It was the first blood weekend of the 2018-19 college basketball season. A weekend where five of the top 11 teams in the country tasted defeat, three more ranked teams were handed Ls, and the sport’s two highest-profile matchups both lived up to the hype.
Let’s get to the 10 main things you need to know about the weekend that was in college hoops.
1. Both Unbeatens Fall on the Same Day
The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers could share a celebratory champagne toast if they wanted to. Or if Bob Knight would return their calls. After Saturday, the Hoosiers are guaranteed to be college basketball’s most recent undefeated national champion for at least another year.
No. 2 Michigan kicked Saturday off with a 64-54 loss to the team that has become John Beilein’s kryptonite, Wisconsin. The loss was the Wolverines’ first in 18 games this season, the best start in program history. It also marked the program’s first regular season loss since Feb. 6, 2018. Michigan’s only defeat between then and Saturday? To Villanova in last year’s national title game.
About six hours after the final horn sounded in Madison, Virginia also saw its perfect season come to an end. The Cavaliers came up just short in the game of the weekend, falling 74-72 at No. 4 Duke. More on that in a bit.
This is actually the second straight season where the country’s last remaining unbeaten teams have lost on the same day. Last season it was actually three teams all tasting defeat on the first day. On Dec. 30, 2017, Villanova lost to Butler and TCU fell to Oklahoma, those defeats coming a few hours before Arizona State (technically the last remaining unbeaten) lost by six to in-state rival Arizona.
2. The World Gets a Sneak Peak at Zion Madness
With no college or professional football being played on a Saturday for the first time in 2019, the showcase came between Duke and Virginia likely had a few more eyes than it would have had their been more sporting competition. A healthy chunk of those eyes were tuning in to see one man in particular: Jack Salt.
Or Zion Williamson. Definitely one of the two.
For those flipping to ESPN to get their first extended fix of the most talked about college basketball player in the world, he did not disappoint. Williamson connected on 10 of his 16 field goal attempts, scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and treated the world to one of his most impressive highlights of 2018-19.
This exchange from Zion Williamson: my word. Grab-and-go rebound, ditches Jerome with an in-and-out crossover at top speed, to the finish over a 7-footer with his off hand. Wow. pic.twitter.com/OjZyn4r64C— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 20, 2019
If you’ve been unhappy about the attention Williamson has received up to this point, I’ve got some news you might want to lie down for.
In the post-Super Bowl world, where many sports fans start really paying attention to college basketball for the first time, Zion is going to receive even more attention. Forget player, team, coach, whatever, Williamson is going to be the most talked about thing throughout the buildup to the NCAA tournament and throughout March Madness itself.
So set your advanced muting options on Twitter right now or do whatever you need to do, because it’s going to get worse. And it should. We’ve never seen a freak show quite like this in college basketball, and we might not ever see it again. The fact that he’s playing for the highest-profile program in the sport and alongside two freshmen who could very well join him in the top five of the NBA Draft in a few months doesn’t hurt matters either.
3. The Big 12 is a Jumbled Mess
Kansas is suddenly without a reliable big man, its freshman guards aren’t maturing the way Bill Self was hoping they would, they’re getting next to nothing from their bench, and they just lost to a West Virginia team that entered the weekend 0-5 in conference play and 8-9 overall.
The logical jumping point from all of this is onto a note explaining that KU’s run of 14 straight Big 12 regular season titles is about to come to an end.
There’s a problem with that. For the streak to end, at least one team has to be able to reach out and grab the gift Kansas is holding in its extended hand.
Texas Tech, which entered last week 4-0 in the Big 12 and No. 8 in the AP poll, just lost at home to Iowa State and then on the road to an average Baylor team. That Iowa State team arrived in Lubbock coming off back-to-back league losses. Kansas State was wildly underwhelming in non-conference play, and bean its league run with two straight losses, but has since reeled off four consecutive wins.
The result of all this is four teams tied atop the league standings with 4-2 conference records, and another (Baylor) a half game behind the quartet at 3-2.
Kansas has a significant number of issues at the moment. None of those issues involve a rock solid conference mate who appears poised to steal their crown even if KU gets its other affairs in order.
4. Florida State’s Rotten 10 Days
Two Saturdays ago, Florida State appeared to be headed for the top of the college hoops world. The 13th-ranked Seminoles had outplayed Duke all afternoon and were 2.8 seconds away from their most significant regular season win in who knows how long. Then, Cam Reddish got wide-open on a baseline out of bounds set, buried a game-winning three-pointer, and broke hearts across Tallahassee. Despite the loss, FSU actually moved up two spots to No. 11 in last week’s AP poll.
Leonard Hamilton’s team may not even be in this week’s poll.
Perhaps it was a hangover from the Duke loss, but Florida State appeared to be more or less going through the motions during a 75-62 loss at Pittsburgh Monday evening. They then had a full six days to get their minds right and prepare for a bounce back performance at Boston College on Sunday. Instead, FSU allowed the Eagles to score 51 second half points and squandered a 10-point halftime advantage in an 87-82 loss.
In nine days, Florida State went from 2.8 seconds away from a signature win and a top 10 ranking, to losing to the team that had been the only winless squad in the ACC, and suddenly finding itself part of a five-way tie for last place in the conference.
5. Ja Morant Makes History
It was a big week for Murray State superstar and soon-to-be NBA millionaire Ja Morant.
First, he made national headlines and led SportsCenter with this dunk in the Racers’ midweek win over Eastern Illinois:
Ja Morant. Mother of God. pic.twitter.com/XHmNnIBxyy— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 18, 2019
Then, in Saturday’s 82-72 win over SIU-Edwardsville, Morant did all of the following:
—Scored a career-high 40 points.
—Became the first Division-I player in two decades to make 21 free-throws without missing.
—Became the first Division-I player in two decades to post a stat line of 40 points, 10 assists and five steals in a regulation game.
—Scored or assisted on 63 of Murray State’s 82 points.
Morant now leads the nation in assists, averaging a whopping 10.6 dimes per game. No one is even within shouting distance of that total.
Oh, and at 24.3 ppg, he’s also the nation’s sixth-leading scorer.
Morant and the Racers have a big week ahead, facing both of their toughest challengers in the OVC — Belmont and Jacksonville State.
Again, please let this man play in the NCAA tournament.
6. Indiana is in Trouble
To backtrack a bit on that sub-heading, Indiana’s resume at the moment still has no terrible losses, a pair of quality wins over Marquette and Louisville, and a respectable NET ranking of 34. That would all be good enough to land the Hoosiers in the field of 68 if the tournament started today.
The issue is where the Hoosiers are and where their recent performances say they’re heading.
Indiana has lost four straight, three of those losses coming by double-digits. Their most recent defeat, a 70-55 shellacking at the hands of arch-rival Purdue, directly mirrored a Monday loss to Nebraska in which IU’s opponent appeared to be in firm control of the contest from the opening tip to the final whistle. Criticism in the Hoosier state continues to ramp up as a team with two of the program’s best players in recent memory — one which has spent almost all of this season nationally ranked — suddenly finds itself in a dangerous spot.
The primary issue with Indiana is pretty straightforward.
Romeo Langford — the program’s anointed savior — has been as good as advertised, averaging 17.9 ppg and establishing himself as one of the best finishers in the country. It’s not hard to argue that the 2018 Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana has been the third best freshman in college basketball so far this season. Juwan Morgan, as expected, has played at an All-Big Ten level, averaging 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds.
After that? Ehh ... not much.
The fear with Indiana heading into the season was that the Hoosiers looked too much like a two-man team. The hope was that at least one member of the supporting cast would evolve into a good, if not great, third option. That hasn’t come to close to happening. Injuries deserve a portion of the blame for that, but far from all of it. On days like Saturday where Langford struggles and Morgan can’t dominate the post without resistance, the Hoosiers simply have no counter.
There are exceptions, but more times than not, teams basically are who they are by this point in the season.
At this point in the season, Indiana is a horrible shooting team with a superstar freshman guard and a reliable senior forward and nothing else of note. Unless that changes dramatically over the coming weeks, Archie Miller’s second season in Bloomington is going to be remembered as a disappointment.
7. Buzzer-Beater Turnabout is Fair Play
A week ago, Georgia State beat Louisiana-Monroe at the buzzer on this controversial bucket by D’Marcus Simonds.
Don't see how this is not a travel pic.twitter.com/lobCAP72bf— Luke Richard (@lukerich22) January 12, 2019
Adding to insults to injury for ULM were two things: First, they had also been beaten at the buzzer by Georgia Southern just two days earlier. Second, Simonds took to Twitter after the game to admit that he both walked and pushed off to secure the game’s final two points.
The Sun Belt would later suspend the officiating crew that worked the game, which likely offered little solace to Louisiana-Monroe.
What might have made the Warhawks feel better was what Troy did to Georgia State on Saturday.
J O R D O N V A R N A D O— Troy Trojans MBB (@TroyTrojansMBB) January 19, 2019
G A M E! pic.twitter.com/ShnlnY2LjM
The loss was the first in league play for Georgia State, which sits tied atop the conference standings with Texas State at 5-1.
Shouts to the Fun Belt for always living up to its nickname.
8. The Murry Magic is Over
After Murry Bartow took over as UCLA’s interim head coach and promptly led the Bruins to a 3-0 start in Pac-12 play, there was some early chatter — mostly jokingly, because it would be hilarious — that Bartow could wind up being the league’s Coach of the Year. That dream now appears to be falling apart, as UCLA has dropped consecutive games to slip to 3-2 in the league.
The talented Bruins’ most recent defeat came at the hands of their equally talented but equally disinterested city rival, USC. The Trojans snapped a four-game skid in the series with an 80-67 home victory. Both teams are now 3-2 in the Pac-12, a full two games behind conference leader Washington.
9. Kentucky Has Turned a Corner: Part II
There was a healthy amount of talk about “corner turning” after Kentucky ended a disappointing non-conference run with back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Louisville. The Wildcats then promptly followed that turn with another, starting SEC play with a surprising 77-75 road loss to Alabama.
The Cats have since won four straight, their most recent being their most significant: An 82-80 road triumph over No. 14 Auburn. The win was the first for a John Calipari-coached Kentucky team on the road against a top 15 SEC opponent.
There are reasons to believe this second corner turn is worthy of more faith than the first. For starters, Ashton Hagans has become the dynamic point guard every successful Calipari team has to have. He’s also continuing to establish himself as one of the best, if not the best, on-ball defenders in the country. Tyler Herro has broken out of his early shooting slump to become the reliable and clutch scorer he was made out to be heading into the year. Lastly, Keldon Johnson is playing — with the game against Georgia on Tuesday as an exception — like the lottery pick he has to be for this team to be a reliable Final Four threat.
There are still some glaring issues with this Kentucky team. They don’t shoot it well from the outside for long stretches, they’re not getting enough from their bench, and their two big men are both about 3/4 of the player Calipari needs them to be inside. Even so, UK is much closer now to what we thought they were going to be heading into the year than it looked like they were going to be a month ago.
10. No League Has More Drama Than the AAC
Not the good type of drama either.
Outside of Houston’s feel-good 18-1 start, the American is a bit down this year. Wichita State is down significantly, UConn has been a disappointment after a promising start, Cincinnati is very good, but not great like a season ago, and preseason favorite UCF was handed disappointing non-con losses by Missouri and Florida Atlantic.
The most notable thing about the American in 2018-19 thus far has been the behavior of its head coaches and officials.
First, there was Penny Hardaway getting into it With Rick Barnes (and anyone associated with Tennessee basketball) back in December. The, there was this past week, where four different AAC head coaches were ejected from games.
First up was Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, who was none-too-pleased about getting the boot in the middle of his team’s eventual 82-74 win over South Florida.
“His tough guy buddy threw me out,” Cronin said of the official in question. “What they did, they almost penalized a group of kids and they should be suspended. Instead, the league office is monitoring my press conference right now to see if I say anything wrong. That’s the problem with our sport.”
Cronin lamented that nothing would change as the referees are independent contractors.
”Nothing will happen,” Cronin said. “They just go about their business and they do what they do.”
One night later, UConn’s Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith both got the axe under unusual circumstances. After both head coaches were assessed a technical for arguing with one another, they appeared to approach each other to shake hands and bury the hatchet. That’s when each was hit with a second technical and forced to watch the remainder of the action from the locker room.
Afterwards, both coaches were befuddled.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hurley said after Tulsa’s 89-83 win. “It was surreal, I would say. ... Watch what happened on TV. It’s very clear. I was talking to the official, and then I was engaged by someone on the other sideline. They said my name, in my direction, so I turned and looked (with) kind of a look of surprise.
”I’ve known Frank for a very long time — probably 15, 18, 20 years, back to when I was a high school coach and he recruited my players. I feel as though that situation escalated because of the officials and the way they handled the situation.”
Haith concurred that the ejections were not warranted and said he considered Hurley a friend.
This leads us to Saturday, where Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall almost didn’t make it through all 40 minutes of the Shockers’ home loss to Cincinnati.
“I felt like the road team today,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
Whatever Stevenson said, referee Olandis Poole deemed it worthy of a technical. After Stevenson relayed to Marshall what he said, Marshall ripped into Poole, then Poole’s colleague Marques Pettigrew and finally crew chief Pat Adams before earning a technical foul himself from Adams.
The snap-second decision by Marshall resulted in another technical and another two points for Cincinnati, but he felt like it was justified after the game.
“I felt like at that point, I had to back my player,” Marshall said. “If that’s a technical foul in that type of game with all the chit-chat going on ...
“I hope the whistle was better than I thought it was during the game. When I look at it, I certainly hope it was better than I think it is right now.”
“You can write about, you can talk about it,” Marshall answered at the podium when asked about the officiating. “Unfortunately, I can’t. I’d like to.”
It should be noted that two of the officials involved in the ejections of Haith and Hurley — Marques Pettigrew and Pat Adams — were the two who assessed the technicals to Marshall on Saturday.
Hey, if your league’s going to be a bit down in terms of overall strength, I’m not going to hate on you for finding other ways to make it interesting as hell. Kudos to the American.