FORT WORTH, Texas – There have been a few surprises, and plenty of twists and turns in the college basketball universe. At the start, many believed North Carolina would roll through the ACC, but the Tar Heels are 3-2 in conference and lost to Wake Forest (17-1), which has emerged as a strong contender and on Wednesday beat the nation’s No. 1 team.
Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry of Davidson have continued to put on dominant performances, but Jodie Meeks at Kentucky also could be considered for Player of the Year.
As usual, Michigan State (16-3, 6-1) has been a force in the Big Ten, but the Spartans suffered a 70-63 loss to Northwestern (10-6, 2-4) on Jan. 21 that snapped their 28-game home winning streak. A look at the major themes and game-changing personalities of the college season:
1. Unstoppable: Kentucky’s Meeks scored 54 points to help lead the Wildcats to a 90-72 victory at Tennessee on Jan. 13. Meeks broke Dan Issel’s previous school record of 53 points set 39 years ago and scored the most points in the SEC since LSU’s Chris Jackson had 55 in 1989. “Am I surprised he got 54? Yes,” Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said after the game. “Am I surprised he is playing really well? No, because he has turned himself into much closer to an all-around player.”
2. Out of the gate: North Carolina (17-2, 3-2) began ACC play 0-2, including its first loss of the year against Boston College on Jan. 4. Since losing to Wake Forest 92-89 on Jan.11, the Tar Heels have won four in a row, including a 94-70 win over Clemson a week ago and an 80-77 victory over Florida State on Wednesday.
3. Taking them down: Arkansas pulled off two upsets with wins over then-No. 4 Oklahoma (96-88) on Dec. 30 and then-No. 7 Texas (67-61) on Jan. 6. The Razorbacks, who have started 0-4 in the SEC, have won 43 consecutive non-conference games at home.
4. Dominant Deacons: No. 6 Wake Forest began 16-0 for its best start in school history before a 78-71 loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 21. The Demon Deacons, who snapped BYU’s 53-game home winning streak with a 94-87 victory Jan. 3, defeated No. 1 Duke (18-2) 70-68 on Wednesday.
5. Memphis’ move: This could’ve been a rebuilding year after Memphis lost Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey to the NBA draft. But even with 50 percent of the Tigers’ offense gone, last year’s NCAA runner-up has a 16-3 record and is ranked 18th after beating Tennessee on Saturday. Coach John Calipari switched Tyreke Evans to point guard and said his team has been completely different since.
Players who have dazzled recently:
F – Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: In big wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall, he averaged 30.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. Through 17 games, he is fifth in the nation in scoring (25.0 per game) and second in rebounding (13.3) despite Notre Dame losing four in a row.
G – Jermaine Taylor, Central Florida: Among the nation’s leading scorers at 23.7 points per game, he had 31 in the Knights’ 73-61 win over Southern Miss on Jan. 21 and scored 27 in a win over Marshall on Jan. 25.
G – Nick Calathes, Florida: In a win against Arkansas on Jan. 17, he had 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Calathes is averaging 17.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting 52.0 percent from the floor.
G – Manny Harris, Michigan: One of many stellar sophomores in the Big Ten, he is averaging 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He has five double-doubles on the season.
G – Jeff Teague, Wake Forest: After scoring 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting against Boston College on Jan. 14, he added 24 against Clemson on Jan. 17 and 23 in a loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 21. On the season, he’s averaging 20.9 points per game and has 39 steals.