The first month of college basketball has done what it always does: It identifies a team’s weaknesses.
Butler found Twiggy-thin Arizona to be susceptible to foul trouble. Gonzaga discovered that when closely guarded, Arizona couldn’t hit the broadside of a 3-point shot (the Wildcats were 1 for 8).
Already, 344 of the 351 Division I teams have lost.
It works both ways.
On Saturday, Missouri did what you expected Missouri to do: the Tigers, ranked No. 302 of 351 Division I teams with an average shooting percentage of 41 percent, shot 32 percent against Arizona.
Foul trouble for Lauri Markkanen? No problem.
Seven scholarship players available? Not a factor.
Missouri was so unsettled it strayed from strength and used three defenses. That rarely works, violating one of the rules of basketball coaching: Do what you do best. Eventually, all three Mizzou defenses broke down. So it was Saturday when Arizona swished 13 3-pointers.
Missouri wasn’t good enough to exploit Arizona’s flaws.
The seven undefeated Division I teams are likely to get to Christmas Day without a loss because none figure to be sufficiently challenged until they begin conference play.
The revelation of the first month has been 8-0 Baylor, which beat Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier.
Creighton and Villanova, both 10-0, are apt to be 13-0 when the two collide on New Year’s Eve.
Gonzaga (10-0) seems sure to be 22-0 when it visits BYU in early February. South Carolina (8-0) could be the fraud among the seven unbeatens.
The most enticing twosome is UCLA and USC, both unscathed, both with some muscle-growing victories: the Bruins at Kentucky and the Trojans at Texas A&M.
When USC and UCLA open the Pac-12 season later this month in Oregon, it’s likely both will still be perfect. USC plays Pepperdine, Troy, Cornell and Missouri State before opening at Oregon State. The Bruins meet UC Santa Barbara, Western Michigan and face Ohio State in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Either way, the focus of Pac-12 hoops has shifted from Arizona and Oregon to Los Angeles. It is a refreshing change. But if Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright return to Arizona’s lineup by the time the Wildcats visit Los Angeles January 19-21, those losses to Butler and Gonzaga — and a possible setback on Saturday at Texas A&M — will be long forgotten.
In college basketball, all of the big games await.