We are all believers in UCLA now, aren’t we? The Bruins looked like a Final Four contender in winning at Kentucky, 97-92, Saturday, ending the Wildcats’ 42-game winning streak at Rupp Arena.
And how about what UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf said to reporters after the game: “A lot of people are just thinking we played out of our minds. We played a good game. Nothing special. That’s just who we are. We’re a good basketball team. We can compete with anyone in the country, and I think we showed that.”
No team will ever repeat what the Bruins did under John Wooden in the 1960s and ’70s (10 championships in 12 years) but there’s no reason the Bruins under Steve Alford can’t be a Final Four contender most seasons. There’s the great talent of Southern California, plus Alford should be able to recruit nationally.
Alford certainly has one of the best freshman in the country in point guard Lonzo Ball, who’s averaging 14.6 ppg, 9.5 apg, and 5.0 rpg. The Bruins have other talented players, but it is Ball who makes sure it meshes with his unselfish play.
Otherwise in college basketball last week:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are often overlooked, and they’re trying their best to avoid that this season. They’re 7-1 including a notable victory at Iowa State.
George Mason: Maybe Dave Paulsen will have some success at Mid-Major U. He won 76 percent of his games at Williams College, but things have been tough in Fairfax, Va., until recently when the Patriots won five straight, including a nice road victory at Northern Iowa.
Middle Tennessee: This is the group that upset Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Blue Raiders are off to a great start at 8-1, including a victory over Mississippi in Oxford. The Raiders also have one of my favorite players: 3-point bomber Giddy Potts. They have a difficult stretch ahead with consecutive games vs. Vanderbilt, Belmont, and Virginia Commonwealth.
Texas Arlington: The Mavericks had a landmark victory, beating Texas for the first time in school history, and that was part of a five-game winning streak. The Mavs do have three losses, but they came in consecutive road games at Minnesota, Florida Gulf Coast, and Arkansas. Arlington used to play its home games on a stage in a theater, but these days it has a beautiful new arena.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers had a tremendous week, first forcing an unthinkable 40 turnovers in smothering Manhattan, then traveling to Virginia and pulling out a gritty 66-57 victory.
Wisconsin: The Badgers seems to be back on track to be considered a contender for the Big Ten title after winning consecutive home games EASILY over Syracuse and Oklahoma. The Badgers had two big losses earlier to Creighton and North Carolina. According to coach Greg Gard, one key change has been the play of star forward Nigel Hayes, who is playing closer to the basket and having much more success.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
Coppin State: I don’t like to pick on the MEAC teams because they have things tough enough playing on the road for practically the entire months of November and December. In fact, it was former Coppin coach Fang Mitchell who started that trend. He took a lot of losses and eventually lost his job, but he still was a tremendous coach. He should have been allowed to leave on his own terms. Meanwhile, Coppin lost to Division 2 Chestnut Hill, 76-73, last week. The only thing I know about Chestnut Hill is my late aunt Biss graduated from there with a music degree. She played the cello.
Dartmouth: The Big Green are off to a horrible start at 0-6, including a blowout by BC Saturday, 88-70.
Fordham: For Rams fans (and they do exist), it must be difficult to watch players who used to call Rose Hill Gymnasium home play for Villanova (Eric Paschall) and Iona (Jon Severe). It just perpetuates the notion that Fordham basketball will never be good. Despite a decent start this season, including a five-game winning streak, things have quickly reverted to form with a bad home loss to Sacred Heart and then a loss to Harvard in what was a competitive game.
Iowa: You think Indiana’s loss to Fort Wayne was bad, here’s something worse: Iowa losing at home to Omaha. Omaha used to be known as Nebraska Omaha and played in lower divisions. In 2011, the school decided to drop football but upgrade to Division 1, putting more emphasis on basketball and hockey. This was the school’s first victory over a Big Ten team. Meanwhile, Iowa has lost four straight and is off to its worst start since 2009.
Missouri: The Tigers managed to eke out a victory over Western Kentucky Saturday but they are still downgraded for losing to North Carolina Central, 62-52, in Columbia. The Braggin’ Rights Game on Dec. 21 with Illinois might decide which coach gets to stay or go between Missouri’s Kim Anderson and Illinois’s John Groce.
Rhode Island: It’s going to take a while for the Rams to find their way back into the national rankings after a tough week in which they lost at Valpo and at Providence. The Providence loss cuts deep because of state pride. The Rams needed that one. It wasn’t a great week for the Atlantic 10 in general as VCU got blown out on a neutral court by Illinois and Saint Joseph’s got squashed like a bug at Villanova.
St. John’s: How much more can Chris Mullin take? His team lost a home game to Delaware State, the first Division 1 win this season for the Hornets. The Johnnies did bounce back to beat Tulane easily, but c’mon.
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Saint Mary’s. For the doubters, Saint Mary’s won at Stanford last week.
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: North Carolina. A loss at Indiana doesn’t warrant a downgrade.Joe Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan