Tales of defensive excellence, a monster game in the American Athletic Conference and a Big Ten team’s hot streak dominate this week’s edition of the Top Freking 10.
1. ARIZONA (last week: 1)
My man crush on Arizona increases with each passing viewing. Sunday night, the Wildcats were tied with Utah with just under 11 minutes to play. After a few sloppy defensive possessions, Arizona got its act together, holding the Utes to four points over the next nine-plus minutes. Zona guard Nick Johnson, a favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year, scored eight of his game-high 22 points during the same stretch. It was powerful to watch the McKale Center go from funeral-like to frenzied as they watched the home Wildcats turn up their defense — when the Wildcats match discipline with their collective wingspan on defense, good luck — and get thundering dunks from Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon.
2. SYRACUSE (LW: 2)
Generally, a good indicator of a good defensive team is not fouling. The Orange are ranked 10th out of 345 NCAA teams in fewest fouls per game. Syracuse entered Saturday’s tilt at Miami, Fla., averaging 16 fouls per game, but managed to be whistled only 11 times in a 65-52 win. Discipline is a factor in not fouling, as is the fact that Syracuse’s players are well-versed in the program’s 2-3 zone. Without a standout shot blocker, the stats indicate the Orange rely on theft and overall team defense, as they rank seventh and sixth, respectively, in the nation in steals per game and scoring defense.
3. WICHITA STATE (LW: 3)
The Shockers dismantled Drake 78-61 Saturday for their fourth consecutive triumph of at least 15 points. Poor Loyola of Illinois (8-12) is slated to be 21-0 Wichita State’s next victim tonight. And if you didn’t catch WSU guard Tekele Cotton’s slam against Illinois State on Jan. 22, be sure to YouTube it. A poor Redbird defender will have visions of Cotton posterizing him for the foreseeable future.
4. KANSAS (LW: 5)
Another week, another tough slate of Big 12 games for the Jayhawks — though the schedule eases up soon. KU welcomes Iowa State, ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Poll, on Wednesday before traveling to No. 25 Texas Saturday. The Longhorns are the surprise team of the Big 12, sitting at 5-2 in conference play and 16-4 overall after losing their top four scorers from 2012-13. After playing Texas, Kansas has five straight games against Big 12 foes not ranked in the AP Top 25 or in the top four of the conference standings.