Big East or merely a member of the conference's jam-packed second tier.
Champaign, Ill. (Ohio State at Illinois)
Ohio State plays Iowa at home Wednesday. Given the Buckeyes' close calls against marginal Big Ten teams in recent weeks -- the latest being OSU's three-point home win over Penn State on Saturday -- there's no guarantee they even make it to this game undefeated. But if they do, this could be a good candidate for that elusive first loss. Illinois' biggest weakness is probably interior girth; the Illini will have to fight hard to keep Jared Sullinger from dominating in the paint. But even if he does, Illinois can stay in the game by doing what it does best: making shots. That's the best (and simplest) way to beat this brilliant Ohio State offense, because the Buckeyes are so long they're somehow able to simultaneously force turnovers and prevent opposing teams from getting to the foul line. If the Illini make those jump shots they're so very fond of, and Demetri McCamey presents the sort of matchup problems that might plague OSU when it faces a top point guard, Illinois is an excellent candidate to deliver the Buckeyes their first loss.
Nashville, Tenn. (Saint Mary's at Vanderbilt)
This is a sneakily good game, primarily because both Vanderbilt and Saint Mary's -- especially Saint Mary's -- are sneaky-good teams. The Gaels have replaced forward Omar Samhan with an impressive trio of forwards (Mitchell Young, Tim Williams and Kenton Walker). Buoyed by the beautiful shooting of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's is scoring 1.21 points per possession (adjusted) this season. That's the fourth-most efficient offense in the country, a unit that can utterly destroy you from beyond the arc before you have a chance to realize what's happening. Vanderbilt will have to be on its toes if it wants to avoid a second straight loss; the Commodores are coming off a disappointing come-from-ahead loss at Tennessee on Saturday.
Hartford, Conn. (Tennessee at UConn)
Hey, Bruce Pearl's back! The Tennessee coach is suspended from the first eight games of SEC play, but he'll be back on the sideline for this late nonconference matchup in Hartford on Saturday. Vols fans will have to hope that boosts this up-and-down UT team, if only temporarily, because Tennessee could use another quality nonconference win to help balance its comically inconsistent résumé to date.
Lawrence, Kan. (Texas at Kansas)
If Villanova has the toughest week in college hoops this week, Texas isn't far behind. The Longhorns will try to fend off a tough A&M team Wednesday before traveling to Lawrence for this bear of a matchup Saturday. Like fellow unbeaten Ohio State, Kansas has been vulnerable to inferior opponents; most recently, Nebraska played KU to a three-point win in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. In other words, Texas has a legitimate shot here. And, with a win, a just-as-legitimate shot at dethroning the Jayhawks for the Big 12 title. Pivotal game.
West Lafayette, Ind. (Michigan St. at Purdue)
Purdue had been a model of consistency in its first four Big Ten games, utterly destroying inferior conference competition and looking like one of the league's true non-OSU contenders. Road losses at Minnesota and West Virginia have dampened that hot start, but the Boilers will always be a force at home. In the meantime, Michigan State -- which survived and earned twin overtime wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern last week -- is still searching for its identity. A win here would be a major step in the right direction.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Leung on Arizona-Washington
Upset pick of the week
Tennessee over Connecticut, Saturday: OK, so it might seem a bit odd to pick the Volunteers to pull off an upset when they've been easily the most unpredictable team this season. But the Huskies have played with fire at times at home this season against lesser competition -- like letting South Florida take them to overtime a few weeks ago. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will be back on the sideline for this game after missing the first four SEC games during his conference-imposed suspension for misleading NCAA investigators. The Vols have the power game inside, with Brian Williams and John Fields, to disrupt Connecticut. UConn also doesn't match up well with point forward Tobias Harris. Kemba Walker is a matchup problem, himself, for the Vols. Oh, and the Vols have beaten Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh and Villanova in New York. So this is definitely doable.
-- Andy Katz