Sure, the sports weekend was dominated by the NFL Playoffs, but college basketball had plenty of interesting games and consequential outcomes. You've come here to get some perspective on the results and storylines that mean that most.
From the good to the surprising to the concerning, here are my 10 takeaways from college basketball this weekend.
1. Andrew Jones deserves this and so much more
The biggest college hoops story to come out of Saturday was No. 4 Texas' last-second 72-70 win at No. 14 West Virginia, the Longhorns lifted by Andrew Jones' corner 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left. Now UT is 10-1, remains unbeaten in the Big 12 (4-0) and has its best start in league play in a decade (it won its first 11 conference games in 2010-11).
Jones eclipsed 1,000 career points on Saturday as well. He finished with 16 points and made four 3-pointers. Here's the winner which, backstory taken into account, amounts to one of the five biggest plays of the season so far.
As you may have heard, Jones' winner came on the three-year anniversary of Shaka Smart informing Texas' team that Jones had leukemia. Goosebumps to all of that. The Longhorns also won thanks to junior guard Courtney Ramey dropping a game-high 19 points along with six assists and five rebounds; it was Ramey's heads-up dish to Jones that made the clinching bucket possible.
A year ago, Texas went to West Virginia and lost 97-59. What a boomerang result this was. Not a bad way for Smart to win his 100th game at the school.
It was a significant W because of how Texas won. UT chased WVU for most of the game before flipping the gap on its last possible possession. We are seeing enough evidence to suggest this team is capable of making the Final Four. Texas has won six straight and has a 3-1 record vs. ranked teams. It has road wins at two of the three toughest spots it will play this season (Kansas and WVU, with Baylor still awaiting). And in one-possession finishes, Texas is 4-0 this season.
2. Kentucky's done a 180
The Wildcats still need two more wins (without a loss mixed in) to merely get back to .500. But if you saw UK's 76-58 victory at Florida on Saturday, you saw a team that looks almost nothing like the one that existed for the first five weeks of the season.
The Wildcats shot 56% -- a huge sign of improvement. Even more so with the game being on the road and against a decent Florida crew. John Calipari's guys ran off two 10-0 runs and another 13-0 run. That indicates UK is jelling, finding its stride.
Let's investigate the trends stitching this three-game winning streak together. In UK's past three wins (ironically without combo guard Terrence Clarke) the team's shooting 46.8% from beyond the arc (as opposed to 25% in its games before that). Its foul shooting accuracy has bumped from 66.2% to 77.4%. It's up nearly four blocks per game (to 8.7). Kentucky's also averaging 8.7 steals in the past three games, nearly three more than in its previous seven.
Here's the bonus. Keion Brooks made his season debut and upgraded UK's dynamic. He had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes off the bench. Brooks' value may become more realized in the next couple of games. This result, by the way, was Florida's worst home loss in 23 years. Kentucky's won five straight against the Gators, too.
"They've got elite length, closing speed on the ball and they blocked some shots of course with seven, but altered another 10," Gators coach Mike White said after the game. "That becomes mental as well, then there's two or three that really weren't altered or blocked, you just miss because you're thinking about them. I thought we played rushed in the paint, inside of 10 feet."
I'm not ready to say Kentucky's going to the NCAA Tournament. But the outlook is so much brighter today than eight days ago.
3. More 11 a.m. weekend tips, please
Sunday offered a light slate, but we got off to a nice, pre-playoffs start with Providence-Xavier tipping at 11 a.m. ET and finishing around 1 p.m. If the players and coaches are good with this, college basketball's schedule-makers should seek to play more games at 11 a.m. in an effort to spread out the good tilts. My point here is emboldened given that Xavier (10-2) won yet another one-possession game this season, this time getting a clutch 3-pointer (what ball movement) from Colby Jones.
The story gets deeper: Jones' winner came a few days removed from the death of his grandfather, who Jones said almost never missed one of his games.
Jones' shot completed a seven-point comeback by X, which trailed by three possessions with 75 seconds remaining.
4. How many more statements does Iowa need to make?
I'll be brief here because the only game featuring two ranked teams on Sunday was not so compelling. No. 5 Iowa avenged its Christmas Day overtime loss to Minnesota with a casualover the 16th-ranked Golden Gophers. Luka Garza took a physical stroll on his way to 33 points. Iowa's now 11-2, its losses coming on the road to Minnesota in OT and on a neutral to the best team in the sport, Gonzaga. It's defeated North Carolina (home), Purdue (home), Northwestern (home) and Rutgers (road) by an average of 12.0 points. I don't know if Iowa's the best team in the Big Ten. I do know Iowa needs to be involved in every "Final Four contenders" discussion from now until March -- and I say that knowing full well the Hawkeyes will lose another three or four games in league play by the end of the regular season.
5. USC does something not seen since 1985
On Thursday, USC went to Arizona and won 87-73. Saturday night brought a 73-64 Trojans win at Arizona State. Believe it or not, this marked the first time in 36 seasons that Southern Cal swept the Arizona schools on the road.
"It's a nice accomplishment early in the season for our team but they understand we have a long way to go," USC coach Andy Enfield told me Sunday morning.
The Trojans are 8-2, well on their way to making the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Their losses have come to top-25 KenPom teams Colorado and UConn. What makes the 8-2 start notable is USC pulling this off despite not having its starting point guard, Ethan Anderson, for nearly seven games. Anderson doubles as the team's best best perimeter defender. Yet the Trojans are performing better on offense this season vs. last (when they went 22-9) and are knocking on the door of being a top-10 defense.
"It's been a challenge, we had to learn how to play without him," Enfield said. "The UConn game was the first without him, we had four assists as a team and lost at the buzzer. Tahj Eaddy had to become the starting point guard for us and Drew Peterson became the backup, but he's not a true point guard."
Fortunately for USC it has standout freshman/potential top-three 2021 NBA pick Evan Mobley, who is coming off the best two-game stretch of his young career. Mobley had a personal-best six blocks to go with 19 points and 13 rebounds on Saturday, two days removed from a 19-and-11 showing at Arizona.
"Our players share the ball well and that starts with Evan," Enfield said. "He's constantly doubled on the catch. He was terrific all weekend and you need your most talented player to play well if you're going to win games at that level on the road."
Mobley's just 10 games into his college career, but Enfield told me the way he played -- and positively responded after getting benched early on Saturday following some bad turnovers -- was an insight into his maturity.
"He just played four Pac-12 games and he got a great feeling of the level of physicality, the level of competition and he responded in a big way -- and he responded after an off game against Colorado," Enfield said. "He's more like Anthony Davis was in college than Kevin Durant. Durant had more guard skills, scored 25 a game in college because he could clear out the lane. Just clear out and do your thing. Evan's different than that."
Mobley's ascension and USC's run comes after hardly practicing much of the past month. It beat a quality UC Irvine team by 35 points back on Dec. 8. Then it went on COVID pause and only managed one full-contact practice in the ensuing near-three weeks. Now the Trojans have six games slated in the next two weeks. Enfield likened his upcoming schedule to an NBA one. USC mixed in a makeup nonconference game for Tuesday at home against UC Riverside. Then it will host the Washington schools on Thursday and Saturday. The next week will bring a makeup game at Oregon State on Jan. 19, followed by road tilts against Stanford and Cal.
6. At 6-1, UConn is arriving right on time
On Saturday, UConn played its first game at Hinkle Fieldhouse and won 72-60 despite not having James Bouknight (elbow injury earlier in the week vs. Marquette). The Huskies sank 10 3-pointers and had 28 bench points, including 19 from Tyler Polley. This was Butler with Aaron Thompson back and playing 37 minutes. Wins like this don't garner national attention, but they offer evidence to a team's broader objective within a season.
UConn can be the third-best team in the Big East this season, behind Nova and Creighton.
Something's changed since UConn went into halftime down 41-23 at Marquette. The Huskies have scored 114 their last 60 minutes of play, while opponents have managed 83. UConn's 3-1 in the Big East and 6-1 overall. Dan Hurley heavily prides himself on culture building and turning positive results by the third year of his coaching tenure. That's showing with UConn at the moment.
Hurley said Bouknight will have his injury reexamined on Monday.
"If he misses time it'll be a couple of weeks, but there's a chance he won't miss much time," Hurley told me Saturday night, after the team had landed in Chicago in advance of its game Monday at DePaul.
As for the Butler win, here's what he said: "No. 1, it's a conference game. For us, we feel like we have the makings of a really good team. We are 12 seconds or so away from our only loss, really, where we played poorly at the end regulation (against Creighton). We'd be 7-0 and riding a 12-game win streak counting winning the last five last year. We feel like James and a guy of his talent, his presence can potentially, by the end of the year, have us playing at a really good level that hasn't been played around here in a couple of years. We're one of the hardest-playing teams in the country. We defend and disrupt and we rebound the ball."
This is the second-best offensive rebounding team in college basketball. The Huskies retrieve 41% of their misses. Tyrese Martin is a wing averaging 8.5 snags. Bouknight's an elite rebounding guard. This is a mentality.
"We're not a great shooting team so we have a lot of practice in practice," Hurley joked. "Isaiah Whaley is one of the most underrated guys in the country in terms of frontcourt players."
UConn's rebounding prowess can and should increase thanks to the return of forward Akok Akok, who went down less than a year ago with a left Achilles injury. Akok returned on Saturday, logging six minutes. Expect UConn to ease him back in with a little more playing time with each subsequent game throughout January.
"To come back from such a tough injury and still be under a year since he hurt it, which is amazing in recovery, he's such an elite athlete," Hurley said. "We're going to try to give him hopefully more each game, try to expand his role and bring him along."
7. Bama giving fans optimism beyond CFP title game
One of the two or three most enjoyable games of the weekend was among the first to tip on Saturday, Alabama's 94-90 win at Auburn. It was the Tide's first win in six years at its rival, and the win marked No. 1,700 in team history. Nate Oats' squad is 9-3 overall, but more importantly stands at 4-0 in league play, meaning it holds the top mark in the SEC coming out of the weekend.
To win like this, even if Auburn isn't NCAA Tournament-worthy, was notable. For the second straight contest the Crimson Tide did not have point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who sat due to "a medical condition," according to the school.
The game was a barrel of fun. After eligibility concerns seeped deep into the season, Auburn freshman guard Sharife Cooper made his college debut. He had 26 points, nine assists, five turnovers and three steals. There were some big shots in there. Cooper could be a huge factor in the SEC next season.
"I'm sure he's pretty sore right now," Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday. "I tried to make a strong statement by starting him. Typically, when a guy comes off of an injury or something like that and he's out, I will move him in off the bench. But Sharife is a leader. He commands the respect of his teammates."
So much so that three Auburn starters all offered to start the game on the bench allow Cooper to start ahead of them.
Oats opted to put John Petty onto Cooper late, which wound up swinging the game the Tide's way. Alabama had 15 steals in this game! Jordan Bruner, Josh Primo and Herb Jones combined for 61 points. It gets good in two days: Alabama at Kentucky on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET. If Bama wins that game, it will be a national statement.
8. Rutgers slipping, more danger lurks
Though it was no national title contender last season, No. 15 Rutgers nonetheless registered as one of the better stories in the sport because it was clearly on its way to the NCAA Tournament and would have made its first appearance in three decades doing so. That mojo continued over to this season initially with RU starting 7-1, its lone loss coming at Ohio State. But now the Scarlet Knights are reeling, as Ohio State won at Rutgers on Saturday despite no C.J. Walker.
Rutgers took a 79-68 loss, meaning Steve Pikiell's team has dropped four of five, is 7-4 and now sits sub-.500 in the league (3-4). Here's Rutgers' next four scheduled games, which makes up the remainder of the January slate. (There surely will be another game tossed in here, so long as Rutgers doesn't have a COVID pause in its program).
- Friday: vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
- Jan. 24: at Indiana
- Jan. 28: vs. No. 23 Michigan State
- Jan. 31: at Northwestern
If it goes 1-3 against those four teams Rutgers would be 8-7 and then NCAA Tournament doubts would enter the room.
9. Washington is 1-9. What?
The worst power-conference team this season could be Mike Hopkins' Washington Huskies. At 1-9, UW has the worst mark of any team in a Major Seven league. Just eight out of 347 teams playing this season have more losses as of Sunday. On Saturday Washington went to Cal and lost its sixth straight game, falling 84-78. It was Cal's first Pac-12 victory. The Huskies, whose lone win is against Seattle, sit at 141 in KenPom, 152 at Sagarin, 167 at Torvik and -- HELLO -- 246th in the NET. If this continues to be horrid and Washington can't end the season with more than three or four wins, school AD Jennifer Cohen will be facing something of a dilemma. Hopkins is 64-48 through three and a half seasons in Seattle.
10. Drake will remain undefeated at least another week
led with a story on undefeated Drake, which has been one of the feel-good stories in the sport. But that's on hold, as the program is on COVID pause and thus the Missouri Valley will have to wait for its highly anticipated back-to-back between the two best teams in that league.
Drake was scheduled to host Loyola Chicago on Sunday and Monday, but instead it's out until at least Jan. 21. (Drake also had its Jan. 17-18 series at Missouri State pushed back.)
Expect the makeup dates for those games to be decided in the coming week. This means that Drake, weird as it is, is guaranteed to remain undefeated deep into January. As for the Ramblers, they were pivoted into a back-to-back at Indiana State. The teams' Monday night matchup will be at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. If Loyola and Drake manage to win all but maybe one or two of their Valley games against all other Valley teams, each will have a good at-large case come March.