College basketball this season is shaping up with a consistent theme: The unexpected should be expected daily.
That can be seen in several breakthrough performances and some highly unusual results, and it means that many teams and players are likely to take turns in the spotlight from now until the end of the N.C.A.A. tournament.
What We Learned Last Week
Florida is again challenged offensively. Much like last season, the Gators can’t consistently score despite having their most talented roster under Coach Mike White. After beginning the season in the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, Florida is 2-2 after losing Sunday at UConn. Through four games, the Gators are averaging just 62.5 points and are shooting just 38.4 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point range.
Zeke Nnaji is one of the best players, not just one of the best freshmen. Arizona’s 6-foot-11 big man is averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds through the first four games. He is also shooting 84.6 percent. “I’m not surprised,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. “He isn’t a freshman physically. He bench pressed 185 pounds 19 times.”
Ohio State is ahead of schedule. The Buckeyes were expected to contend in the Big Ten, but didn’t return a starting guard from last year’s team that reached the N.C.A.A. tournament. Still, Ohio State beat Villanova by 25 last Wednesday in Columbus. “A lot of things this season for us are going to come down to our guard play,” Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann said. Forward Kaleb Wesson also continued his early-season tear, averaging 10.3 points and 11.7 rebounds through the Buckeyes’ first three games. “He’s been a really good facilitator, and the weight he’s lost has helped him become a better rebounder out of his area,” Holtmann said. Ohio State is 10-0 over the past three seasons when Wesson gets 10 or more rebounds.
What’s Coming This Week
Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards gets his first high-profile test. The Bulldogs host in-state rival Georgia Tech in Athens on Wednesday, in the last game for Georgia before it heads to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. “It’s a really big game,” Georgia Coach Tom Crean said. “It’s a rivalry game against an in-state opponent, but they’re also playing really good basketball right now.” The 6-5 Edwards is projected to be one of the top picks in next year’s N.B.A. draft. Through three games, he’s averaging 19.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.3 steals. “He can really shoot the ball, and he’s a great athlete,” Georgia Tech Coach Josh Pastner said of Edwards. “A lot of guys don’t have the ability to do both. He does. He’ll play in the N.B.A. for a long time.”
Duke goes to Madison Square Garden for the second time in three weeks. The Blue Devils will face California on Thursday in the Empire Classic, and then either Texas or Georgetown on Friday. By Saturday, Duke will have played three games at Madison Square Garden this month, only two fewer than the Knicks.
Virginia gets a top midmajor. The Cavaliers are holding opponents to an average of just 36.7 points during their first three games. The Cavaliers’ next test will be against one of the best midmajors in the country as Vermont visits on Tuesday. The Catamounts’ recent win at St. John’s on Saturday was the first for Vermont over a current Big East program since 1924. “We’ve worked hard to build a nonconference résumé the past few years,” Vermont Coach John Becker said. “But we didn’t really break through until this win.” Becker has led Vermont to appearances in two of the past three N.C.A.A. tournaments.
More to Consider
Michigan State’s Malik Hall may have solved the Spartans’ issue at power forward. The 6-7 freshman came off the bench in last Thursday’s win at Seton Hall to score 17 points in 19 minutes. He also grabbed five rebounds and was perfect shooting. “I certainly feel better about that position now,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “The thing I like about Malik is that when teams go small, he can switch and guard a point guard if he has to. He’s a really versatile player.”
North Carolina’s Cole Anthony is on track to have a tremendous freshman season statistically, but will he get enough help? The Tar Heels’ secondary offensive options right now are the veteran forward Garrison Brooks and Justin Pierce, a graduate transfer from William & Mary. Neither averages more than 11.3 points. North Carolina’s supporting cast needs to be ready to produce by next week’s Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins has coached several special big men during his career. He has got another one in the freshman Oscar Tshiebwe. In just his second college game, Tshiebwe tallied 20 points and 17 rebounds last Friday against Pittsburgh. “That was the first time that he was really aggressive,” Huggins said of the 6-9, 258 pound Tshiebwe. “We just told him to do what he really does well. He can really run and he’s got great hands.”
Louisiana State desperately misses Tremont Waters at point guard. The Tigers have a combined 51 turnovers in their last two games. L.S.U.’s season may ultimately come down to how its two starting guards — Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays — can handle pressure.
Texas Tech’s Jahmi’us Ramsey is on track to be the best freshman that Chris Beard has ever coached. “Sometimes with five-star recruits, you don’t know how they’re going to react to coaching,” Beard said. “That’s not an issue with him.” Through the Red Raiders’ first three games, Ramsey leads Texas Tech in scoring and is tied for first in rebounding.
Penn State hasn’t been to the N.C.A.A. tournament since 2011. That could change in 2020. The Nittany Lions never trailed during the second half in a 15-point win at Georgetown. “We’ve finally got both the depth and experience that we need to get over the hump,” Penn State Coach Pat Chambers said. The Nittany Lions have the requisites to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.
DePaul’s double-digit win at Iowa sent a message to the rest of the Big East. The Blue Demons have their best roster yet under Coach Dave Leitao and a burgeoning star in the junior Paul Reed. “We know that attention comes from winning,” Leitao said. “We’ll get the attention we deserve if we continue to win.” DePaul is the first Big East team to reach five victories this season.
While Gonzaga and St. Mary’s were ranked to begin the season, another West Coast Conference team — Brigham Young — showed it can also be a factor after its 1-point win at Houston. The Cougars will also add one of the best big men in the country after nine games when 6-8 senior Yoeli Childs returns to the lineup after a suspension for hiring an agent before properly filing paperwork with the N.C.A.A. “It’s nice to know that you have help on the way,” B.Y.U. Coach Mark Pope said of Childs, who averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds last season.
Games to Watch This Week
All times are Eastern.
Tuesday Vermont at Virginia (7 p.m., ACC Network Extra)
Wednesday Georgia Tech at Georgia (7 p.m., SEC Network)
Thursday Texas vs. Georgetown (7 p.m., ESPN2), Duke vs. California (9:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Friday L.S.U. vs. Utah State (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Houston at Oregon (9 p.m., Pac-12 Network), Temple at U.S.C. (11 p.m., Pac-12 Network).