Team of the Week: Florida Gators
After watching Florida steamroll their first four SEC opponents by an average of 26.8 points — which included Saturday’s 31 point beatdown of Missouri — and being reminded of the fact that the Gators did the same thing to Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State earlier in the season, the biggest question mark about this team is: ‘How did they manage to lose two games?’
It’s pretty simple, really. Florida gave away the game at Arizona, losing by one while being outscored 15-0 in the final two minutes of the half and regulation. The loss to Kansas State came when they laid an egg against Kansas State in Kansas City three days before Christmas when Kenny Boynton was shooting awfully and Mike Rosario went 1-9 from the floor.
Because Florida looks like they very well could be the best team in the country right now, and Kenpom agrees. They are second nationally in offensive efficiency. They are first nationally in defensive efficiency. They are balanced offensively, they have size inside, and they can give multiple different looks on the defensive end of the floor. On the nights that Boynton and Rosario do shoot well, the Gators are scary-good.
Five teams deserving a shout out:
- Butler: The Bulldogs beat Gonzaga on a fluky play with 3.5 seconds left that may or may not have involved multiple push-offs by Roosevelt Jones and may or may not have come after the buzzer. But that’s almost beside the point, because the Bulldogs did it without their best player, Rotnei Clarke. If this win did anything, it drove home a point that has been made too many times about Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs: Butler has always been more than the individuals on the roster. Their success is a testament to their system and their program.
- Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a tough start to league play, losing road games to Indiana and Michigan State before dropping a home date with Michigan, but have turned things around since. They won at Northwestern last Sunday, and followed that up no Saturday with a win over Wisconsin at home. The Hawkeyes were up 30-10 on Wisconsin early in the first half, and rode out a four-point win on the night they honored the memory of Chris Street.
- Oregon: Believe it or not, the Ducks are sitting all by themselves at the top of the Pac-12 standings thanks to a win over No. 24 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday and a loss by Washington to Utah. And the most impressive part? It doesn’t seem fluky. The Ducks are legit, and may actually be the best team in the Pac-12. Who saw that coming?
- Syracuse: You go into the Yum! Center and you knock off the No. 1 team in the country on the road, you get nominated for Team of the Week. That’s just how it works.
- Valparaiso: The Crusaders have moved into sole possession of first place in the Horizon League thanks to a pair of impressive performances this week. On Thursday, Valpo came back from down 22 points in the second half to beat Detroit on the road and followed that up with a 69-63 win over Wright State, who was previously undefeated in league play.
Best of the rest: Belmont, Colorado State, Michigan, Michigan State, Northeastern, Pitt, Rhode Island, Stetson, Wichita State
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.
Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.
Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.
But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.
Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.
Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.
The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.
Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.
Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.
The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.
The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.
College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.
Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.
Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.
The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.
Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.
Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.
The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.
Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.
“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”
The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.
With Karnowski returning along with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.
Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.