By Steve Silverman
The college basketball season has a tendency to be a little sleepy until the first of January when conference races hit high gear and teams start to position themselves for the top seeds in their respective conference tournaments.
But there are moments prior to the start of those conference races that can satisfy the hungriest of fans. These moments may not be accompanied by the hype of games that take place later in the year, but they are gems.
One of those took place Tuesday night in Kansas City when the solid but unheralded Washington Huskies took down the second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks by a 74-65 margin.
It was the first loss of the season for the Jayhawks (7-1), and the key to the win for the Huskies (7-2) was their extended zone defense that kept Kansas from finding their outside shooting stroke.
The win was Washington’s first against Kansas since the 1974-75 season.
Kansas head coach Bill Self acknowledged that the Huskies had played well in beating his team, but he thought his team simply did not play with enough effort. The Jayhawks were led by junior guard Lagerald Vick, who came through with 28 points, but his teammates simply did not do enough.
“They took everybody away but Lagerald — `See if you can beat us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought our defense was horrendous and our hustle plays weren’t very good either.”
Matisse Thybulle connected on five three-point shots and scored 19 points to lead Washington, and the Huskies managed to hold on to the lead and their poise when Kansas applied defensive heat down the stretch.
The Huskies have served notice that they may just be a very good team. They will have another chance to prove it Sunday night when they host No. 12 Gonzaga.
Self’s team is bound to play much harder when it hosts No. 16 Arizona State Sunday.
Oklahoma freshman Young serves notice
The Oklahoma Sooners knew they were getting a good player when guard Trae Young accepted his scholarship to play in Norman.
However, head coach Lon Kruger could not have expected Young to start his career with such intensity and effectiveness.
The 6-2, 175-pound guard is leading the nation in scoring with an average of 28.7 points per game while shooting an impressive 47.6 percent from the field.
There are strong indications that Young is going to have a dominant year as he has scored 33 points against Portland, 42 on the road against Oregon, 32 against North Texas and 28 points vs. Texas-San Antonio in his four most recent games.
Young is clearly not shy about shooting the ball any time he sees fit, and that works perfectly for Kruger’s 6-1 Sooners.
Young may eventually get passed by Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as the nation’s top freshman scorer, but so far the Oklahoma star sits on top of the heap. Bagley is averaging 21.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per night, and he is a dominant star.
Loyola making a statement
They are the little team from the North Side of Chicago that usually shows up in the tiny agate print.
If you look carefully for the Loyola Ramblers, you can find their results and their standings in the Missouri Valley Conference.
But if you want details, you’re usually out of luck. The Ramblers have been one of the more anonymous teams in college basketball.
That is changing under seventh-year head coach head coach Porter Moser, as the Ramblers went on the road to Gainesville, Florida Wednesday night and bumped off the fifth-ranked Florida Gators by a 65-59 score and improved to 9-1 for the season.
Efficiency is the team’s watchword and philosophy as the Ramblers do not waste possessions. They get great looks at the basket and are shooting 52.2 percent from the field, which ranks eighth in the country.
Their leader is forward Aundre Jackson, who is connecting on 68.9 percent of his shots from the field while averaging 14.7 points per game.
Moser said he has modeled his coaching style after Rick Majerus, who had been his boss when the two were at Saint Louis University.
“We, at Loyola, have to be a program of development. We’re not going to sign McDonald’s All-Americans and we’re not going to sign one-and-dones,” Moser said. “We’ve got to pride ourselves on development and the little things of the game. Coach Majerus had a great line: ‘It’s more important for me to teach you how to play than to teach you plays.’ ”
Clearly, the Ramblers are learning quite well.
Big Ten issues
Michigan State is everything the Spartans were expected to be at the start of the season.
Tom Izzo’s team has gotten out of the gate with an 8-1 start, and their only loss has been to No. 1 Duke.
However, the rest of the conference is not playing up to expectations. There was a school of thought that the Spartans would have several conference mates in the top 25, including Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue.
Northwestern is just a 5-4 team to this point and after making the NCAA tournament for the first time a year ago, Chris Collins’ team is going to have to put together a run to get there again.
Minnesota recently lost to Nebraska, while Purdue has lost to Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
This could be a year that the Big Ten struggles to get member teams in the NCAA tournament.