Now that college football is over, here’s what you missed in college basketball

The men’s college basketball season drew its share of negative headlines as the NCAA’s other high-revenue sport — football — trudged to the finish line of its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Those headlines included outcries from the likes of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and other top names in the sport condemning the NCAA for pushing forward with games in this COVID-19-marred campaign. Hundreds of games already have been postponed or canceled and many teams have chosen to pause activities for safety precautions. 

Another big headline involved Florida player Keyontae Johnson,  who after collapsing on the court during a game Dec. 12, spent a week in the hospital following a medically-induced coma. He was released Dec. 22, but the cause of his collapse has not been announced and he is not playing.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the 2020-2021 NCAA tournament has a singular bubble location — Indianapolis — while poised to return after last year’s abrupt cancelation due to the pandemic. That means that college basketball, the little brother of college sports, is ready for the main spotlight.

What you need to know:

Gonzaga could go undefeated

The No. 1 Bulldogs (12-0) had their biggest game, against No. 2 Baylor, called off due to COVID-19, but the ‘Zags capitalized on their other non-conference matchups by picking up wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa. Coach Mark Few doesn’t have his best team talent-wise, but this group is a well-oiled machine that leads the nation with 96 points a game and the No. 1 offensive efficiency, according kenpom.com. Corey Kispert (21.1 ppg) is an All-American wing who gives Few a go-to guy down the stretch. Knowing that only West Coast Conference opponents are in front of the Bulldogs, it’s hard to envision this team losing before March, and even then, stopping this high-octane offense will be no easy task.  

There’s a smaller undefeated to know

The Drake Bulldogs of the Missouri Valley (13-0) also are undefeated and will stay that way for the next two weeks while the program pauses activity due to coronavirus concerns. Although Drake’s non-conference schedule wasn’t spectacular and the mid-major league will mean an at-large bid to the NCAAs would be difficult, it’s impossible to ignore this strong start by coach Darian DeVries’ team. ShanQuan Hemphill and Roman Penn are the team’s best players.

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The Big Ten is stacked this year

Five teams in the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll are from this conference. No. 5 Michigan, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 13 Illinois are all teams capable of reaching the Final Four. Then No. 19 Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers, Michigan State and Northwestern aren’t far behind. The league is the country’s toughest, posting the No. 1 NET score and likely to ship around 11 teams to the NCAA tourney. Coach Juwan Howard has the Wolverines undefeated thanks to freshman Hunter Dickinson’s strong play (17.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), while the Hawkeyes are even better than they were behind dynamic big man Luka Garza. The crucial return of veteran guard Jordan Bohannon, who missed last season with an injury, is a big reason why.  

Shaka Smart has the Longhorns poised to make a run at the Big 12 title. (Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell, Austin American-Statesman, USA TODAY Sports)

Texas is the real deal 

Coach Shaka Smart was on the hot seat for his job in November, and now the No. 4 Longhorns (10-1) are a Final Four threat that’s out front in the Big 12. Texas owns wins over Kansas and West Virginia and will battle Baylor for the Big 12 regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Smart guiding Texas to success is an example of having patience in developing a program. This group is the sum of its parts, with nearly five players averaging double figures.

These teams also are surprisingly good

►Clemson is 9-1 and has the country’s toughest defense (ranking first on kenpom.com in defensive efficiency ratings).

►Virginia Tech is a 10-2 ACC title contender with wins over Duke, Clemson and Villanova.

►Alabama, under second-year-coach Nate Oats, is 5-0 in SEC play having just blitzed Kentucky by 20 points.

►UConn, in its first season in the reformed Big East, is 7-1 under third-year coach Dan Hurley, who has quietly turned the program into a contender behind James Bouknight (20.3 ppg).

►Saint Louis is 7-1 with a 13 NET score as a surprise team from the Atlantic 10 that’s found its way into the Top 25.

Cade Cunningham is the truth

The 6-8 preseason All-American freshman, largely projected to be the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft, has lived up to the hype, helping push the Cowboys (9-3, 3-3) into national relevancy. Oklahoma State just beat Kansas and Cade Cunningham has been dazzling as a do-everything playmaker, averaging 17.8 ppg and 3.8 apg. His game-winning jumper Dec. 12 helped OSU sink Wichita State.

CALIPARI:  Coach says Wildcats picked 'not a real good time' to kneel during anthem

Kentucky could miss NCAAs

Coach John Calipari is one of the best molders of young talent, often getting teenagers to throw their egos aside and buy into his system to contend for SEC and NCAA hardware. But this Wildcats group (4-7) has gotten off to a rough start and could be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. UK lost six consecutive games in non-conference play before starting 3-0 in SEC play. Then they coughed up a 20-point loss to Alabama earlier this week. Surprisingly, shooting is an issue for this group, too. The Wildcats rank 251st in scoring offense and 316th in three-point field goals made.

Follow USA TODAY Sports reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

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