It turns out Kansas couldn’t hang onto the No. 1 ranking, either.
Already this college basketball season has seen Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky and Duke unable to maintain the top ranking after ascending in the poll. On Saturday, the Jayhawks became the fifth team to fall after climbing the rankings.
The culprit was a familiar one for the Jayhawks (9-2) — Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats (9-2) have been as successful against Bill Self’s squad as any team has over the past few years. At Wells Fargo Center, Nova turned up the pressure on Kansas and came away with a 56-55 victory that both teams appeared ready to steal at any moment.
Villanova took a 56-55 lead thanks to a Jermaine Samuels 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation, but a quick inbounds pass to Devon Dotson allowed the speedy guard to race up the court and draw a foul to put him at the line for a one-and-one. Except the first free throw bounced off the back of the rim and straight to Nova, stunning the Jayhawks momentarily before they sprung to foul the Wildcats.
Dotson would make up for his mistake, forcing a Villanova turnover with 11 seconds left and giving KU a final opportunity at the win. The sophomore took the ball in the backcourt and used a quick screen to find a lane to the rim. When he eventually got there Saddiq Bey was waiting, contesting a shot that kissed the backboard and rim before falling off as time expired.
Bey finished with seven points, seven rebounds and five assists. Samuels and Dotson both tallied 15 points, and Kansas center Udoka Azubuike poured in another 12 points and 11 rebounds in a game that was a mismatch in many ways.
Kansas likes to pound the ball inside. Nova relies on outside shooting. Even then, Saturday’s game wasn’t the best example of both teams’ strengths. The Wildcats went 10-for-41 from three-point range (Kansas wasn’t much better at 3-for-13) and neither team was ever able to pull away. The largest lead of the game was KU by eight. What Saturday did show was the ability of two top programs to grind out a game when shots weren’t falling. It’s just that Kansas needed its final attempt to do just that.
This season has moved well past the “it’s early” phase of judging teams and there’s still no clear No. 1 — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing so much as it is confusing. While all the aforementioned schools still boast great teams, they’ve collectively lost to Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Stephen F. Austin and Evansville. A No. 2 Gonzaga team is now poised to take over the top spot in college basketball, and with no ranked teams remaining on its schedule, may stay there awhile. That would be a first for this season.
As for the Jayhawks, the Wildcats knocked off KU in the 2018 Final Four — and the 2016 Elite Eight before then — until Kansas finally got its revenge at Allen Fieldhouse last season with a 74-71 victory. If only it could’ve ended the series there.
Moving forward, the Jayhawks may want to start avoiding Villanova and Wright as much as possible.
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