Shake-up atop College Basketball’s Top 25 Sets Table for December

Major movements mark uncertainty at the top of college basketball

BY MATT DE SARLE

It happens every Thanksgiving. Great games go on, but between the post meal nap and the NFL football, it’s hard to keep up. Even the most hardcore college basketball fans did a double-take at the post-holiday top 25 to decipher exactly what happened. Here’s a recap of the major movers and shakers over feast week. This sets the table for not only a turbulent December of non-conference play, but some important resume bullets for when the committee sifts through what happened in November.

Big East Behaves Like a “Power 5” Conference in Basketball

Speaking of double-takes, you might have looked side-eyed at the preseason top 25 when you saw Creighton crack the top 10.

Read what I wrote about Creighton on November 7th here.

Not only have the Bluejays stuck the landing in the first month of play, they’ve been joined in the top 10 by fellow Big East power UCONN. Yes, the Huskies have returned to the Big East after a hiatus in the American Conference. Danny Hurley has this club clicking with great ball movement and some immoveable objects down low.

Arizona Wildcats can’t miss opportunity to dominate the Pac-12

The Arizona Wildcats were steam-rolling through to the top 5 with a ranking of number 4 overall in the nation. That’s when they took a head-scratching loss to Utah to open up conference. Arizona has lost Ben Mathurin to the NBA Lottery where he is currently playing for the Indiana Pacers. But the Wildcats have added another dynamic combo guard in Texas transfer Courtney Ramey. Ramey won’t bring the prime Russell Westbrook-like attack to the court, but you could do a lot worse in replacing an exiting NBA player. Azuolas Tubeless, a 6-11 forward who can run the floor with ease, needs to take the next step to stardom for this team to crack the Final Four. Another big man in Gonzaga transfer in 7 footer Oumar Ballo is also adding a lot more offensive production than he did while in Spokane.

With UCLA slipping out of the top 10, USC’s former front court playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the likes of Arizona State and Stanford sputtering, this is Arizona’s conference to seize.

Purdue Boilermaker bully-ball their way into the top 10

Purdue went from unranked in the AP Preseason Top 25 to surging into the top 5. Purdue dominated Duke in the Phil Knight Legacy Championship game. Make what you will of this result, but Duke is not yet close to a finished product. Purdue’s center, 7 foot 2 Zach Edey jumps off the page and off the TV screen. However, past results have proven that Purdue, regardless of how many trees it has inside, is hard-pressed to crack the Final Four. A close game against Florida State (a struggling 1-7 record at the time although they always have size and length) in the ACC Big 10 Challenge took the shine off their early season domination.

Purdue catapults into the top 10 by dominating Duke

Arizona UCLA College Basketball Game Recap: Top 10 Matchup Delivers

In college basketball’s regular season, top 10 match-ups rarely live up to their billing, but Arizona and UCLA looked like an Elite 8 game.

BY MATTY D.

UCLA hosted the game as the AP 7th ranked team in the nation. After only losing once this season, Arizona entered the game as the 3rd ranked team by the AP. With USC and Oregon finding its tournament resume footing, both teams are part of a PAC-12 Conference that has several dangerous threats for a Final 4.

Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd entered the game as the clear-cut front runner for coach of the year. The longtime Gonzaga Bulldogs assistant coach is leading his Wildcats to a 16-1 record as a first time head man.

Arizona vs. UCLA First Half Recap NCAA Basketball

The starting lineups for each team featured subtle different wrinkles as compared to their norm. Lithuanian big man for Arizona, Azuolas Tubelis, started the game on the bench because he was nursing a sprained ankle. He came in shortly after the game started and contributed immediately.

Jaylen Clark missed the game for UCLA after suffering an injury at practice, according to the ESPN telecast.

UCLA went with a “smaller” starting lineup, considering that Rutgers transfer and center Myles Johnson wasn’t in the starting lineup. UCLA went with Riley, Juzang, Jaquez Jr., Campbell and Bernard.

The start of the game showcased exactly why these are two Final 4 caliber teams. The shooting was electric. Both teams raced up and down the floor. UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell and shooting guard Johnny Juzang would probe the paint and then secure points. Arizona’s blossoming pro prospect Bennedict Mathurin would answer with a perfect posture three point shot. Each team started the game shooting at an unsustainably high percentage.

ESPN color commentator Bill Walton was on the call. He aptly described the game, multiple times, as a showcase of athletes in top physical fitness. This game started as a track meet.

After the electric start, Arizona suffered the first scoring drought of the game. They found themselves in a 36-25 hole after going 3 for 21 from the field during one stretch.

Arizona stopped the bleeding in terms of scoring droughts with its size down low. Oumar Ballo and Christian Koloko scored on a put-back and alley-oop styled layup respectively. Pelle Larsson then raced down the floor for a full court layup drill to cut the halftime lead to 40-29 UCLA.

Arizona vs. UCLA Second Half Recap NCAA Basketball

The second half started with Arizona eagerly double-teaming Johnny Juzang and feeding Christian Koloko in the post. Koloko missed hook shots on consecutive possessions as both teams started cold from the field.

Jaimie Jaquez scored his first points of the game to tie UCLA’s biggest lead of 15 at 44-29.

Bennedict Mathurin rushed the ball back down the floor for a do-it-yourself and-1 to cut the lead to 12. Johnny Juzang took the same approach with a one-man-fast-break against the half court defense after a free throw make.

Both UCLA and Arizona alternated between clubs that wanted to play half court offense and transition showtime. The on-ball pressure was also ratcheted up by both teams.

The game started to slow down around the 14 minute mark with each team getting to the free throw line more. Bennedict Mathurin was barking encouragement at his teammates. He fed Tubelis on a lob for a close range layup attempt where he was fouled. On the next possession, Mathurin hit a step back three pointer to cut the deficit to 10.

UCLA continued with the same four guards and forwards in the rotation, alternating Myles Johnson into the game around that 14 minute mark.

Jaime Jaquez continued getting hot as he drove the lane and scored after pump faking two defenders out of the picture. UCLA led 58-46 athe the 11 minute mark when Juzang drove the lane and fed Johnson for an and-1 bucket down low.

Scoring came to a screeching halt around the 10 to 8 minute marks. Finally, it looked like fatigued settled in slightly.

Senior UCLA guard David Singleton got some rare minutes around the 7 minute mark when he hit a three pointer. Jules Bernard doubled-down with another 3 for UCLA on the next possession. It looked like the dagger. Jaime Jaquez blocked his second shot (team’s 7th block) on the next defensive possession.

Arizona suffered its second long scoring drought around the mid-way point of the second half. The Wildcats missed 12 of 13 shots in one stretch. Guard Kerr Kriisa was 0 for 9 from the 3 point line as Arizona looked like it was taking some desperation shots. Azuolas Tubelis played limited minutes late as Justin Kier provided some scoring.

UCLA grew and sustained the lead for a final score of 75-59.

After watching the Arizona Wildcats versus the UCLA Bruins, you should be buying stock in both teams.