Each Monday through the Final Four, our own Robbie Buckets -- known in some circles as Rob Snyder, associate producer at CSN -- will take a look at the world of college basketball: Games to watch each week, players who might be on the Celtics' radar come draft time, what's going on locally . . . and, of course, power rankings (which will eventually morph into bracketology). Enjoy!
It was supposed to be a quiet week. Finals for some students meant one-game weeks for most teams. A lot of buy games to catch up on before conference play truly begins.
AND THEN WE GOT KENTUCKY-UNC.
Saturday featured a game for the ages -- and that isn't hyperbole. When I think of the best college games of the last few years, immediately Christian Watford's 3 at the buzzer to beat Anthony Davis and Kentucky comes to mind. Buddy Hield going tit for tat with Kansas in three overtimes comes to mind. Of course, Villanova winning a National Championship on a buzzer-beater comes to mind. But nothing, NOTHING, will compare to the 40 minutes of basketball we saw on Saturday between Kentucky and North Carolina. Sure, the game featured some bad turnovers and bouts of horrific transition defense, but it also featured incredible individual performances, gutsy shots, fearlessness from young kids, huge baskets from upperclassmen, and two teams that wouldn't go away from start to finish.
We got Malik Monk. The Kentucky freshman put up 47 points in a stunning effort. Not only was it high volume, but it was wildly efficient. His backcourt mate, De'Aaron Fox, put up 24 points of his own and showed off athleticism that is unmatched among most point guards. We saw Justin Jackson step up his game ten-fold when his team needed it the most, and Joel Berry hit big bucket after big bucket. In the end Kentucky won 103-100 . . . in regulation.
I have so many more thoughts this week on whether or not high-paced play is sustainable in March, what the hell is going on with Michigan State, and why Duke's schedule is reminding me of Arizona's awful SOS from a year ago , , , but, alas, you can get that from me on Twitter. I have power rankings to get to.
1. Villanova (11-0) - The defending champs had a quietly impressive win this week, waxing Temple by 21. The Cats have a 99.999 percent chance of entering Big East play undefeated, so expect them in this spot for at least a week longer.
2. UCLA (12-0) - I'm moving the Bruins up a spot despite the fact that Baylor hasn't lost. They are just way too talented and won't stop firing on all cylinders. Their rotation is perfect. My concerns: 1.) They are what they are already (not always a good sign). 2.) How will they fare in a game where their opponent dictates the pace? (I have this concern with multiple teams. Looking at you Creighton and Kentucky.)
3. Baylor (11-0) - Sorry, Bears, for dropping you one spot. You have a great resume, but it was weakened when you played a team called John Brown. (Based on the final score, you may have actually just played one guy named John Brown.) Either way, you remain undefeated.
4. Kansas (10-1) - You could really rotate teams 4, 5, and 6, but I like the Jayhawks here. I'm a fan of their backcourt, and their blend of youth, upperclassmen and depth. The issue here remains their frontcourt -- which should receive a boost with the return of Carlton Bragg (like it, or not).
5. Kentucky (10-1) - Moving up, because Saturday was way too incredible for me to not reward this team. Once again, I worry about how sustainable the Wildcats' play really is. This may be John Calipari's worst defensive team in years (and they aren't even that bad). The backcourt of Monk and Fox is maybe the most watchable part of college hoops right now, and, quietly, Bam Adebayo is coming into his own. His back-to-the-basket post game is really developing.
6. Duke (10-1) - I'm dropping the Blue Devils one spot again. I know they're getting healthy, but here's the reason why Kentucky has passed them: Duke has played ZERO true road games, and its non-conference slate now includes a loss to Kansas, a win against unranked Michigan State, a win against now unranked Rhode Island, a win against now unranked Florida, and a slew of buy games against bad teams. Next up: Tennessee State, Elon, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and BC. This is simply bad.
7. Gonzaga (11-0) - The Bulldogs finally suffered a scare on Sunday against Tennessee, but found a way to pull it out. The way the West Coast Conference is, the Zags have probably the most realistic shot at an undefeated season. My bold prediction is they earn a No, 1 or No. 2 ranking before the year is out.
8. Creighton (11-0) - So remember how I said I had a fear of high-paced teams being forced into half-court games? Exhibit A: The uber-talented Creighton Bluejays were a point from losing to 2-10 Oral Roberts. This team is still awesome, but the book on how to beat them this season was just written . . . in ink.
9. Virginia (9-1) - Another year, another permanent place in the KenPom Top 5. Virginia's defense is as good as usual, but its offense is still coming around. Will the Cavaliers have enough come March? Hell, I'm not sure if they'll have enough to win consistently in the ACC. But Tony Bennett always proves otherwise.
10. Louisville (10-1) - Virginia's defense is actually No. 2 in efficiency. They're one spot behind this team -- the Louisville Cardinals. Another squad that is carried by its defense, yet is a little anemic on the offensive end. The Cards have to figure out that end of the floor when ACC play begins.
11. West Virginia (9-1) - Congrats to Bob Huggins on winning his 800th career game. I don't think he's mentioned enough among the greats, and he is one of them. His team continues to win by simply playing harder than everyone else. The press is crazy good, and the defense is turning into offense with unexpected efficiency.
12. North Carolina (10-2) - It is so hard to penalize the Tar Heels for the way they played against Kentucky. Despite the great play, here are my concerns: 1) Guard depth, 2) Transition defense, 3) Quicker, smaller teams taking advantage of their big lineup along the perimeter. They're good enough to win on any night. I don't think they're good enough to get back to the Final Four.
13. Butler (10-1) - Oh, hello there! Remember when Butler was upset by Indiana State on Larry Bird's birthday? If you've already forgotten, it's because the Bulldogs followed it up by flexing their muscles against Cincinnati and then Indiana. Butler is getting everything and more out of Kelan Martin -- who is making up big time for the loss of Roosevelt Jones.
14. Wisconsin (10-2) - I was going to finish these rankings with two of the three best Big Ten teams. It seems unfair to leave out Indiana, but it seems more unfair to drop Wisconsin for no reason. For now, consider the Hoosiers No. 16 on the power rankings. The suddenly consistent Badgers will end up getting a chance to face off against them VERY soon anyway.
15. Purdue (9-2) - The Boilermakers looked destined to drop down the Top 25 after a bad first half on Saturday, but, to their credit, they made a furious comeback to beat Notre Dame. Not only did they pull off the comeback, but they did it by switching to a small lineup. Sign of a team that will be able to beat you multiple ways later in the season.
Rhode Island (7-4) - The Rams figured out a way to beat Holy Cross this week, but they just don't look right. I'm beginning to think this was never the team we thought they might be -- E.C. Matthews or not. I hope I'm wrong, because I'd love to see a local conference champ, but they have some work to do.
Providence (9-2) - The Friars keep winning and are being rewarded (sort of) by many bracketologists . . . not Buckets. I don't bother wasting my time with December bracketology. Remember, the Friars were picked to be near the bottom of the Big East this year, so it's a testament to how well Ed Cooley is coaching up this team so far this year.
UConn (5-5) - The Huskies followed up a loss to Ohio State with a convincing win over North Florida. I still don't have a good read on them, and I'm sure Kevin Ollie doesn't either. Right now they feel like an NIT team, which would be disappointing for everyone in Storrs.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEK
- Wednesday: Kentucky at Louisville
Sorry everyone, it's a really slow week . . .
POTENTIAL FUTURE CELTICS TO WATCH
Jayson Tatum - The Duke freshman has gotten his legs under him and he's starting to show why he was my favorite freshman entering the season. (He may not be any more, but he was and I'll stick by that.) He's incredibly smooth and the game seems to come to him effortlessly. I'm excited to see how he progresses as he continues to build himself a role.
Josh Hart - Villanova's guard/forward isn't going to be a lottery pick. He may not even be a first-rounder. But he's also the leader in the clubhouse for National Player of the Year, averaging 20.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg while shooting 56 percent. His work ethic is off the charts and, despite not being incredibly fast, he's extremely skilled at getting to the rim. He reminds me a lot of what Evan Turner is in the NBA, and I think his ceiling is important bench player.
Follow me on Twitter @RobbieBuckets for college hoops musings and off-the-cuff sports takes.