PHILADELPHIA — The No. 1 merry-go-round will continue on Monday, as the Kansas Jayhawks became the fifth No. 1 team to lose this season with a 56-55 loss to No. 18 Villanova on Saturday.
“It’s one of those years,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “There isn’t one team that’s dominant.”
Said Kansas coach Bill Self: “I don’t even know if there is a No. 1.”
The Gonzaga Bulldogs will likely become the sixth No. 1 team this season when the new polls are released Monday. Preseason No. 1 Michigan State lost on the opening day of the season, and the constant shuffle at the top of the rankings hasn’t stopped since as Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and now Kansas have all lost after moving to No. 1.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the five losses by an AP No. 1 team is the most such losses in a single season in the Poll Era. The single-season record for most No. 1 teams since the Poll debuted in 1948-49 is seven, which happened in 1982-83.
The Jayhawks not only lost the game Saturday, but junior starter Marcus Garrett left the game late in the first half with what appeared to be a right ankle or leg injury. He was helped off the floor and went directly to the locker room and did not return.
“He’s our toughest kid. So if he says he can’t play, it’s probably not good,” Self said. “I don’t think that it is going to be something that, hopefully, drags out to conference play, but we don’t know yet.”
After an ugly first half that ended 18-18, both teams improved on the offensive end in the second half. Kansas shot 50% from the floor after halftime, while Villanova only turned the ball over three times and had 21 combined points from Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels.
The biggest lead for either team came when Villanova went up eight with 14:52 remaining following a hot stretch from freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Kansas had a four-point lead and possession with just over one minute left in the second half, but Gillespie then stole the ball from Devon Dotson and finished a layup to cut the lead to two. A Samuels 3-pointer with 20 seconds left gave the Wildcats a one-point lead, and Dotson missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 17 seconds left.
Because Kansas had committed only three fouls, Villanova had to get the ball inbounds four straight times against the Jayhawks’ pressure. On the fourth attempt, Saddiq Bey tried to throw the ball over the top to Gillespie, but it went out of bounds.
“We ran out of our plays. Honestly,” Wright said. “We have three different press offenses. We ran all three and got it in. The fourth time, we went back to the first one, and they were on it. And we didn’t have a timeout. That’s our last option, to throw it over the top. And it’s not a great one.”
Dotson had a chance to win the game for Kansas in the final seconds, but his off-balance runner over Bey didn’t fall.
“We were just trying to get [Dotson] going downhill with his right hand,” Self said. “He actually got a decent look. He was off-balance a little bit, but that was about the best we could hope for in that situation.”
Samuels (15 points) and Gillespie (12 points) led the way for Villanova, and both players also made the key plays in the final minute to spark the 5-0 finishing run for the Wildcats.
“The guys that have played in this program, as they get older, they know how to make plays,” Wright said. “They know what it takes at the end of a game. Both these guys have been in a lot of big games.”
Gillespie and Samuels started the game 2-for-10 in the first half, while Dotson took control of his point guard matchup with Gillespie by scoring 10 points after the break. The two juniors, who played on Villanova’s 2018 national championship team, combined to score the final 19 points of the game for the Wildcats.
“I’m definitely more confident and calm. Just being in the program, we work on this stuff everyday,” Gillespie said of the late surge. “[We call it] the ‘Wildcat Minute.’ We do this every day. … Learning from guys that have come before me helps a lot. I’ve got a lot of guys that I’ve learned from.”
Villanova (9-2) now has a big non-conference win before conference play begins. Heading into the weekend, the Wildcats’ best victory of the season came against Mississippi State in November, to go with losses to Ohio State and Baylor. They will look to build on their five-game winning streak against Xavier on Dec. 30, the first Big East game of the season for either team.
The loss snaps Kansas’ nine-game winning streak since falling on opening night to Duke in the Champions Classic. The Jayhawks (9-2) will head to Stanford on Dec. 9 before starting Big 12 play.