By John Fanta
Hoboken, NJ — The Jimmy V Classic combined with the Maui Invitational and more Bubbleville action provided for quite a day of college basketball as week two of the season got underway.
Here are four instant takeaways:
1. The gear Baylor hit in the second half against Illinois was the closest thing to Gonzaga that I’ve seen this season.
With just over 13 minutes on the clock, Baylor and Illinois were tied at 43. And then, the Bears put together as good of a seven-minute stretch of basketball that we have seen thus far this season, surging on a 27-11 run and pulling away to beating the Fighting Illini in Indianapolis, 82-69.
The Bears’ defense hit a different gear. The scoring question? It was answered in resounding fashion. Four Baylor players scored in double-figures. It didn’t need to be the Jared Butler show. In fact, he was scoreless for much of the second half. Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler was a revelation with a team-high 18 points off the bench. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua continued to show he can be that big-time post presence in place of the graduated Freddie Gillespie. Tchamwa Tchatchoua had nine points and nine boards in the victory.
In total, a 27-11 run put the game out of reach for the Fighting Illini, who will get another opportunity to make a statement when taking on Duke Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
For Baylor, they more than showed why the Bears are ranked second in the nation. If only they could meet the other team that’s touched that elite gear, Gonzaga. One can dream, right?
Well, that comes true this weekend.
Gonzaga. Baylor. Saturday. 1 ET. CBS.
From Indianapolis, the likely home of the Final Four, where they could meet again.
2. It’s just scary that Andrew Nembhard comes off the bench for Gonzaga
When Jalen Suggs went down in the first half with an injury, the college basketball world held its collective breath with a freshman of the year candidate sidelined. Fortunately, he returned in the second half and helped the top-ranked Zags to an 87-82 win over West Virginia.
The two things that come to mind with Mark Few’s team? They are head-and-shoulders better than everybody else in the sport at the moment. I really believe it. The No. 1 ranking is so warranted, and there’s no team that can beat them if the Zags are fully healthy and at their best.
The other thing? Andrew Nembhard, Florida’s assist leader a year ago, coming off the bench for Gonzaga now. That’s just freakishly unfair. He would start for any of the 350 other programs in America. On Wednesday, Nembhard scored 19 points with six assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes. With Suggs down, Nembhard’s presence only meant more and the junior played championship-level basketball.
3. How about the West Coast Conference?
Speaking of Gonzaga, the WCC looks like a multi-bid league in college basketball this season. Saint Mary’s will be a factor. BYU bounced back from a loss to USC with a win over a plucky St. John’s team in Bubbleville.
But the biggest development? San Francisco. Todd Golden’s Dons beat Nevada by 25 on Wednesday, a week removed from shocking Virginia in Bubbleville. In the 85-60 victory over the Wolfpack, the Doms did it with the same formula that’s driven them thus far: the veteran backcourt of Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz. Averaging a combined 34.8 points per game in their 3-2 start, the Dons can be in the mix in the top tier of the conference. The win over Virginia was no fluke, and of course, it goes back to veteran guards and the success that can come with them in college hoops. San Francisco checks that box off in multiple ways.
4. In a critical year for the program, Shaka Smart and Texas are off to a perfect start.
Upperclassmen guards are the equivalent of gold in college basketball, and Texas has a three-headed monster that just drove the Longhorns past Davidson, Stanford and North Carolina for the first Maui Invitational championship in program history.
Fittingly, senior Matt Coleman delivered the elbow jumper just before the buzzer to secure the 69-67 victory over the Tar Heels. He’s accompanied by juniors Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones in the Horns’ backcourt, forming a trio that averaged 39.3 points per game over the Feast Week title run.
The experience could be felt defensively too, as Texas eliminated the three-ball for North Carolina on Wednesday. The Tar Heels shot just 0-for-11 from beyond the arc, with freshman RJ Davis getting held in check to just a 3-for-11 mark from the field.
Is Texas back? Look, it may be early, but I have a hard time believing a team with this backcourt, the length of Kai Jones and Jericho Sims and a high-ceiling freshman in Greg Brown won’t be a Top-20 team for most of the season. In a year so big for Smart, he’s got the Horns off to a 4-0 start.