Now that Clemson has knocked off Alabama to win the 2017 National Title, college football is officially over and college basketball can now take center stage on campuses around the country.
And look, I get it. Football is a big deal, there are only so many free hours we have in a week and, until the bowl games are over and done with, they’ll take center stage. I can forgive you for your trespasses … as long as you’re now turning into college hoops.
I’m not just saying that as a college hoops fan, either. This is the most exciting season of college basketball in a long, long time. Duke is super-talented and a mess at the same time. UCLA is awesome and as entertaining as anyone this side of the Warriors. Kentucky is loaded with the most enjoyable back court I can remember watching. Kansas is loaded but playing in a league where Baylor is the No. 1 team in the country. North Carolina can beat anyone, but the ACC is so good they can also lose at Georgia Tech. Gonzaga hasn’t lost yet. Villanova can repeat.
There’s so much happening.
To help you get ready for the final three months of the basketball season, we’re here to get you caught up on everything that has happened and prep you for that is about to happen.
So without further ado … :
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE’VE LEARNED THIS SEASON?
Rob Dauster: Duke is not the team that we thought they were going to be this season. That could change – when completely healthy, I would still argue that this group more talented than the Kentucky team that started the year 38-0 – but through two months, we’ve seen Duke play with all five members of their ideal starting lineup just twice in 17 games while losing Coach K to back surgery and dealing with another tripping incident involving Grayson Allen. Throw in the issues they’ve had defensively and sharing the ball, and this Duke team has had the look of a Ferrari that can’t get out of second gear.
Scott Phillips: There are no clear-cut favorites at this point in the season. Things are really wide open. There are really good veteran teams like Villanova and there are really good freshmen-laden teams like Kentucky. But they are all beatable teams with flaws. I’m excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.
Terrence Payne: That is this is an opening act to a March Madness for the ages. How many good games have we seen so far: Duke-Kansas, Kentucky-UCLA, Kentucky-North Carolina, Kansas-Indiana. And those are just the blue bloods. Hell, did you see what Nevada just did?! As Scott mentioned above, there are no clear-cut favorites. Add in a number of talented mid-major programs, and this could make for a memorable NCAA Tournament.
Travis Hines: It may not be the most important thing about this but it is the most important thing from this season: Scott Drew is a good coach. Baylor probably isn’t the best team in the country, but they might be. That’s a testament to Drew, who is the most ridiculed coach in the sport. This season is proving that his prior success was no fluke or the product solely of high-level recruiting.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STORYLINE MOVING FORWARD?
Rob Dauster: It is not going to be the story that gets the most coverage, but the single biggest storyline over the next three months is whether or not Villanova will be able to repeat as National Champions. Through the first two months of the season, they’ve looked the part of a national title contender. Josh Hart has been better than expected, the Wildcats are just as unguardable as they were a year ago and they are still waiting for Phil Booth to be the guy that he was last season. It’s been a decade since anyone has repeated, and it may be another ten years before we see a team that’s able to mount another challenge as serious as this one.
Scott Phillips: How does Duke handle all of the drama and injuries to become the team we all believed we’d see? With the Grayson Allen issues and Coach K’s surgery there are some new twists to a team that was already acclimating freshmen in late because of injuries. Will this team rally together to win a ridiculous ACC and become the national title favorite we all saw before the season?
Terrence Payne: It may not be the biggest storyline, but I feel like it’s getting no attention when, at this point, it should be picking up steam: Can Gonzaga pull off an undefeated regular season? The Zags are 15-0 and are one of the more balanced teams in the nation with guard play led by Nigel Williams-Goss and the frontcourt being anchored by Przemek Karnowski. They have two tough tests against No. 21 Saint Mary’s (the first of two meetings slated for Saturday), and sure, the Bulldogs aren’t safe from having an off night, but outside of a road trip to Moraga they’ll be favored to win the rest of their games this season.
Travis Hines: It’s not ideal but it’s not arguable that Grayson Allen is it. And I don’t mean Duke at large. It’s Allen, and the saga of how his season unfolds after his third tripping incident. It would be better if we could focus on Gonzaga or the other of the sport’s best teams but it’s the drama surrounding Allen.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST OVER THE NEXT MONTH?
Rob Dauster: Can I say everything? Is that OK? Because more than anything, I’m just fired up for what is going to be an awesome stretch run for college basketball.
But if I had to pick a specific storyline, I’m going with the Baylor Bears and whether or not they can actually mount a challenge to Kansas in the Big 12 regular season title race. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight, but this Baylor team is legit and currently ranked No. 1 in the country.
Scott Phillips: I’m really excited to see the ceiling for Lonzo Ball and UCLA because the way they play can draw a lot of eyeballs in March. If casual fans (and coaches) see how good this uptempo Bruins offense can be then I hope that college basketball will shake some old labels because UCLA is awesome to watch.
Terrence Payne: How the ACC unfolds. We knew going in that this league would be stacked, pegging 12 teams as possible NCAA Tournament at-large bids. But Wake Forest is better than we thought, Georgia Tech and Boston College aren’t pushovers either, and that’s the bottom of the conference. With six ranked teams (Virginia Tech and Clemson both receiving votes in the latest poll) and the uncertainty surrounding heavy preseason favorite Duke, the ACC has an endless amount of outcomes.
Travis Hines: I really am excited to see if Gonzaga can finish the year undefeated. The schedule means they’ll be tested but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they’ll make it unscathed. How cool would it be if Mark Few’s first Final Four came in an undefeated season?