College basketball season has gotten rolling this season with some thrilling matchups and some surprises. The dust has settled from all the regular season tournaments and we’re starting to get a feel for what this season may look like in February and March. Of course, it all leads up to the Big Dance.
Let’s get this started. Here’s a few things to watch for as college basketball season heats up.
Duke’s Young Talent
A lot of hype has been built around Duke leading up to the season only for it to have been slightly subdued due to the injuries a few of their players have sustained. The recruiting class they brought in for this year included four 5-stars and one 4-star, including the #1 Small Forward in Harry Giles. While Duke is still a solid squad at this point in the season, they are nowhere near their ceiling. If and when their injured players get healthy, and if the team chemistry comes together in a timely manner, they will be the Goliath come March. I’m not sure if anyone would be able to knock them off. Plus, it’s hard to bet against Coach K.
Can ‘Nova Rekindle the Magic?
Villanova is ranked #1 in the AP poll once again after Duke and Kentucky have recently been knocked off. The Wildcats return the core of their team after last season’s national championship run and are bringing in a solid recruiting class. The class includes 5-star Power Forward Omari Spellman, who will bring a lot of muscle to their play in the post. Pre-season All American Josh Hart will be the heart (no pun intended) of the squad as coach Jay Wright has praised his leadership. The undefeated Wildcats still have a long way to go but they will be a favorite come tournament time.
What the Hell Happened, Izzo?
Now let’s be fair. Michigan State has played an extremely tough schedule so far. Four games against teams inside the top 20 already would be rough stretch for anyone. But the 6-4 Spartans have looked underwhelming to say the least. They could have lost against Florida Gulf Coast if not for some possible home cookin’ from the clock operator that messed up FGCU’s chance for a last second shot. MSU also had to squeak out a four point win over Oral Roberts. Their games against teams currently in the top 10 have been, well… bad. None of them were close contests. That isn’t what we typically see out of a Tom Izzo coached team. Of course, there is a lot of season left to turn it around. We all know he’s a magician in March. But it won’t matter if they can’t make it to March.
Battle of the Conferences
The ACC is the pick for the best conference in America amongst the experts. But don’t slouch on the Big 12. What they won’t tell you is the top of the Big 12 has quietly beaten the top of the ACC. Kansas beat #5 Duke, Baylor beat #10 Louisville, And West Virginia beat then #6 Virginia, in a true road game nonetheless. The Big 12 has four teams inside the AP top 25 (40% of the conference) while the ACC has five (33% of the conference). Nonconference play so far has worked in the Big 12’s favor and will look great on teams’ résumés come March when the committee looks at seeding. Don’t get it twisted, the ACC is still a powerful conference. Just don’t think they’re the best, let alone by a longshot.
Mid-Majors Look Strong
We all know about the Gonzagas of the world. It’s almost automatic that they’re a solid team every year and able to get a respectable seed in the NCAA tournament. But this year looks especially good for the mid-majors. St. Mary’s, Creighton, and Xavier are all in the top 14 in the AP poll with Wichita State still receiving votes. The talent on these teams is stronger than what you see on paper. They pass the eye test with flying colors with ball movement and ability to consistently hit their shots. Don’t be surprised if the sharpshooting teams like St. Mary’s or Creighton crash the Final Four. These teams are good and can win against anyone when they catch fire.
Can Baylor Sustain the Early Success?
The Baylor Bears have been the surprise of the nation so far with an extremely strong start. The Bears have already soared to #4 in the AP with six first place votes. They have already beaten four teams that had a number beside their name at the time of facing them. Other than the game against Louisville, none of them have been close either. Strong coaching from Scott Drew along with a fun atmosphere have allowed a team with hardly any top prospects to be one of the toughest teams in the country. Barring injuries or any unforeseen circumstance Baylor could possibly be the scariest team to face in March and will challenge Kansas and West Virginia for the Big 12 title. Don’t mess with the Bears.
I’ve been skeptical of people saying for years that UCLA was on the rise. For the most part, being skeptical was the right call as UCLA always fell flat after the hype. But I’m close to drinking the Bruin Kool-Aid this season. Lonzo Ball… can BALL. You can’t discount winning at Rupp Arena against a then #1 Kentucky team. If we’re being honest, the game wasn’t even as close as the score shows either. UCLA could be in store for an amazing season. But I’d recommend waiting until late January or early February to put a lock on how good the Bruins are. As we’ve seen in recent years, you never know with them.
Those are just a few things out of a whole lot more to watch in a college basketball season that looks as if it could be full of pandemonium. Which is exactly what we all want, right?
Be on the lookout on Wednesday of next week for my first college basketball power rankings of the season and will go all the way up until the end of the season. We’re gonna have some fun.
And hopefully I get to see this guy cut down the nets.