videoThere have been a few surprising losing streaks already this season. Arizona’s three-losses-in-three-days Bahamas trip was shocking, while Florida’s three-game losing streak that included home losses to Florida State and Loyola Chicago was surprising.

Kansas’ past week is up there with both of them.

The Jayhawks lost by 10 at home to Arizona State on Sunday, 95-85 in Lawrence, just days after losing by nine to Washington in Kansas City, Missouri.

Since that Washington game counts as a home game for Kansas, there are a few stats that come into play. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas hadn’t lost consecutive home games under Bill Self before this week. In fact, the last time it happened was in February 1989, in Roy Williams’ first season as Kansas’ coach. The Jayhawks also had never lost consecutive home games as a ranked team.

In other words, this isn’t a normal occurrence for Self or for Kansas. It also comes on the heels of a stellar 7-0 start to the season.

During November, Kansas was arguably the best team in college basketball. The Jayhawks beat Kentucky on a neutral court and then beat their other five opponents by at least 30 points apiece. They were making shots, they were defending, they had Devonte' Graham -- and they were still without Billy Preston, Sam Cunliffe and perhaps Silvio De Sousa. Times were good.

But there were warning signs -- and they really came to the forefront this week.

Devonte' GrahamKyle Rivas/Getty ImagesDevonte' Graham scored 19 points and all five starters were in double figures. But Kansas got just one point from its bench.

Kansas severely lacks frontcourt depth. Udoka Azubuike has taken a step forward this season, but he’s pretty much all the Jayhawks can rely on up front. There’s no one else available taller than 6-foot-8. The primary bench option is Mitch Lightfoot, who scored 24 points total last season. Walk-on Clay Young, 6-foot-5, has played nearly nine minutes per game up until this point.

Five-star freshman Preston was supposed to provide help, but he’s been held out while Kansas looks into an on-campus incident that involved a car he was in. De Sousa signed with Kansas for the 2018 class, but he could graduate high school early and enroll in Lawrence in the next few weeks. Things have gotten so barren up front that Kansas football player James Sosinski was added to the roster.

As a result, Kansas is missing certain aspects on the offensive end. The Jayhawks rely on making shots from the perimeter. They shot 38 3-pointers on Sunday, compared to just 29 inside the arc. They’ve taken at least 20 3-point shots in all but one game this season. They’re not getting the ball inside much since there’s only one interior option, and they’re not attacking the rim. In the two losses this week, Kansas shot a total of 17 free throws. (For comparison, Collin Sexton and Allonzo Trier shot 16 apiece in Saturday night’s Alabama-Arizona game.) The Jayhawks ranked No. 349 in free-throw rate at KenPom.com.

A lot of this comes from toughness, and Self still looking for replacements for Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, last season’s stars. Not just on the court -- Graham and Lagerald Vick have performed fine -- but in terms of aggressiveness, in terms of leadership. Mason was maybe the best late-game player in the country. He lived at the free-throw line. Jackson was tough at both ends of the floor. He could make shots and he could get stops. Does Kansas have anyone like that this season? Malik Newman has been inconsistent all year, while Svi Mykhailiuk shot 6-for-26 this week.

When Kansas got punched in the mouth last season, Mason and Jackson made sure it didn’t turn into a knockout.

The Jayhawks needed someone like that this week.

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TUCSON, Arizona -- When he exploded off the ground, stole a ball floating three feet over the cylinder and dunked in the first half, Arizona fans in the McKale Center screamed.

He then caught a rebound with his left hand -- the ball looked like a cantaloupe in his bear paws -- and slammed it. People strapped to their seats moved back as if they'd witnessed something illegal, something violent.

Later, they yelled when officials flagged Deandre Ayton for basket interference after he plucked Dusan Ristic's shot from the air, turned it into an alley-oop and threw it into the rim as if it were a load of laundry careening toward a washing machine.

When Ayton sank a pair of clutch jump shots that sealed an 88-82 win for Arizona over Alabama in the final minutes, it all seemed premature.

The doubt. The magnified doomsday projections. The mass pessimism.

Yes, Arizona fell from the national rankings and drew criticism after a poor stint at the Battle 4 Atlantis last month in the Bahamas. But if Ayton -- a freakish 7-footer -- continues to grow, Arizona will remain a dangerous opponent for any team in the Pac-12 and beyond.

Deandre AytonCasey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsDeandre Ayton's monster 29-point, 18-rebound performance on Saturday gave Arizona a hard-fought win over Alabama.

After Ayton scored 29 points and grabbed 18 rebounds with 24 representatives from 19 NBA teams in the McKale Center to see him and Alabama star Collin Sexton (30 points), Arizona coach Sean Miller suggested that he had the best player in America on his roster.

He also questioned concerns from some NBA personnel about Ayton's energy level.

"I just have a hard time believing there is anybody better than [Ayton]," Miller said. "I just do. I don't want to hear anything about his motor. They're almost fabricating or inventing things that aren't true."

Thus far, only Mike Krzyzewski and Marvin Bagley III could offer enough convincing evidence to rebut Miller's claim.

This is, however, indisputable: Ayton's freakish gifts will keep Arizona's ceiling high.

"I'm just happy we got the win," Ayton said. "Tough game."

Perhaps Arizona will enter the NCAA tournament with a lower seed than what most projected entering the season. But would you want to see Ayton and the Wildcats in your favorite team's region come March?

As Ayton dominated Saturday, his teammates blossomed. He commanded doubles whenever he touched the ball and an extra body on the other end to fight him for rebounds. Allonzo Trier (25 points) said Ayton's presence forces defenders to play off him because they're always waiting to help.

"He makes the game easier for me, and I try to make it easier for him," Trier said.

After the sky-is-falling depictions of Arizona basketball streamed through social media following the team's three consecutive losses to NC State, SMU and Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Florida lost a pair of games to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. Duke couldn't handle Boston College on Saturday. Washington traveled to Kansas City and beat Kansas.

Minnesota, a team that entered the season as a sleeper in the Big Ten, has lost three of its past four following Saturday's loss to Arkansas.

Has any team figured it out? No.

But now the Wildcats enter Saturday's road game at New Mexico on a four-game win streak, a stretch anchored by victories over Texas A&M on Tuesday in Phoenix and Alabama on Saturday.

Plus, Rawle Alkins (10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds per game in 2016-17) is back after missing 10 weeks with a broken foot.

"The one thing I'll tell you is nobody panicked when we went to the Bahamas," Miller said. "I think all of us knew we had a few things we were going to get much, much better at."

Both Arizona and Alabama are connected to the FBI investigation that walloped college basketball before the season began. Book Richardson, then an Arizona assistant, was one of four Division I coaches arrested for their alleged roles in bribery schemes that rocked the sport. Richardson was eventually fired. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in federal court.

In late September, Alabama staffer Kobie Baker was dismissed after he was accused of meeting with two people tied to the scheme and introducing the family of a top recruit to a financial adviser. Sexton, reportedly the player in question, missed the team's season opener against Memphis because of a violation of NCAA rules, per the team.

The investigations might linger throughout the season. The unknowns remain.

On Saturday, however, the nearly 15,000 in the McKale Center focused on the teenager from the Bahamas who could help Arizona move past its recent challenges.

Ayton can't erase the cloud, but he's the reason the future seems more optimistic for the Wildcats now than it did after the trip to the Bahamas.

"Deandre, tonight, was the difference," Miller said.

He'll probably say that all season.

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NEWARK, N.J. -- At the under-eight-minute timeout Saturday against Cincinnati, Florida’s impressive start to the season was on the verge of complete collapse.

The win over Gonzaga and the close loss to Duke would have been forgotten.

Coming into the weekend on a three-game losing streak, the Gators found themselves down four with 7 minutes, 53 seconds remaining. They needed their seniors to step up -- and Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov obliged. Koulechov scored four straight to tie things up, and Chiozza scored the final six points of the game to help give Florida a 66-60 victory over Cincinnati.

It was a desperate statement, to ensure Florida’s season didn’t go from “most entertaining team in the country” to “most disappointing team in the country” in the span of two weeks.

“I didn’t even realize we had a three-game losing streak,” Gators head coach Mike White joked after the game. “I’m sure there’s a sense of relief. To go into a game like this and say, 'We gotta beat these guys because we can’t lose another one,' I don’t think our guys had that mentality, or we wouldn’t have played well. Did it provide additional urgency? Probably.”

Early in the season, Florida had the look of a top-five team. The Gators had experience, they had guards, they had shooters, and they defended. Then suddenly, it all went away.

A loss to Duke after getting out to an early lead wasn’t a cause for concern.

A 17-point home loss to Florida State? A different story.

Catalina Fragoso/USA TODAY SportsChris Chiozza scored 15 points -- including Florida's final six -- and added six assists as the Gators improved to 6-3.

A home loss to Loyola-Chicago, whose previous best win this season was over 2-4 UNC Wilmington? Sound the alarm.

“We were really soft this past week,” Koulechov said.

That wouldn’t have worked against Cincinnati, notoriously one of the toughest teams in college basketball. The No. 17 Bearcats (7-2) were coming off their own loss, a road defeat at Xavier, their biggest rival. Both teams were hungry, and a similar effort Saturday would have sent Florida to its fourth consecutive defeat.

But Florida’s defense showed up Saturday. The Gators had given up more than a point per possession in each of their previous five games, including at least 1.10 PPP in four of their past five. On Saturday, Florida forced 21 turnovers and held Cincinnati to 0.89 points per possession.

Florida double-teamed Cincinnati’s post players on most of their paint touches, something White said the team had been working on for the previous 48 hours.

“It slowed Gary Clark down a little bit, Kyle Washington a little bit,” White said. “I thought we were really scrappy, flying around. Our rotations were pretty good, we got our hands on the basketball a bunch.”

Offensively, Florida wasn’t nearly as reliant on the 3-point shot. The main culprit in the Gators’ struggles the previous two games was their 8-for-44 effort from beyond the arc. Overall, the Gators came into the game shooting more than 24 3-pointers per game, but only attempted one shot from behind the arc in the first 10-plus minutes Saturday. They finished having attempted 15 3-pointers, their season low. Florida still shot 40 percent on those 15 shots, but was far more balanced offensively. The Gators attacked the rim, finishing in the paint and drawing fouls.

“We have so many people on the offensive end that can put the ball in the basket,” Chiozza said after the game. “We just talked about trying to get a good shot every possession. When a guy is going, we don’t mind him taking a tough shot. But we just really focused on not taking anything tough tonight.”

Suddenly, Florida has some positive momentum again. The Gators are now 6-3 and own two quality wins at neutral sites, over Gonzaga and Cincinnati. They face Clemson, James Madison and Incarnate Word -- all in the state of Florida -- before SEC play begins Dec. 30 against Vanderbilt. If they are 10-3 heading into a Jan. 2 showdown against Texas A&M, the nonconference struggles will be completely in the rearview mirror.

They’re certainly capable of playing like they did Saturday. The first two seasons under White, Florida ranked No. 5 and No. 14, respectively, in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and got under 30 percent of its points from behind the arc. Because the Gators play with three guards and stretch-forward Koulechov together most of the time, it’s understandable that they’ve been perimeter-oriented this season.

But Saturday showed they can play like that -- and still be balanced on the offensive end, and really guard on the defensive end.

“We grew up a little bit tonight,” White said.

The next few weeks will show whether it's a true sign of Florida's improvement.video

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- After Saturday's loss, Duke star freshman Marvin Bagley III had his head buried in his hands in disbelief. On the opposite side of the locker room, senior Grayson Allen was explaining how his message to his young teammates -- about the chances that Duke could lose to anyone -- would no longer ring hollow.

In tune with his veteran captain, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski also wasn’t shocked following the team’s 89-84 loss to a Boston College team that has won a grand total of six ACC games in the past three seasons.

“We’ve played 12 games, and we’re young,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re talented; we’re not as deep. We’re big. That’s a different dynamic and how you have to play defense.”

Welcome to the world of the one-and-done, Coach K.

It’s a world in which there is no shortage of ups and downs. There was a win over Michigan State in Chicago; lackluster starts in Portland followed by dominant second-half runs against Portland State, Florida and Texas; and yet another come-from-behind victory at Indiana.

But just ask Kentucky coach John Calipari about the frustration of dealing with yearly turnover. It’s not easy. He has had arguably the most talent every season since he has been in Lexington and has just one banner hanging at Rupp Arena. Krzyzewski has had his share of one-and-dones, but nothing quite like this season, when he’s starting four freshmen who all have strong and realistic opportunities to leave college hoops after just one season.

The 6-foot-11 Bagley has been arguably the most dominant player in college basketball this season, but he was held in check in the second half -- taking just four shots, with three of them coming beyond the 3-point arc. The Duke defense was carved up by a Boston College team to the tune of 48 first-half points, 89 by the time the buzzer sounded and the students stormed the court.

“We’re not a good defensive team,” Krzyzewski added.

This Duke team is ultratalented and appears to have improved chemistry from the team a year ago that seemed to have a clear divide between the freshmen and the rest of the group. But anyone who thought the Blue Devils were going to run the table was out of their minds, and Saturday afternoon was clear evidence.

That wasn't going to happen with Allen as the lone player on the team who played any sort of meaningful minutes in a college game before this season.

They couldn’t even get through the ACC opener unscathed.

If anyone can figure out how to avoid these losses going forward, it’ll be Krzyzewski, who has more wins than anyone else in Division I history. But there will be more bumps along the way for a team that is loaded with inexperience, one that has gone the opposite direction of most successful teams in both college and the NBA. Small ball has been all the rage, but Krzyzewski is trying to hang a banner with personnel that fits the game of a decade ago.

“It’s not just that he’s gone big,” said one NBA executive who has seen Duke play multiple times this season. “It’s that he’s got a bunch of kids that he’s not used to dealing with, guys that aren’t invested as much as usual. It’s a reality check for him.”

Gary Trent Jr., Ky BowmanMichael Dwyer/APDuke's Gary Trent Jr. scored 25 points, but Ky Bowman scored 30 in Boston College's upset.

Nobody is going to cross Duke off the list of teams that can cut down the nets in San Antonio in April. But after multiple close calls and the latest performance, one in which Duke allowed BC to shoot 15-of-26 from beyond the arc, it’s safe to say that the Blue Devils are hardly a lock to be a Final Four team.

BC has one of the best backcourts in the ACC, and maybe the country. Sophomore Ky Bowman went for 30 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds. Junior Jerome Robinson, who also hails from North Carolina, made all five of his 3-point attempts and finished with 24 points. Former BYU guard Jordan Chatman was on fire in the first half, scoring 15 points and making 4 of 6 shots from deep.

But this Eagles team, which just lost its best frontcourt player, Deontae Hawkins, for the season, somehow found a way to outrebound a group that often goes 6-11, 6-10 and 6-9 along the front line.

“We put up 87 points, and I don’t think we played well on offense at all,” Allen said. “We can’t give up 80. It’s got to be a commitment on the defensive end. ... Something we’ve got to figure out.”

“It was the first conference game for a lot of these guys,” he added. “Now they know what it’s like. It’s no joke. When we show up like we did and don’t play defense, that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to get beat.”

There will be times when Duke will look like the No. 1 team in the nation, and there will be other moments in which the Blue Devils will appear vulnerable against subpar competition.

“You can’t sleep on anybody,” Robinson said.

That’s the life of one-and-dones.

But, similar to Calipari, Coach K isn’t going to spurn guys such as Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval or Gary Trent Jr. -- four freshmen who were a part of a star-studded recruiting class.

At 70 years old, Coach K is just going to have to learn to be patient.

videoLOS ANGELES -- With Arizona State off to its best start in over 30 years, coach Bobby Hurley didn’t want to get caught looking ahead.

So prior to the Sun Devils’ game against St. John’s at the Staples Center on Friday, Hurley wanted no part is discussing what was looming Sunday: a trip to Kansas' Phog Allen Fieldhouse to play the second-ranked Jayhawks.

But after the Sun Devils weathered a second-half comeback from St. John’s to win 82-70 and remain undefeated (8-0), Hurley quickly turned the page to what should easily be the team’s most difficult test to date.

“Just with [Kansas] coming off the loss to Washington, I know that they’ve had some really stiff, tough practices and I’m sure coach [Bill] Self is motiving them,” Hurley said. “And then you have Phog Allen, the advantage that that building is, and it’s going to be something for our players to experience that so it’s tough to simulate that.”

Romello WhiteBrian Rothmuller/Icon SportswireRomello White scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Sun Devils' win over St. John's.

Arizona State has yet to play a true road game and its trip to Lawrence will be its only one during nonconference play. In addition to its win against St. John’s, ASU beat Kansas State and Xavier on a neutral floor, but its five other games were in Tempe, where the Sun Devils have three more games this month before Pac-12 play starts at Arizona on Dec. 30.

“It’s going to pay dividends when we get to conference and go on the road,” Hurley said of playing at Kansas. “We’ve done really well in neutral sites and now we have to go to one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball. I’m curious to see how it stacks up with [Duke’s] Cameron Indoor.”

The Sun Devils are one of just eight remaining undefeated teams in the country and have done it by playing an exciting, up-tempo brand of basketball despite rotating just seven players. ASU came into the game ranked fifth nationally in scoring (92.7 points per game), but St. John’s (No. 8 nationally in scoring defense) figured to be one of the better defensive teams it would play all season.

“Everyone talks about the offensive numbers and where we stack up nationally. All that stuff is great and I’m happy for the guys to showcase that because I do think we are an entertaining team to watch,” Hurley said. “We play on instinct and don’t walk the ball up the court and our players have freedom.

“It’s a fun team to coach because there are playmakers at a number of positions.”

Romello White (22 points) and Shannon Evans II (18 points) provided the bulk of the scoring for Arizona State in what will be the team’s lone trip to Los Angeles this season.

“You always have to play to your strengths, right?” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “They have three small guards and a nice shooter. [Hurley is] doing a good job with what he has. He knows what it’s like to build and does a great job playing the right style to your personnel. It’s what it’s all about."

Arizona hosts Alabama this weekend, and what would ordinarily (and what, indeed, still could) be an unusually good December game will additionally carry with it an undertone of uncertainty. What's happening in December, in other words, is still playing out in shadows cast by September.

That was when the Department of Justice announced that it was charging Wildcats assistant coach Emanuel Richardson, along with three other assistants at different Division I programs, with fraud and corruption. The following day, Crimson Tide associate athletic director Kobie Baker resigned after admitting to university officials in Tuscaloosa that he was "Staff Member 1" referenced in the FBI complaint.

Collin SextonMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsCollin Sexton, the jewel of Alabama's stellar freshman class, takes his 20.8 points per game to Arizona on Saturday night.

As part of Alabama's internal investigation, freshman Collin Sexton was held out for the Tide's first game of the season, against Memphis. But Sexton, the highest-rated recruit in the SEC this season besides Missouri's Michael Porter Jr., was subsequently reinstated, and has played in every game since.

Sexton has been superb, and Alabama fans are right to be dreaming of the program's first NCAA tournament bid since 2012. Still, Avery Johnson's team remains a bit enigmatic. The Tide (7-2) have now played four consecutive close games, with victories against Louisiana Tech and Rhode Island (both at home) and losses to Minnesota and UCF (the former on a neutral floor, the latter in Tuscaloosa). Saturday's game against Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and the Wildcats should shine a light, flattering or otherwise, on Alabama's potential.

Meanwhile, Arizona is also saying, in effect, everything's fine, nothing to see here, FBI-wise. Coach Sean Miller has had his full complement of players eligible for the entire season -- and promptly dropped entirely out of the AP top 25 just the same. Part of that is doubtless due to Rawle Alkins sitting out the entire season thus far with an injury, but the sophomore guard now appears to be close to returning to action, possibly even as soon as the Alabama game.

Granted, even without Alkins, the Wildcats (6-3) have looked much better of late and could well be reappearing in the polls next week. That is, they almost certainly will do so if Miller's team can hold serve on its home court against Bama (10 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN/WatchESPN).

No. 1 Duke at Boston College, Saturday, noon ET, ESPN/WatchESPN

What's this? An ACC game in early December? If the Big Ten can bend the calendar to suit its scheduling whims, then 13 percent of John Swofford's league can darn well follow suit. Actually, getting one ACC game into the books will facilitate the Blue Devils keeping their semi-traditional nonconference date with St. John's at Madison Square Garden on the first weekend in February. (Mike Krzyzewski's team hasn't played the Red Storm since 2014-15 -- good omen?) You might remember that when last we saw Duke, Marvin Bagley & Co. were hanging a rather gaudy 124 points on St. Francis. Then again, the Eagles are made of somewhat sterner stuff, and, far more important, will be playing in Chestnut Hill. Jim Christian's team is 6-3 and much improved since last season (and Ky Bowman is a dynamic and efficient point guard), but the Blue Devils might be a tall order for a group that was taken to the 40th minute on its home floor by Colgate.

No. 5 Florida vs. No. 17 Cincinnati, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN
Mike White, you're welcome. Not to put too fine a point on it, but your team is in free fall, having lost by three on a neutral floor to Duke (no shame there), by 17 at home to in-state rival Florida State (um) and by six at home to Loyola-Chicago (whoa). Now, the good news. You get a crack at a top-25 team in the form of the Bearcats, and the game is not being played at the apparently accursed Exactech Arena in Gainesville. Nor is it going to occur on Cincinnati's home floor (which, as chance would have it, is unavailable this season in any event). Nope, this game is happening at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Gators, you've played some of your best ball this season in neutral venues. Do the same against a tough UC team and this slump is over. Oh, and if by chance that does occur, lots of luck to the AP pollsters trying to rank this UF team.

Bobby Hurley, Romello WhiteJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsBobby Hurley, Romello White, right, and No. 16 Arizona State take a 7-0 mark into Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday.

No. 16 Arizona State at No. 2 Kansas, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN
Having just lost what can properly be called a stunner to Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, the Jayhawks (7-1) should be properly angry. Plus, you might have heard that, in his career at KU, Bill Self is 206-9 at Allen Fieldhouse. So, yeah, Arizona State has its work cut out for it. Then again, Bobby Hurley has his team scoring points in mass quantities, and what do the Sun Devils have to lose? Among 351 D-I teams, only Virginia Tech's been more accurate from the field so far this season than ASU (7-0). Hurley has no fewer than four rotation players (Romello White, Kodi Justice, Remy Martin and De'Quon Lake) connecting on better than 60 percent of their 2-pointers, and Tra Holder and Shannon Evans (along with Justice) are additionally nailing their 3s. It might be too much to expect this group to hand Self his 10th loss ever at the Phog, but it's not too much to expect a close, high-scoring game between two outstanding offenses.

No. 12 Gonzaga at Washington, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
This contest has become a lot more interesting over the past few days, has it not? The 7-2 Bulldogs are licking their wounds after being pounded into the Madison Square Garden hardwood by a smaller Villanova team Tuesday. Then, the following evening, Washington took down Kansas in Kansas City, 74-65. Former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins extended the Huskies' zone way, way out on the perimeter to take away the 3s that Devonte' Graham has been so fond of (and superb at) shooting this season. That left Lagerald Vick all alone at the free throw line in the gaps of the 2-3 zone (where the junior proceeded to score a career-high 28 points), but UW (7-2) held the Jayhawks to just five made 3s. Now, the newly euphoric Huskies get the Zags at what should be a boisterous Hec Edmundson Pavilion. On paper, Gonzaga bigs like 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie and 6-foot-11 Jacob Larsen should still be able to pass over the top of the Washington zone, but Hopkins currently has his guys crumpling up that very paper.

The Montana Grizzlies were supposed to play at No. 23 UCLA on Wednesday night, but wildfires in the area -- including one very close to campus that shut down the 405 freeway -- led school administrators to cancel the game. It was the right decision on UCLA's part, as there was no need to play a men's basketball game and add further congestion to an area dealing with an emergency situation.

It did, however, leave the team's sports information director, Nic Hallisey, wondering what could have been.

He woke up Thursday thinking he missed an opportunity to have some fun on social media. It would have been fun, he thought, to have tweeted some fake play-by-play showing a historic Montana win in one of college basketball's most famous arenas. But after drafting a few tweets, he decided to roll with it anyway.

"I've seen some other teams have some fun on Twitter and I thought we could do the same," Hallisey said. "It gives fans an opportunity to look inside a college program.

"Montana isn’t the center of the basketball world, so hopefully our fans had some fun with it."

Below is a look at what most definitely did not take place at Pauley Pavilion Wednesday night.

Congrats to the Grizzlies on this momentous fake upset.

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He said he wanted to lead like Frank Mason and take on the starring role for the Big 12 king.

But can Devonte' Graham handle this?

In September, Graham sat at a table near Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, and munched on his post-practice box lunch.

He seemed comfortable with his new position as the catalyst for a Kansas team that had just lost Mason, the Wooden Award winner. Those around campus said Graham struggled to make his way to his summer classes because fans would swarm him for selfies and autographs.

He returned for this. Not just the hoopla, but the opportunity. He'd wrestled with the idea of leaving school and turning pro after last season, but his new assignment was too promising to forego.

"Just having the ball in my hands, this being my team was definitely part of why I stayed," he told ESPN.com in September.

Devonte' Graham, Malik NewmanJamie Squire/Getty Images

With the ball in his hands, Graham could not save No. 2 Kansas on Wednesday in a stunning 74-65 loss to Washington in Kansas City. -- ranked 140th by KenPom.com entering the game -- on a "neutral" floor.

With the ball in his hands, Graham finished 1-for-8 overall and 1-for-5 from the 3-point line at a Sprint Center, KU's second home, filled with Jayhawks fans.

Last season, Washington lost 22 games before firing Lorenzo Romar and his entire staff. And then Markelle Fultz left school and entered last summer's NBA draft, when he was selected No. 1 by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Huskies, led by former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, entered this season as an afterthought in the Pac-12, a league that has become an afterthought.

They were a bad team last season and lost the top pick in the NBA draft along with Michael Porter Jr. and the top-10 class Romar had assembled prior to his dismissal. But now they boast a win over a team that's projected to win the Big 12.

Graham alone is not responsible for what happened against Washington. Svi Mykhailiuk finished 3-for-12. The team committed 13 turnovers and made only 25 percent of its 3-point attempts.

But Graham is the leader.

Last season, Mason bailed Kansas out in situations like the one the Jayhawks encountered on Wednesday, when they tussled with an average team.

This is a squad missing Billy Preston, a five-star freshmen sidelined by a school investigation, and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe. But did the Jayhawks really need either against a Huskies team that Virginia Tech beat by 24 points last month?

No, they needed Graham to do what he said he'd do the day he returned. They'll rely on his heroics throughout Big 12 play, just as they depended on Mason a year ago.

They'll suffer on his bad nights, like his three-point night Wednesday against the Huskies.

Graham has scored 35 points twice this season and collected fewer than 10 points in two separate outings, too. He has now finished three games this season with a clip below 30 percent from the field and five contests under 40 percent. He finished 3-for-14 in a Champions Classic win over Kentucky this season.

And there was the 0-for-7 effort in the Elite Eight loss to Oregon last season, along with 2-for-10 outing in a loss to TCU in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. He'd finished 4-for-12 as KU squeezed past Oklahoma State in a 90-85 road win in its regular-season finale.

Overall, Graham has had a more significant effect on Kansas this season. Entering Wednesday's game, Kansas averaged a wild 1.29 points per possession and held opponents to 0.78 PPP with Graham on the floor, per hooplens.com.

He’s averaging 18.6 points per game while connecting on 92 percent of his free throw attempts and 41 percent of his 3-pointers. But a tougher stretch is ahead.

Kansas will face undefeated Arizona State on Sunday and travel to Nebraska -- where Minnesota lost over the weekend -- on Dec. 16. The Jayhawks will begin Big 12 play with games against Texas, Texas Tech and TCU.

To navigate the upcoming slate, Graham has to be the man for Kansas.

The Jayhawks needed him on Wednesday against a Washington squad that won just nine games a season ago. He didn't show up.

Sure, Kansas will rebound. The Jayhawks have Allen Fieldhouse, their greatest asset in extending their Big 12 title streak. They have Graham and a deep collection of talent that could add multiple contributors in the coming weeks. They're stacked.

But this is about more than the Big 12 title streak. Can Kansas return to the Final Four and exit San Antonio with a title? Not unless it can rely on Graham each night.

Think this is harsh? Graham told ESPN.com he'd give himself a B-minus for last season's effort, despite averaging 13.4 points and connecting on 39 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

He understands the pressure and expectations attached to his return.

"I just feel like maybe there were some plays I could have been more aggressive," he said about his effort last season, "or overall more aggressive as a whole."

He came back to lead, to have the ball in his hands.

He does now. It just weighs far more than it did last season.

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If you’re Florida, you must win that game.

If you’re an SEC contender, the flavor-of-the-month Final Four pick, the team that might snatch Kentucky’s league crown, a crew that nearly knocked off Duke two weeks ago, you beat Loyola-Chicago on your home floor.

If you’re No. 5 Florida in Gainesville, and Loyola-Chicago enters the game without starting point guard Ben Richardson, who suffered a broken hand last month, you win that game and let the reserves earn some clock in the final 10 minutes because you’ve secured a comfortable lead.

But that’s not what happened to a Florida team that embarrassed itself Wednesday with a 65-59 home loss to a Loyola squad that was picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference. But that projection preceded Richardson’s injury.

Without him, the Ramblers are a middle-of-the-pack program in a mid-major league. A good mid-major league, but still a mid-major league.

Aundre Jackson, KeVaughn AllenAP Photo/Ron IrbyAundre Jackson, left, powered Loyola's upset at Florida with a game-high 23 points Wednesday.

Loyola (9-1) didn’t need Richardson to alter the perception of Florida basketball in early December, though.

Florida's double-overtime tussle with Gonzaga at the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon, over Thanksgiving weekend is still the game of the season thus far.

In the title game, the Gators traded leads with top-ranked Duke in perhaps the runner-up game of the season.

But rival Florida State humbled Mike White’s squad Monday with an 83-66 victory.

Fine. It’s a rivalry game. Florida State is always athletic, long and aggressive. So perhaps Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles deserved more hype before that matchup. But top-five teams like Florida shouldn’t be having too much trouble with unranked opponents at home.

Then it all got worse.

On Wednesday, Loyola waltzed into the O’Connell Center, slapped the Gators in the face and left with a quality road win that voided Florida’s convincing victory over Gonzaga in Portland.

Save the excuses. Yes, the Gators continue to await the return of big man John Egbunu.

And they entered Wednesday’s game shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line, a top-15 mark, but finished 2-for-19 from beyond the arc.

The same team that scored 108 points in regulation against Stanford on Nov. 23 couldn’t crack 60 on Wednesday against a Loyola program that surrendered 87 points in a 34-point loss at Boise State last month.

When the 3-pointers stop falling, good teams find a way. Because they’re not limited to one tool or scheme.

But when Florida (5-3) couldn’t make any shots from beyond the arc against an overmatched -- on paper -- Ramblers squad, the Gators didn’t search for an alternative.

They just accepted the loss on their home floor, and any criticism -- all justified -- that will follow.

Two weeks ago, Florida seemed capable of winning the SEC and reaching the final weekend of the NCAA tournament.

After Wednesday, however, we should table those ideas.

Until those bruises heal and the Gators decide -- if they decide -- to fight again.

Because Loyola bullied them on their home floor Wednesday night.video

NEW YORK -- For decades, Syracuse and Connecticut waged epic battles against each other in the Big East. The two schools won back-to-back national titles, with Carmelo Anthony and the Orange winning it all in 2003 before Emeka Okafor and the Huskies triumphed in 2004.

Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun certainly knew how to nourish a rivalry. Be quotable about each other, be really good at basketball over an extended period of time, and be sure to have some of the nation's most passionate fans.

Best of all, be sure to play a six-overtime classic for the ages at Madison Square Garden in the 2009 Big East tournament.

Matthew Moyer
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonMatthew Moyer helped power Syracuse past Connecticut by scoring 18 points on Tuesday night.

People tend to remember that game whenever these two teams get together in Midtown. Naturally, no one expects one of those iconic games every time a particular pair of teams meets. It's enough that the teams be near the top of the rankings and that the game means something in terms of consequences for March.

This latest game between Syracuse and UConn at the Garden ... wasn't quite like that. The Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 on Tuesday night.

Boeheim is still here, of course. The Garden is still the Garden, and the fans still care. Oh, do they care.

The Orange and UConn faithful were fairly aching to reawaken the echoes of years past. And they were aching loudly (that tends to happen after 11 p.m. at the Garden) and en masse. As Boeheim put it after the game, "I don't think any two schools are going to put more people in the Garden."

Truth be told, today's Syracuse and UConn players did their level best to live up to the memories.

While Syracuse's Tyus Battle and UConn's Jalen Adams each finished with a game-high 22 points, Matthew Moyer played like he had been shot out of a cannon. Even Boeheim seemed a bit nonplussed by the Syracuse sophomore's 18-point, multi-dunk performance.

"He's been horrible [this season], and that's being nice," Boeheim said of Moyer. Still, Moyer, in his coach's estimation, "was a terrific player tonight, and I think he can build on this."

The Orange won the way they have prevailed for much of the young season. Boeheim's men crashed the glass and outrebounded UConn 37-26, including grabbing 14 offensive boards. Huskies coach Kevin Ollie was left to shake his head afterward.

"One of our game plans was to keep them off the offensive rebounds," he said. "We've got to rebound."

The game between the rivals was certainly no oil painting. "Both teams played fairly hard," Boeheim offered somewhat charitably, but even he admitted, "it wasn't great basketball."

More crucially, it wasn't important basketball. At least, we don't yet think it was. Neither team is nationally ranked, and it's still too early to tell if either will be an NCAA tournament team.

Of course, for all we know, we could be wrong about one or both teams. It's only December, and if any programs have surprised us before, Syracuse (2016, anyone?) and UConn (see both 2011 and 2014) most certainly have.

Still, no one watching a Syracuse-UConn game back in the day had to engage in such, "Hey, maybe we're wrong and this will matter" dialectics. This wasn't a Big East clash. It was an ACC team meeting an old rival that now plays in the American.

The atmosphere was tremendous, and the basketball itself was, in glimpses, terrific. But it does feel different than in the old days.video

videoNEW YORK -- Earlier in his college career, even a year ago, Mikal Bridges wouldn't have dunked it. He would have tried to lay the ball in, and the result might not have been the same.

But on Tuesday night, the Villanova redshirt junior wasn't going to settle. Bridges took off in traffic, skied over multiple defenders and threw down a dunk that helped propel the Wildcats to an 88-72 victory over Gonzaga at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City.

"I just saw a lane and tried to go up and be strong," Bridges said. "Freshman year, I would have laid the ball up. The seniors would get on me for that."

Bridges, one of this season's breakout stars, had his official star turn on Tuesday, finishing with 28 points, six rebounds, two blocks and five 3-pointers. It was one thing to perform well earlier this season against Nicholls State and Lafayette, but to hit his career-high on a national stage like Madison Square Garden was an eye-opener.

"He knows this year he's the leader and the captain," head coach Jay Wright said. "He's playing with a lot more freedom and aggressiveness. He knows it's his turn and he's ready for it. He's ready mentally and he's ready skill-wise."

AP Photo/Julie JacobsonMikal Bridges scored 28 points, had six rebounds, a pair of blocks and this massive dunk against Gonzaga.

Bridges is the latest example of Villanova having a pipeline of standout veterans ready to step up without missing a beat.

There was James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston. From there it was Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono. Now it's Bridges, All-American point guard Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Wright has a never-ending stable of breakout stars.

And we should know that by now. But every year, there are preseason questions about Villanova, how they will replace this departing star or that departing star. As a result -- and combined with a recent history of NCAA tournament flameouts, the national championship notwithstanding -- the Wildcats rarely get the same early-season recognition some of the nation's best teams get. It's no different this season. Duke is the focus of everyone nationally, and rightfully so, but the conversation next goes to Kansas and Michigan State. Rarely is Villanova mentioned with those three, in the "elite" tier of college basketball this season.

After Tuesday night's performance against Gonzaga, that's going to change.

Villanova plays at a high level at both ends of the floor. The Wildcats are insanely efficient scoring the ball, putting five guys on the floor at all times that can dribble, pass and shoot. There were times 6-foot-8 Omari Spellman and 6-foot-7 Eric Paschall were taking dribble handoffs on the perimeter, and times where 6-foot-2 Brunson was posting up on the low block. Six different players attempted a 3-pointer, and that doesn't include Brunson. Spellman gives them a different dimension than they've had in recent years, due to his size and ability to score inside and out.

Defensively, Villanova is so versatile it's difficult to create matchup problems with the Wildcats. They force turnovers and pressure the ball without giving up easy baskets, and they hold their own on the glass without playing anyone taller than 6-foot-8.

The return of Booth has been a huge asset for Villanova as well. Booth, who scored 20 points in the national championship game win over North Carolina, missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury. But he has now scored in double-figures in four straight games, pouring in 20 points on Tuesday.

"Every practice, every game, I've been feeling more comfortable," Booth said. "Last year was hard. But I learned a lot from that year sitting out. I saw the game from a totally different perspective, so to get back out this year playing and trying to incorporate what I learned last year, that's what I really tried to do. It's great being back out there playing."

Before Tuesday, it was fair to put Villanova a step behind Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. The Wildcats hadn't really played anyone, with expected marquee opponents Arizona and Purdue falling early at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Their best win heading into the week was a nine-point victory over Tennessee, but that was about it.

Tuesday answered some of the questions, and now Villanova belongs with the best of the best nationally.

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The last time we saw Florida, the Gators were leading Duke all the way to the wire before falling late to the Blue Devils at the PK80. We expected Mike White's team to not miss a beat when it hit the floor on Monday night.

We expected wrong.

Maybe it was the eight-day layoff, maybe it was the coaching change with their gridiron counterparts, maybe it was the weather. But the November version of Florida didn't carry over to December, as the Gators were blown out at home by Florida State 83-66.

Florida State is probably not as good as it was last season, when it won 26 games and reached the NCAA tournament. But the Seminoles are better than expected. In fact, with them now 7-0 and favored to win each of its next five games, there's a good chance they enter ACC play 12-0. They open ACC play at Duke and home against North Carolina, so we'll see how good they really are soon enough.

But what happened to Florida?

Looking at the past few games, the Gators have been playing with fire for a few weeks now. Scoring more than 100 points and beating Stanford and Gonzaga was impressive, but Florida made 32 combined 3-pointers in those two games -- shooting 68.2 percent from 3-point range against Stanford and 47.2 percent against Gonzaga. Moreover, the offense masked some of the defensive deficiencies in those wins. Florida allowed 1.10 points per possession against Stanford and 1.17 against Gonzaga.

Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's CJ Walker had 17 points and four assists against No. 5 Florida.

It caught up to them a bit against Duke, although the Gators still shot 40 percent from 3 and were efficient enough offensively. But we could have seen a regression to the mean starting to develop. Throw in a small lineup that doesn't force turnovers at a high clip and doesn't control the defensive glass, and Monday was the perfect storm for Florida State to pull the upset.

Florida had its worst offensive performance of the season, scoring fewer than one point per possession (0.89) for the first time this season. The Gators shot 6-for-25 from 3-point range and allowed Florida State to rebound 50 percent of its missed shots. That's not going to be enough to beat anyone, let alone a tough, physical team like the Seminoles.

Playing the way Florida plays, it is going to have games like this. When the Gators' 3-point shots fall, they're going to be able to beat anyone in the country. When the shots don't fall, they'll be susceptible to an upset. The only other game this season in which they shot poorly from 3-point range was against New Hampshire, when they shot 3-for-18 from behind the arc. The Gators won that game by only seven. For a reference point, New Hampshire won its first Division I game of the season on Saturday -- against 1-7 Bryant.

Florida is still one of the most entertaining teams in the country, and when it is making shots, it is one of the best teams in the country.

But Monday certainly didn't feature that version of the Gators.video

videoAt this rate, the NCAA men's basketball committee is going to have a really tough time giving Wichita State its usual No. 10 seed.

I kid, I kid. The seed the Shockers received last season, even though they were 31-4 at the time, was the epitome of "Who have they beaten?" thinking.

So be it, fair enough, and did I mention that won't be an issue this season? Gregg Marshall's team has beaten Baylor, and the Shockers have done so in Waco, Texas, 69-62.

Yes, the Bears were short-handed, having just this week lost the services of sixth man and third-leading scorer Terry Maston due to a broken hand.

Dustin Safranek/USA TODAY SportsShaquille Morris led Wichita State's frontcourt with 15 points in a win at Baylor.

Then again, this particular contest was a Short-handed Invitational of sorts. Wichita State has been without starting big man Markis McDuffie all season long. The 6-foot-8 junior has been sidelined with a stress fracture in his left foot. If and when McDuffie returns, he'll be joining a group that already has shown it's one of the best teams in the country. Consider this record ...

Wichita State lost the title game of the Maui Classic to Notre Dame by one point. That game, which the Shockers led for almost the entire 40 minutes, is all that stands between Marshall's guys and an undefeated record right now.

True, the record books are filled with undefeated December wonders who were distant memories come March. WSU doesn't exactly fit that profile.

In the process of recording wins not only against Baylor but also over California and Marquette (both in Maui), Wichita State has held its opponents to an overall 2-point shooting figure of just 41 percent. And, again, that's without a member of last season's starting front court having played one minute. Good luck taking it to the rim against the likes of Shaquille Morris, Darral Willis and Rashard Kelly.

On offense, Landry Shamet is shooting a Buddy Hield-like 54 percent on his 3s this season, and keep in mind he's supposed to be the creating point guard alongside the real sharpshooter, Conner Frankamp. Speaking of Frankamp, he was actually in something of a slump from the perimeter until he broke loose to hit five shots from beyond the arc against Baylor. This team can beat you in a number of ways.

If there's a concern for Marshall (and what coach doesn't like to find something to worry him?), it could be turnovers -- or, more specifically, a turnover disparity. While Wichita State gives the ball away at an average rate (18 percent of the time), that frequency is higher than what opponents have shown (16). That's not necessarily the best precursor in December.

Nor will the Shockers want to continue to allow opponents to shoot so many 3s. So far those shots haven't gone in, but over the long haul it's risky to let the opposing offense fire up well over 40 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc.

But, again, we're speaking of concerns in the context of a team that has a fair chance of entering American play with an 11-1 record and ranked nationally in the top 10 -- if not top five. Wichita State will next face South Dakota State at home, before taking on both Oklahoma State (in Stillwater) and Oklahoma (in Wichita) on consecutive Saturdays.

Marshall has made his name with teams that play unrelentingly tough defense (highlighted in particular by consistent dominance on the glass), while also putting points on the board at a very high, if often underrated, per-possession rate. This season, the "underrated" part of the profile may be in jeopardy. In addition to Shamet's gaudy 3-point shooting, there's the fact that Morris, Willis, Kelly and Rauno Nurger are shooting a combined 57 percent inside the arc.

If the Shockers keep performing this way on both sides of the ball, they may have to get used to playing in the NCAA tournament as (gasp!) a very high seed. Correctly. Ask Baylor.

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Eight days ago, Xavier was run out of Las Vegas by Arizona State, giving up 102 points in a 16-point loss to the Sun Devils.

The Musketeers’ response since then shows why Chris Mack might have his best team since taking over in 2009.

Xavier took the game to Cincinnati from the opening tip and never really let the Bearcats get within striking distance en route to an 89-76 win in the Crosstown Shootout rivalry game on Saturday.

The 89 points were the most Cincinnati has allowed in regulation since Feb. 11, 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The minus-17 rebound margin was Cincinnati’s worst since Jan. 4, 2007. The Musketeers dominated in all facets of the game, getting layups early and then knocking down 3s from the perimeter once they opened up the defense.

This victory comes on the heels of a 13-point home win over previously unbeaten Baylor on Tuesday.

After last weekend’s loss to a perhaps underrated Arizona State team, there were some questions about Xavier at both ends of the floor. Could the Musketeers win big games if Trevon Bluiett was struggling? Did they have a consistent third option on the offensive end? Could they defend for 40 minutes against good teams? In retrospect, it looks like there was some overreaction. Arizona State shot lights-out, especially in the second half; Tra Holder scored 40 points; and hey, maybe Arizona State is just really good.

Trevon Bluiett
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsXavier's Trevon Bluiett made five 3-pointers on the way to a 28-point outburst in a victory over Cincinnati.

When Bluiett hits some perimeter shots early, there might not be a better scorer in the country. He was mired in a mini-slump the past two games, shooting 7-for-19 from the field and averaging 10.5 points in those two games. He bounced back, burying two 3-pointers in the opening minutes and finishing with 28 points on 14 shots from the field. He’s a terrific one-on-one scorer who is lethal when given an inch to get his shot off from the perimeter.

When Bluiett has it going, it opens things up for everyone else. J.P. Macura can be a secondary option, and Kaiser Gates’ emergence as a weapon from the perimeter -- 44.7 percent on nearly seven 3-point attempts per game -- has forced defenses to extend to the arc, opening up the interior for Sean O’Mara, Kerem Kanter and Tyrique Jones.

The development of sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin has also taken Xavier’s offense to a new level. Forced into an expanded role late last season after Edmond Sumner’s injury, Goodin improved over the summer. He had nine assists and no turnovers in the win over Baylor, and dished out eight more assists on Saturday. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 200 pounds, Goodin is bigger and stronger than most opposing point guards; he’s using that size to get into the lane and find teammates for easy baskets.

There are few teams in the country as efficient offensively as Xavier when everything is clicking. Entering the day, the Musketeers ranked No. 6 nationally in offensive efficiency at KenPom.com -- and that was before scoring 89 points on just under 72 possessions Saturday.

Mack’s team also did a better job this week of taking away an opponent’s best offensive players. Baylor’s leading scorer, Manu Lecomte (17.7 points per game, 2.8 assists per game), had 11 points and zero assists on 4-for-13 shooting. Cincinnati’s leading scorer, Gary Clark, finished with 14 points -- but took 15 shots to get there.

The preseason talk surrounding Xavier was that it was a better team than last season. Given that the Musketeers reached the Elite Eight, that was a good thing. But last year’s team didn’t have the variety of weapons this year’s team has, both inside and outside. It didn’t have the swagger of this year’s team, and it didn’t guard and contest like this year’s team.

There’s still a long way to go, but this week’s response from Xavier shows the hype surrounding the Musketeers is deserved.

The 2017 ACC/Big Ten Challenge is in the books, and you might have heard things did not go particularly well for Jim Delany's league.

Now, with all hopes of interconference bragging rights gone for at least a year, the Big Ten must dedicate itself to some serious intraconference résumé building. Fast. Big Ten play commences this weekend.

You're reading that correctly. The league has rearranged its 2017-18 schedule to wrap up conference play a week early and hold the Big Ten tournament in Madison Square Garden the first weekend in March. Action gets underway on Friday night, with Purdue playing at Maryland and Illinois visiting Northwestern.

That means there will be an island of Big Ten games, of sorts, this weekend. Then the league's teams will play nonconference opponents until the new year, at which point Big Ten play will begin in earnest.

Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAs encouraging as Indiana's tough loss to Duke was, the Hoosiers' ugly loss to Indiana State was disheartening.

The stakes for this weekend's games, and indeed for the entire conference season, are higher than we would have imagined three weeks ago. Simply put, the Big Ten has done itself no favors in the early going in the eyes of the NCAA men's basketball committee.

True, Michigan State and Minnesota have largely lived up to expectations. On the other hand, Wisconsin is 3-4 (albeit after having played an incredibly ambitious schedule); Iowa has lost neutral-court games to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State; Northwestern and Purdue have fallen out of the top 25 completely (though the Boilermakers likely will reappear there soon); and Indiana, last seen recording an impressive and spirited 10-point home loss to Duke, opened the season with a dispiriting and bewildering 21-point home loss to Indiana State.

There's more than conference pride at stake now. All of the above losses and struggles are part of the league's 2017-18 résumé, and the Big Ten will carry this baggage all the way to Selection Sunday.

Take Penn State. Pat Chambers' team should be giddy with excitement at the its chance to record the program's first above-.500 record in Big Ten play since 2008-09. However, this season, a 10-8 mark or even, who knows, 11-7 in the Big Ten might not be sufficient to land an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.

The committee has long sought to build interest in the early season by insisting that games in November and December really, truly, honestly do matter when it comes to selection and seeding in March. That emphasis could hurt the Big Ten in 2018, and that, in a nutshell, is the challenge the league now faces. For any team wanting to make the field of 68 (i.e., all 14 teams), the safest course is to finish very near the top of the Big Ten standings.

No. 11 Cincinnati at No. 21 Xavier, Saturday, noon ET

When Mick Cronin took the job as Cincinnati coach on March 24, 2006, he opened his introductory news conference by uttering a single word: "Wow." Now, 11 seasons and 244 wins later, Cronin might have his strongest Bearcats team yet. Then again, Xavier, ranked in the top 25 and fresh off its run to the 2017 Elite Eight, will be the host in the latest installment of this venerable and often tumultuous rivalry. Bearcats, Musketeers, Crosstown Shootout. Wow.

No. 8 Wichita State at No. 16 Baylor, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The Shockers are two Martinas Geben free throws away from an undefeated record and, maybe, the top-five national ranking now held by Geben's team, Notre Dame. Gregg Marshall's men came up on the short end of a 67-66 score in the Maui Invitational final against the Fighting Irish, but this still might be one of the best teams in the country, even without the injured Markis McDuffie. Speaking of injuries, Baylor will be doing without veteran sixth man Terry Maston, who will be out until January because of a broken hand.

No. 2 Kansas vs. Syracuse, Saturday 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Bill Self's undefeated sharp-shooters will meet the Orange on a neutral court at American Airlines Arena as part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational. To this point in the season, the Jayhawks have drained no fewer than 45 percent of their shots from beyond the arc and fully 60 percent of their tries inside it. Can any defense slow down Devonte' Graham, Lagerald Vick and the suddenly Curry-like Svi Mykhailiuk? Sooner or later, perhaps, but maybe not Saturday. The last time we saw Jim Boeheim's men, they were eking out a 72-70 win over Maryland at the Carrier Dome, one in which they gave up 11 3-pointers to the Terps.

No. 4. Villanova at Saint Joseph's, Saturday 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

In keeping with our weekend theme of crosstown rivalries, the Wildcats will travel seven miles up Montgomery Avenue to take on the Hawks at Hagan Arena. Stop me if you've heard this before: Jay Wright's veteran team is shooting the lights out from either side of the arc while playing surprisingly good defense. (It's true!) The visitors better be ready, though, because 6-foot-9 Saint Joe's freshman Taylor Funk is shooting 49 percent on 3-pointers.

No. 14 USC at SMU, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Welcome to college basketball, Ethan Chargois. The 6-foot-9 SMU freshman is usually the tallest Mustang on the floor by a margin of at least three inches, a distinction that probably will give him defensive responsibility for either Chimezie Metu or Bennie Boatwright of USC. Then again, maybe we should be welcoming those two guys to Dallas instead. Chargois himself is no easy guard, having hit 46 percent of his 3s thus far.

Seton Hall at No. 17 Louisville, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Two former Big East foes will go at it on Sunday afternoon when former Louisville assistant Kevin Willard brings his Pirates to town. Watch the ball if you must, but be sure to treat yourself to the spectacle in the paint as well. That's where Seton Hall's 6-foot-10 rebounding machine Angel Delgado will be doing battle with the likes of Ray Spalding (also 6-10) and Anas Mahmoud (a 7-footer). Forgive me if I greet every missed shot in this one with anticipation, delight and popcorn.

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