Perhaps the biggest reason that this season is interesting for those that love college hoops — and the main reason that this is a year where the casual fans may end up missing more of the regular season than usual — is that there really isn’t any greatness in the college game this year.
Indiana and Duke are the two best teams in the country, but neither of them are on the same level as last season’s Kentucky team. That group had five first round draft picks on the roster. Last year’s North Carolina team had four. Depending on how the collegiate careers of guys like Victor Oladipo and Rasheed Sulaimon play out, the Hoosiers and the Blue Devils may end up having two first round picks. Combined.
And there’s no guarantee that those two players — Mason Plumlee and Cody Zeller, who may end up going head-to-head for National Player of the Year over the course of the next four months — will end up being stars at the next level, either.
In fact, in addition to there not being any great teams in college hoops this year, there aren’t that many great NBA prospects, either.
Which is why it’s the perfect season for the mid-major ranks to be as strong as they have been in a long time. Take, for example, next week’s matchup between Lehigh and North Texas, which features potential first round picks Tony Mitchell and CJ McCollum:
45 NBA scouts to see North Texas and Lehigh!!!
That number is insane, as anything over 30 is generally considered a large amount of scouts, even when it’s teams like Kentucky or North Carolina playing.
But hey, this is a chance to see two NBA players that won’t see much NBA caliber competition over the next three months play against each other in the same locale.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.