NEW YORK — College basketball’s early-season slate has never led to this much chaos atop the rankings.
When the polls refresh next Monday, the No. 1 ranking will change for the fifth time in seven weeks, which is a record.
This will be true due to unranked, 6-3 Texas Tech— riding a three-game losing skid — knocking off No. 1Louisvilleon Tuesday night at the Jimmy V Classic. The Red Raiders’ 70-57 win over the Cardinals (9-1) gives credence to the growing chorus of those who have been singing for weeks that college basketball lacks an elite tier or historically great team in 2019-20. With approximately one-third of the games scheduled for the regular season having already been played, that’s hard to argue.
The Cardinals weren’t the only team to be knocked from the unbeaten ranks Tuesday. No. 4-rankedMarylandalso went down on Tuesday,losing 76-69toPenn State. Then No. 18 Butler took their first loss of the season, falling to No. 11 Baylor 53-52 dropping the sport’s number of unbeaten teams from eight to five:Auburn,Duquesne,Liberty,Ohio StateandSan Diego Stateare the only unscarred remaining.
Here are the four key takeaways from some more madness at Madison Square Garden.
1. Chris Beard just beat the No. 1-ranked team without his best player — and with a walk-on playing 22 minutes: Please, read that sentence again. Because, I assure you, if you ask the 352 other Division I head coaches if they could do that in a neutral-court environment, fewer than 15 would honestly believe it’s capable. Beard’s coaching chops were legitimized on a national level when he took Texas Tech to the national title game in April (it’s still incredible to ponder) and a win like Tuesday only reinforces how respected he is across basketball.
Texas Tech did not have its best player, as freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey, who was was out with a hamstring. More on his status below.
Without Ramsey, the Red Raiders were led by Davide Moretti, who scored 18 points — but TTU shot 40% from the field and 26% from 3-point range. Louisville (overly) relied onJordan Nwora, who needed 16 shots to get to 14 points. So, a win over the No. 1 team despite bad offense and 14 turnovers.
And a win by 13 points.
I won’t say, “Only Chris Beard,” but Iwillsay: only Chris Beard and maybe like five other dudes currently coaching college basketball.
2. Louisville’s backcourt is a concern for many, but not coach Chris Mack. I asked Beard if, when he and the staff evaluated video of the Cardinals, did they think Louisville’s backcourt could be a glaring weakness that TTU could exploit.
Beard said, “Not at all.”
“I think their guard play is really good,” he said. “In a 40-minute game you’re not always going to play your best. We were fortunate tonight. We were concerned about their perimeter and post players, just pleased we won. We felt we had to play our best game of the year and we did that.”
And Mack obviously still thinks his guards have enough to compete against good defenses. Still, TTU neutralized Louisville’s guards and shed a harsh light on a lingering issue for the Cards: they can be shut down and they aren’t automatic playmakers. If anything, they looked to be too reliant on Nwora, who can’t be asked to shoulder the load every night. They were ultimately victim to Tech’s best defensive performance of the season.
“I just think we have to play like a veteran crew we’ve gotta be able to work the ball around,” Mack told CBS Sports. “We need to take the shot that presents itself, whether that’s Jordan or that’s Williams. And he (Nwora) … defensively, I think we were thinking about our offense too much.”
It was the first time this season that was the case with this team, Mack said.
“I thought we were getting past that,” he said. “But it’s the first time we’ve been in the crucible and faced real adversity when things weren’t going our way. We forgot how to handle that and need to [fix it] going forward.”
3. You can’t understate the importance of this win for Texas Tech’sNCAA Tournamenthopes. After making it to the national championship game in April, Beard’s club has been erratic on offense and, truthfully, there was real doubt after losses toCreighton,IowaandDePaulthat this could be a hangover season for a roster featuring five freshmen. This win is TTU’s first victory this season against a team ranked in the top 200 of KenPom. It was anecessaryvictory for Texas Tech’s long-term NCAA Tournament hopes. No other win from November and December will mean a thing if/when TTU is debated to be slotted/seeded in March.
There’s one more biggie out of Big 12 play to come: home vs.Kentuckyin late January. Win that one and go .500 in Big 12 play and it’s probably going to be enough. But a loss on Tuesday would have been borderline devastating.
4. Ramsey’s availability remains in unknown. The freshman shooting guard is considered Beard’s best player this season. Beard told the media afterward that Ramsey’s status remains day-to-day. He also said Ramsey “begged” to play vs. Louisville, but Beard had to be definitive and not let him on the court. Until Ramsey’s hamstring is 100% and team doctors assure Beard and his staff there is no risk of further injury, he’s not going to play. A personal hunch, based on another conversation I had with someone close to the program: I doubt Ramsey plays in Tech’s next game, on Monday vs.Southern Miss.