CBT Weekly Roundtable: Who are the top five teams as of today?

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Friday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. The inaugural installment focuses on the ACC, the now 15-team conference that some stated was the greatest conference ever assembled before a game had been played. Now that we’ve seen the teams in action, who’s the favorite to win the regular season crown? And who else can make a run at challenging for the title? 

Rob Dauster: Rankings are a tricky thing this early in the season. Are you ranking based on how good you think the team will be in the future? How good you think they are right now? How strong their resume of wins is? It’s an inexact science, especially when you’re dealing with some people that haven’t seen every team play.

That’s why Raph and I are here. We watch way too much hoops, and I know I can speak for both of us when I say that we both have a good feel for just about every team that deserves a spot in or around the top 25.

So, Raph, as of this very moment, these are who I believe are the top five teams in the country, in order: Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Louisville, and Florida. Tell me why I’m wrong.

Raphielle Johnson: I’d be happy to tell you why you’re wrong, and it starts with the fact that you don’t have Ohio State on this list. Now the Buckeyes may not have a “signature” win at this point in time, but how can you ignore their balance and work on the defensive end of the floor? While LaQuinton Ross still needs to show that he can consistently provide scoring for this group, the fact of the matter is that they have multiple options capable of leading the team in scoring on any particular night. There’s Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott right now, and they’ve received a nice boost off the bench from Amedeo Della Valle and Marc Loving at various points of the season.

And I don’t think we can overlook the strides that Amir Williams has made either. He’s no world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s played much better basketball of late than at any point in his Ohio State career to date. Since your question stated “at this very moment” I’d take Ohio State over Florida, even with the Gators’s showing against Kansas and the fact that they’re some Shabazz Napier heroics away from being undefeated. Until they get Chris Walker (if that happens) Florida’s about as “complete” as they’ll be this season, and they’re going to be very good. But I’d take Ohio State over them at this point in time.

RD: No one over here is overlooking Ohio State. Trust me on that. I know how good they can be defensively.

source: Getty ImagesThat said, I need you to keep something in mind: the team you’re talking touting is going to be relying on LaQuinton Ross to be their difference maker. Ross has played the last couple of weeks. He played well during the NCAA tournament, too. But you’re really rolling with a team that is going to have to trust LaQuinton Ross to be a consistent offensive weapon over a team that just put a 29-4 run on Kansas?

Bottom line is this: Ohio State might be the best defensive team in the country. But Florida, given their length, athleticism and versatility, ain’t all that far behind, mainly because they can give a number of different looks on that end of the floor. That extended 1-3-1 looked pretty damn impressive. The difference, in my opinion, comes offensively. Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and new and improved Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith is quite formidable.

Here’s my question: Would you rank Ohio State over Wisconsin?

RJ: In regards to Florida, I’d like to see a little more from them as the group is “currently” constituted. They looked phenomenal at times against Kansas the other night, but once again their time on the floor as a unit has been limited. With that being the case, we could very well be back here at some point wondering if they’re the best team in the country. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But you asked who I’d take right now, and that would be Ohio State.

As for whether I’d take the Buckeyes over Wisconsin, that answer would be “no.” A big reason why: who guards Frank Kaminsky? That’s a question many teams will struggle with given Kaminsky’s performance to this point in the season, as he’s very comfortable stepping out beyond the arc and firing away (connecting at a good rate to boot). It’s one thing to defend a big on the block, because that’s where they’re “supposed” to be in theory. But when faced with a big who can score inside and out, the task becomes all the more difficult. And there’s also the Josh Gasser factor, as his return has given the Badgers a piece they really needed last season. If they need scoring he’ll give them that, and the same goes for defense, distributing the ball to open teammates and leadership. Right now I’m taking Wisconsin, who may be sold short by those who simply say “oh, they’ll finish top four in the Big Ten again because that’s what Bo Ryan does.”

This group’s better than that, and they’re capable of accomplishing more. Where do you stand on the Ohio State/Wisconsin question?

RD: #TeamWisky. I don’t know what it is about this group, but they look like so much more than just another good Wisconsin team. Is it Sam Dekker? He’s been awesome this season. Is it the three-guard look they’ve been using? Is it the emergence of Kaminsky?

I’ll tell you what it’s not: Wisconsin becoming some uptempo, fast-breaking team. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here, so forgive me. Wisconsin is still the same old Wisconsin on the overwhelming majority of their possessions. They didn’t turn into Loyola Marymount in the Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble days, not even close, and I really wish people would stop saying that. According to Synergy, 8.7% of Wisconsin’s possessions come in transition, up from 6.4% last season. By comparison, 28.4% of BYU’s possessions come in transition. They are a fast-breaking team. Wisconsin, who ranks 312th in tempo and 346th in average length of offensive possession, is unequivocally not. One or two more fast breaks per game is not a shift in identity.

So let’s just go ahead and put that theory to bed.

This is the same old Wisconsin doing the same old Wisconsin things, only they’re doing them better now.

So you’re good with Arizona and Syracuse as the nation’s two best teams right now?

RJ: Agree completely on your Wisconsin point. Trotting a little more often doesn’t mean that you’re a running team, and you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. They do what’s best for them, and it works.
Now on to your question. Right now I’d say that Arizona and Syracuse are the two best teams in the country. And the good thing for both is that there’s still room for improvement. Arizona can still use a shooter, and whether that comes from a source safely within the rotation or one whose spot seems to fluctuate (Gabe York played just six minutes vs. UNLV) remains to be seen. But they have the length and athleticism to be an elite defensive team, and there’s plenty of skill at Sean Miller’s disposal.

As for the Orange, I see a team that may only get better (barring injury, of course) with Tyler Ennis gaining experience and Trevor Cooney adjusting to a far more prominent role than the one he had last season. Add in the consistent C.J. Fair and a reserve in Jerami Grant who may be on the “Dion Waiters Plan” (from 6th man to the draft lottery) and you’ve got a very good quartet to start with. Add in the big men and Mike Gbinije and Syracuse has the look of a team capable of winning it all.

Your thoughts?

RD: The question that we all had with Syracuse heading into the season had to do with their back court. Were their guards actually going to be good enough to lead them to the top of the ACC?

Well … that question looks dumb at this point, because I think that there is a valid argument to make that Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney have been the best back court in the country this season. With Cooney draining threes like he’s the second-coming of Gerry McNamara and Ennis notching these kind of numbers — 11.2 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.0 t/o’s, 42.9% 3PT — the Orange look scary-good.

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

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1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

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Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.

Texas Tech fined, WVU’s Harris reprimanded after court-storm

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Big 12 fined Texas Tech $25,000 and reprimanded West Virginia forward Wes Harris for hitting a fan who joined thousands of others in storming the court during a weekend postgame celebration.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement Monday that Texas Tech did not ensure the safety and security of West Virginia players following the game in Lubbock, Texas.

Videos posted on social media by fans show Harris and other West Virginia players trying to reach the sideline as Red Raider fans swarmed the court Saturday in celebration of No. 8 Texas Tech’s 72-71 win over then-No. 2 West Virginia.

The videos show Harris striking a fan who had run into him before Harris is pulled away. Other players were involved in a separate skirmish trying to protect a teammate in the swarm.

“We have a duty to provide a safe game environment,” Bowlsby said. “The Texas Tech Department of Athletics has a written event management policy, which was unsuccessful in ensuring the safety and security of the visiting team game participants.”

Texas Tech got the win it its first-ever Top 10 matchup on its home court.

Bowlsby noted that although the Big 12 does not have a policy prohibiting spectators from entering the court for postgame celebrations, “it is of utmost importance that home game management provide adequate security measures for our student-athletes, coaches, game officials and spectators.”

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement that the Red Raiders “admittedly did fail to meet our expectations Saturday in efforts to secure the floor and allow West Virginia to exit without incident.

“We will make the necessary adjustments to continue to ensure that all in attendance have an excellent experience at all of our events.”

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said WVU, the Big 12 and Texas Tech had a “positive and open dialogue” over the incident, and court security, player safety and postgame emotions were taken into account.

“We will revisit with our student-athletes to again reinforce our expectations regarding sportsmanship issues across all sports,” Lyons said in a statement. “The Big 12 has issued its reprimand. We accept it, and I consider the matter closed.”

Harris, a sophomore, is averaging 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“Although the post-game environment did not live up to our expectations, Mr. Harris intentionally striking a fan is contrary to the conference’s sportsmanship standards,” Bowlsby said.

Harris started his 18th straight game Monday night when No. 6 West Virginia (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) faced No. 10 Kansas (14-3, 4-1) in Morgantown.

Texas Tech plays at Texas on Wednesday.

Gary Trent sparks comeback win for No. 5 Duke at No. 25 Miami

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Gary Trent Jr. scored 18 of his career-high 30 points in the final 12 minutes as No. 5 Duke overcame a 13-point second half deficit to knock off No. 25 Miami in Coral Gables, 83-75, on Monday night.

Miami was up 66-53 and cruising with less than eight minutes left on the clock when Trent buried threes on back-to-back possessions to spark a 27-4 run that gave the Blue Devils an 80-70 lead with 39 seconds left. Trent also made the biggest shot of the game in that run, a three with 1:18 left that put Duke ahead 76-70.

The story of this game is going to end up being Duke’s defense. After getting torched for the first 32 minutes of the game, Mike Krzyzewski went back to a 2-3 zone that completely took the Hurricanes out of the rhythm that they were in. That is true.

But that is not what changed the game.

Duke had 19 turnovers in the first 32 minutes of the game that led directly to 20 Miami points. In total, the Hurricanes scored 31 of their first 66 points in transition. In the final eight minutes of the game, Duke stopped throwing the ball all over the court and managed to score 30 points during that stretch; for comparison’s sake, Miami outscored Duke 19-4 in the first nine minutes of the second half when the Blue Devils had seven turnovers.

So credit Duke for getting it done on the offensive end against one of college basketball’s stiffest defenses; Miami entered the night ranked 7th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

And credit Coach K for throwing a 2-3 zone at Miami, because it works.

But I don’t think that this performance changes the overarching narrative of Duke’s season – that they are not good enough defensively to win a national title right now – because I think Miami’s struggles against the zone say far more about Miami than they do about Duke.

The Hurricanes are insanely talented. Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown both look like they are going to play in the NBA and may end up being first round picks. The same can be said for big man Dewan Huell. JaQuan Newton, a senior, and Chris Lykes, a freshman, are both good ACC players. The problem, at least the way that I see it, is that all four of those guards are essentially the same guy: Score-first combo-guards that don’t really shoot it all that well and that don’t really make anyone around them all that much better.

In transition, when Jim Larrañaga’s talented guards can make plays in space, they are really effective. When they play against a man-to-man defense that doesn’t really know how to defend ball-screens, they look great. Against a zone, where trying to beat a man 1-on-1 won’t work, where ball movement and spacing and attacking gaps to create openings for teammates is needed, Miami comes up short.

Duke was not good defensively for the first 32 minutes on Monday night. They were better than they have been, and they do deserve some credit for slowly going from horrendous to just plain bad defensively, but there were still plenty of times where the Blue Devils looked like this trying to slow down Miami:

Duke made the plays they needed to make to come back, and that’s not an easy thing to do. They deserve credit for it.

But it is also fair to say that Miami lost their lead because they were clueless about what to do when faced with a 2-3.

It begs a larger question, one that will be tougher for Hurricane fans to stomach: Was this team overrated coming into the season?

Personally, I don’t think they were. A team with three potential NBA players and a roster full of guards that thrive in a ball-screen heavy offense that Larrañaga runs should be better than they are. But Newton is shooting a career-low from three and losing minutes to Lykes, who is 5-foot-7 and a gambler defensively. Brown did not make anywhere near the improvement many expected him to make – in some ways he’s regressed – and Walker entered Monday shooting under 30 percent from three.

The pieces on the roster aren’t as good as we thought they were and they don’t fit together as well as we had hoped that they would.

We’re now more than halfway through the season and the Hurricanes’ best win came against a Florida State team that has lost three of their last four and four of their last six. They’ve also beaten Minnesota, who has fallen off a cliff recently, and Middle Tennessee State, who probably needs to win their league to get to the NCAA tournament. They’ve now lost two in a row, three of their last four and four of their last seven.

Miami will have plenty of chances to figure this thing out and play their way into the Big Dance, but as of today, the Hurricanes are a bubble team.

Predicting them to win the ACC doesn’t look like my best prediction right now.