Happy halfway point weekend. The college basketball season just reached halftime, and to mark the occasion, we can unwrap all the surprise packages from the first half, in the WSTC top-25 list.
WSTC? Who Saw This Coming.
1. Six different No. 1 teams in the first eight weeks, from five leagues and three time zones. The top ranking seemed to turn radioactive.
2. North Carolina tied for last place in the ACC standings, having lost seven of nine games, five of the defeats at home. Roy Williams had a thought for his athletic director: Fire the coach. “Probably would not be a bad idea,” he said Saturday after the latest indignity, when the injury-battered Tar Heels blew a 10-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation and were beaten in overtime by Clemson. Until that moment, the Tigers were 0-59 all-time in Chapel Hill. Then again, streaks have become as endangered as the black rhino this season . . .
3. Non-conference visitors were 0-150 since 2000 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then Stephen F. Austin showed up. History didn’t mean much in the face of 22 Blue Devil turnovers — six in overtime — and 64 points allowed in the paint. Since the historical come-uppance, a wiser Duke is 9-0 by an average winning margin of 22.8 points.
4. Unranked opponents were 0-39 at Rupp Arena, when Kentucky was No. 1. But not after Evansville came to town. P.S. At last check, Evansville was 0-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Well, the Aces will always have Lexington.
5. Florida A&M was 0-106 against power conferences since the 1980s, but took care of that at Iowa State. The Cyclones were without injured star Tyrese Haliburton, but still. Florida A&M was picked to finish ninth in the MEAC and arrived in Ames with a 1-9 record. At last check, the Rattlers were 3-11.
6. Baylor was 0-16 at Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas and 0-24 all-time on the road against top-five ranked opponents. How’s that old cliché go? The Bears killed two streaks with one stone, when they knocked off the No. 3 Jayhawks on Saturday. That made Baylor 5-0 this season against ranked opponents, and with as good an argument as any to be ranked No. 1. As if anyone wants to be. By the way, the Bears’ last Final Four was 1950.
7. Butler’s rocket ride. The Bulldogs went from being picked to finish eighth in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll to No. 6 in the AP rankings. The highest spot they ever reached in their two national runner-up seasons was 11th.
8. James Wiseman’s final statistics at Memphis: Three games and 59 points for one of the most hyped freshman in the land.
9. Cassius Winston’s pain. It was to be a glorious senior last bow, leading preseason No. 1 Michigan State, but his world turned upside down in November when his brother was killed after a train accident. He labored through his grief and the Spartans endured struggles. But by January, he was scoring 32 and 27 points in consecutive Big Ten games and Michigan State was on the move. At least until the Spartans ran into Purdue Sunday. The Boilermakers scored only 37 points against Illinois the other night but had that many 18 minutes into the game against Michigan State.
10. The final two unbeatens at the midway mark would be Auburn and San Diego State. Auburn lost all three double-figure scorers from its Final Four team. San Diego State didn’t even get invited to the NIT last season, but is No. 4 in the latest NET ratings.
11. Only three ACC teams in the top 35 of the NCAA’s current NET rankings. One fewer than the Pac-12.
NOTHING BUT NET: The NET rankings, explained
12. Michigan’s excellent adventures in the Bahamas. After blowing through Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga at the Battle 4 Atlantis — leading for 92 of the 120 minutes — the Wolverines soared from unranked to No. 4 in one week. It was an unprecedented leap in the AP poll, not to mention a fine coming out party for Juwan Howard.
13. UCLA losing in Pauley Pavilion to Cal State Fullerton and Hofstra, and sitting in 149th in the latest NCAA NET rankings — behind such names as Nicholls State, Penn and Oral Roberts.
14. The Obi Toppin Show. Between all his highlight show slams — the first two shots of his career last season were dunks, with 133 more since – and his 22.3 scoring average in Maui, Dayton’s 6-9 sophomore became a breakout star. He’s led the Flyers to six consecutive weeks in the AP poll, and that hasn’t happened since 1958.
15. West Virginia, who finished last in the Big 12 in 2019, rolling to a 13-2 start. That came against 15 opponents who, at the halfway mark, had a combined winning percentage of 75.0. How are the Mountaineers doing it? Depth, for one thing. Their bench averages 47.5 points a game and has outscored the opponents’ reserves for the season 713-239.
16. Illinois, 12-21 last season and out of the NCAA tournament since 2013, in second place in the brutal Big Ten.
17. Duquesne, whose last NCAA tournament appearance came 43 years ago during the Jimmy Carter administration, atop the Atlantic 10.
18. Rutgers, 29 years removed from its last NCAA tournament invitation and picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten, and now 12-4 and tied for third.
SCARLET KNIGHT FEVER: 13 things to know about Rutgers, who might break a 29-year NCAAT drought
19. Tulane, 4-27 last year and picked to finish last in the American Conference this one, getting 10 wins by Jan. 11.
20. Syracuse 8-7 after 15 games and in danger of a losing season, something Jim Boeheim has never seen, not in 43 years. Then the Orange won this weekend at Virginia, so maybe not.
21. Seton Hall, without its injured two leading scorers, turning to defense as Plan B, and upsetting No. 7 Maryland 52-48. The Pirates blocked 15 shots. The Terrapins had 14 field goals. Seton Hall used that as a springboard to a 4-0 start in the Big East.
22. Providence losing consecutive games to Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston, getting shelled by Florida by 32 points — then starting 3-0 in the Big East.
23. Filip Petrusev, who averaged only 11 minutes and 6.5 points a game as a freshman, becoming Gonzaga’s latest All-American candidate as a sophomore. And the Zags rolled on.
24. UConn losing at home. No, not the men in two overtimes to Wichita State on Sunday, but the women by 16 points to Baylor in Thursday. That hadn’t happened in 98 games. Streaks getting busted practice gender equity this season.
25. A Division I game actually ending with a final score of 143-49. Utah’s rout of Mississippi Valley State was the widest DI winning margin ever, and featured nine Utes in double figures, two of them getting triple-doubles.
There’s something you don’t see every day. Or Clemson winning at North Carolina, which is why the celebrating Tigers did everything but cut down the Smith Center nets. Or a player score 40 and 51 points on consecutive days like Marquette’s Markus Howard did. Or a team play five overtime games in its first 18 like UNLV.
The first half was for rare sightings, and to show that neither streaks nor No. 1 rankings are meant to last this season.