The week ended with the news that Villanova would be taking a pause due to two positive COVID-19 cases within the staff, including head coach Jay Wright.
And yet, while that news was disappointing, there were still many pluses during the week I want to call out before I get to the weekly honors. The Big Ten played four fantastic games on Christmas Day, showing that if college basketball so chooses, it can dominate the space and produce a high-quality product.
DePaul, which was the last high-major team to play this season, played two games after three layoffs and only handful of practices. The second game was a double-overtime loss at Providence. The Blue Demons showed tremendous grit in pushing the Friars. They showed how much these players wanted to compete and play this season.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL RANKINGS: Wisconsin, Illinois, Creighton surge in this week’s Power 36
Oh, and the highlight of the week, was the dominance by No. 1 Gonzaga, putting up 98 points on Virginia’s defense. That simply doesn’t happen to a Tony Bennett-coached team.
Gonzaga or the field? Well, that question is going to be out there for the next few months and it’s going to be quite a race/chase to see how it plays out.
So, on to the honors from Dec. 21-27:
Team of the Week: Wisconsin — The Badgers took on the new role of Big Ten favorite with a Christmas Day win at Michigan State. The Badgers, like Michigan and Northwestern, are undefeated in the Big Ten. D’Mitrik Trice scored 29 and the Badgers are looking the part of a team that could challenge for a Final Four berth.
Player of the Week: Gonzaga senior Corey Kispert — Kispert was stroking 3s at a player-of-the-year pace. He was absolutely sensational with 32 points, including nine 3-pointers in 13 attempts. He made 11 of 15 shots overall in the 98-75 victory over Virginia in Fort Worth. The No. 1-ranked 7-0 Bulldogs are an offensive juggernaut. Kispert is one of the toughest matchups in the country now. He’s averaging 22.4 points in 30 minutes a game. He’s shooting 63.6 percent, 52 percent on 3s.
The comeback story: Northwestern — The Wildcats are 3-0 for the first time since 1968. The win at Indiana and the comeback win over Ohio State were the latest examples that the Wildcats have changed the narrative. Northwestern has every right to believe it can earn an NCAA tournament berth. Chris Collins was committed to this core of players, stuck with them through a rough two seasons and now they are blossoming.
The dagger: Marcus Carr drilled a 3-pointer to push Minnesota into overtime against Iowa. The Gophers ended up prevailing behind Carr’s 30 and Brandon Johnson’s 26. Carr has put together an all-Big Ten season before New Year’s. He has been sensational as the Gophers’ lead guard. He continues to take and make big shots.
Bounce-back team: Louisville — The Cardinals were depleted (minus Carlik Jones) in a blowout loss to Wisconsin. A week later, the Cardinals beat Pitt and then took down rival Kentucky behind David Johnson scoring 17 and 20, respectively. Louisville isn’t going to win the ACC, but this week proved that they can be an NCAA tournament team.
The Pac-12 sleeper: Colorado — The Buffaloes got blitzed by Tennessee when they came off pause. But since then, they have ripped off four-straight wins, including a win over Grand Canyon. The Buffaloes played a non-conference game against Washington in Las Vegas, too. While Washington State is off to an 8-0 start, the Cougars may not be a real contender. Colorado can push Oregon, UCLA and likely Stanford near the top. Arizona State will likely right itself and once USC is back the Trojans could be a major factor, as well.
The MWC race: Boise State is poised to challenge San Diego State. The Broncos swept New Mexico to open the league. Boise State has a win over BYU and its loss was to Houston. San Diego State, meanwhile, came back after a home loss to BYU to destroy Saint Mary’s.
Gut-check win: Houston over UCF. The Cougars were ripe to be upset by the surging Knights. But Houston reasserted itself as the team to beat in the American. UCF had won at Florida State. Houston was having none of it and won in Orlando.
Hats off to the Horizon: Four teams in the Horizon League have already played four league games. Wright State and Cleveland State are 4-0. Conference games will be/should be able to be played over the next two months. And maximizing this time of the year when students are still off-campus is critical to a full conference slate.
The hottest team not named Gonzaga or Baylor: Well, it may be Drake. The Bulldogs headed into Monday’s second game at Indiana State at 10-0! The Bulldogs lost their top big in Liam Robbins to Minnesota and yet are now the new favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference.