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Mike Lopresti | | January 10, 2023

The college basketball storylines you might have missed while watching college football

Kansas rises to No. 1 in the Power 36 men's college basketball rankings

Been too focused on the college football playoffs and Georgia’s coronation to pay much attention to basketball? No problem. Now that you've seen the Bulldogs with confetti pouring down on their heads as they climbed off their steamroller, welcome back. You’re just in time for the second half of the season.

The first half? Glad you asked.

Don’t worry about catching up with any unbeaten teams. There ain’t any. Not since New Mexico went down to Fresno State on Jan. 3. That’s the quickest date in five years for everyone to have a loss, so the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers — history’s last perfect champions — got to relax early this season.

And don’t pay too much attention to those preseason polls you might still have around. Very old news.

North Carolina was No. 1. Now the Tar Heels are out of the rankings. You'll find them in the others receiving votes section, 29 points below Florida Atlantic. The Tar Heels are only the sixth team in 62 years to go from preseason No. 1 to out of the Associated Press poll.

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Kentucky was No. 4, but the Wildcats already have five losses, four of them by double digits, the latest a 78-52 shellacking at Alabama that was the second-worst SEC pounding ever for a John Calipari Kentucky team. All this barely nine months after Saint Peter’s. The fact the five teams to beat the Wildcats this season — Michigan State, Gonzaga, UCLA, Missouri and Alabama — are a combined 65-13 has not soothed the crisis of confidence in a jittery Big Blue Nation. “We look discombobulated," Calipari said after the Alabama whacking. And while we’re on the subject of Bluegrass blues, Louisville is 2-14.

Also, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Creighton were all picked to win their high-profile leagues. As of Tuesday morning, they were a combined 8-9 in conference play, and none were in the top-25. Neither were Baylor and Villanova. But Charleston was, with the nation’s longest winning streak at 15. By the way, UNC Wilmington is tied for second longest winning streak at 13. The two meet Wednesday in Wilmington.

Some of the preseason thinking was all wet the other direction, too. Kansas State was picked to finish 10th and last in the Big 12 but at the moment is 14-1 and 11th in the Associated Press poll. The Wildcats have just barnstormed through a remarkable three-peat against ranked conference opponents, coming from 14 points down to beat West Virginia in overtime, outrunning Texas 116-103 in the highest-scoring regulation game in league history, and surviving in overtime at Baylor 97-95 after 20 lead changes. The ringleader of this surge was a 5-8 stick of dynamite named Markquis Nowell, who in the three games contributed 91 points and 33 assists and was 34-for-38 from the free throw line.

Clemson was picked to finish 11th in the ACC, but at 5-0 is the last team with an unbeaten conference record. Providence was voted fifth in the Big East and responded with its first 6-0 league start ever. Ed Cooley’s guys are old hands at ignoring conventional wisdom. The past two years the Friars were picked to finish fifth and seventh in the Big East and are 20-3 in conference games.

While pondering the Big East, you might want to light a candle for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown. No, the Hoyas didn’t win a conference game while you were distracted by football. The league losing streak is now 26, longest in the history of the Big East.

Some pretty long winning streaks have trembled at the brink. Kansas had to come from 15 points behind in the second half and get a game-winning basket from KJ Adams with 4.8 seconds left to fight off Oklahoma State and avoid losing its first Big 12 opener in 32 years. Gonzaga needed a Rasir Bolton follow-up with seven seconds left to edge San Francisco 77-75 and keep its 90-game winning streak over unranked opponents going.

All the variety and unpredictability of college basketball has been on display. Creighton started 6-0, then lost six in a row. Texas scored 103 points and lost, then four days later scored 56 points and won. The Longhorns also abruptly lost their head coach as Chris Beard was fired after a felony domestic violence charge. Iowa dropped six of nine games — including an unfathomable defeat by giant underdog Eastern Illinois in the season’s most shocking upset to date — but then rallied from 21 points down to beat Indiana and became the first visiting team in five years to never trail in a game at Rutgers. The Hawkeyes were led that night by Payton Sandfort with his 22 points and 6-for-8 shooting. In Iowa’s first three Big Ten games, he was 0-for-19.

Washington State started out 5-9 and lost to Prairie View A&M. Then the Cougars beat USC by 10 points and flattened No. 5 Arizona on its home court by 13. Washington State had been 0-37 against top-5 teams in the past 40 years.

Tennessee made its name with defense and the nation’s lowest field goal percentage allowed. Now the Vols have unwrapped their offense, which is how they’ve just blown through Mississippi State 87-53 and South Carolina 85-42, their first back-to-back 30-point wins in the SEC since 1965.

Texas A&M might be the only team this season to trail before the game even started. The Aggies’ student managers forgot the team jerseys at the hotel and by the time they were able to retrieve them, Texas A&M was assessed a technical foul for delay of game. The Aggies were behind 1-0 when the opening tip went up, but won 66-63. “I forgot the jerseys in my hotel room,” coach Buzz Williams said. “That’s probably the right way to say it because I used to be a manager.”

Indiana State has blasted off in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 6-0 start, trailing only 13 ½ of the 240 minutes played so far. The last time the Sycamores were 6-0 in the Valley, they had a forward named Larry Bird.

And yes, that's Alabama No. 4 in the latest AP poll. Perhaps you've noticed that's one spot higher than where the football Tide finished.

So you’ve missed a lot while away watching Georgia own the football world, lock, stock and TCU. Still, there are many things to follow now that you’re here.

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You can see how long Houston stays at No. 1, having muscled back to the top by holding 14 of its first 17 opponents to 59 points or under. The Cougars seem at home in a spot they hadn't seen in 40 years.

You can study the skyline of player-of-the-year candidates and notice that the one tower in the middle of it all, as conspicuous as the Empire State Building, is Purdue’s 7-4 Zach Edey. He has already been Big Ten player of the week four times, is in the top seven nationally in both scoring and rebounding and has five more blocked shots this season than he has fouls.

You can start calculating the chances of the first back-to-back national championship since Florida 16 years ago, with Kansas moving along at 14-1. Jalen Wilson has become a star, Gradey Dick a freshman phenom and Kevin McCullar Jr. a transfer prize. Then there's Adams. In his first 44 games at Kansas, he never once reached double figures in points, and went scoreless in 24 of them. He didn't contribute one point and played only 14 minutes in last spring's NCAA tournament march. He’s now scored double figures eight games in a row, and made crucial baskets in the final 10 seconds of two Big 12 victories. The Jayhawks have six Quadrant 1 wins, including such impressive thrashings as 28 points over Missouri and 22 over Indiana, and show growing potential as a threat to repeat.

You know, like Georgia.

And you can monitor the climb up Mt. Maravich by Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis. The nation’s leading scorer at 25 points a game, Davis has now reached 3,159 career points, sixth on the all-time list. At his current pace, he could pass Portland State’s Freeman Williams for second place in four more games. That would leave only Pete Maravich’s 3,667 far off in the haze. If Davis keeps putting up 25 points a night, he would need 21 games to get to Maravich. The Titans have 14 left in the regular season so Davis' chances probably hinge on a long stay in the Horizon League tournament and then another good run in the NCAA or NIT. The sticky wicket is that Detroit Mercy is 6-11.

One last thing to mention as you get acclimated from the oblong ball. About Georgia and TCU — in basketball, not football. Georgia is 11-4, a year after going 6-26. Top that, Stetson Bennett. TCU is 13-2, with its losses by one and two points. In seven of their victories, the Horned Frogs allowed under 65 points. The football team should have been so lucky Monday night.

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