Everything you need to know to catch up on college basketball post-CFB Playoff

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NO ONE IS GOOD THIS YEAR

College basketball does not have a dominant team this season. For the first time since 1948, there were no undefeated Division I basketball teams on New Year’s Day. With the exception of the American – where neither Cincinnati or Wichita State seem likely to lose unless it is to each other – the preseason favorite in every power conference has already taken at least one loss in league play.

I do not like to use the word parity in college basketball, because the idea that teams from low- and mid-major conferences can compete with the biggest and best programs in the country is ludicrous.

I do, however, think that it is more accurate to say that the gap between the best teams in the country and the rest of the field is as small as I can ever remember it being. For my money, Villanova and Michigan State are the two-best teams in the country and both are flawed. Duke and Arizona are probably the two most-talented teams in the country and neither of them want to defend. Beyond that, we’re talking about, who, the likes of Texas Tech, or Virginia, or Purdue, or West Virginia?

There is a reason that, as of today, 14 top five teams have lost to unranked opponents this season.

Don’t expect that trend to change. (Rob Dauster)

TRAE YOUNG IS MUST-SEE TV

Consider this my official pitch to make Trae Young’s nickname “Unprecedented.”

Oklahoma’s 6-foot-2 freshman point guard is currently averaging 29.4 points and 10.2 assists per game. No one has done that since at least 1992-93, as far back as Sports-Reference’s database goes. His usage rate (39.8) and assist rate (55.6) are the highest-eve in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2004. He leads the country in both points and assists per game. No one’s ever done that.

He’s also been the catalyst of Oklahoma’s rebound season, getting the Sooners to 12-2 after they won just 11 games in all of last season. Young’s done it with flair, too. The Steph Curry comparisons are probably unfair…but they kind of make a lot of sense. Young will shoot from anywhere past halfcourt and plays with creativity and vision that you maybe see once in a generation.

He’s amazing. He’s unreal. He is Unprecedented. (Travis Hines)

DUKE’S DEFENSE IS STILL A DISASTER

This has been the knock on the Blue Devils for the last four or five years. Ever since Coach K fully embraced becoming a one-and-done factory – and ever since college basketball did away with the freedom of movement rules – Duke has yet to find a way to make themselves an elite defensive team.

Outside of a three-week run in March of 2015 when a mediocre Duke defense turned into one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen in the college ranks, it has been a consistent theme with this group.

And this year is no different.

As of today, the Blue Devils rank outside the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. They may be the most dominant offensive team in the country, one that can pound the ball in the paint and dominate the offensive glass, but they’ve yet to give up fewer than 89 points in an ACC game this season. Until that changes, Duke can no longer be called a national title contender.

You can’t win six games in March if you cannot stop anyone. (RD)

Jalen Brunson (Elsa/Getty Images)

VILLANOVA DIDN’T MISS A BEAT

It’s really been an amazing few years for VIllanova. The Wildcats have been a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament every year since 2014, won the national title in 2016, won their first 14 games to start last year and have spent time rank as the No. 1 team in the country this year. That’s the kind of consistent excellence that only the top-tier programs can even dream of. Villanova has been living it.

Jay Wright has gotten superlative performances from Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges this season to fuel one of the country’s most potent offenses. The defense isn’t elite, but it’s more than good enough to keep the Wildcats afloat should their offense sputter in small doses. Once again, Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. If Jay Wright gets a second national title, the discussion of his position in the all-time coaches conversation is going to be interesting. (TH)

THE SEC IS REALLY GOOD, AND THE TITLE RACE IS A GLORIOUS DISASTER

The SEC might very well be the best conference in college basketball this season. I’m not sure how many teams are actually going to make the NCAA tournament from the conference this season, but I do think that, two weeks into conference play, there are at least three teams with a losing record that will be dancing: Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M.

The latter is probably the best team in the conference this season, but the Aggies have yet to play a league game with anything close to resembling a full roster. When D.J. Hogg isn’t suspended, Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson are not injured and Robert Williams is playing like a lottery pick, they’re dominant. We haven’t seen that A&M team in a long time.

And that is how the likes of Florida and Auburn have climbed to the top of the league. The Gators are wildly inconsistent and rely far too much on the three ball, while Auburn – like Arkansas and Tennessee – is one of these teams that seems to thrive more on effort than on raw talent, while Alabama has yet to find a way to strike a balance between being a good team offensively and defending the way they defended last year.

Hell, even Georgia and Mississippi State have looked like they might be able to flirt with an at-large bid.

The name you didn’t hear yet, however, is Kentucky.

Which leads me to my next point … (RD)

KENTUCKY IS STILL TRYING TO FIT THEIR PIECES TOGETHER

There are flashes where Kentucky looks like a team that has the horses to make a run at a national title.

Beating Louisville by 29 points was one of those times. Their win over Virginia Tech was one of those times. There were flashes against LSU, and Georgia, and Tennessee, but for the most part, those moments are just flashes.

The issue isn’t necessarily on the offensive end, either. The Wildcats have done a pretty good job on that end. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a go-to scorer, Quade Green has opened things up with his ability to impact a game and Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel are actually making threes at a pretty good clip.

The problem actually seems to be defensively, where Kentucky isn’t elite. They’re good, 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but 17th nationally isn’t good enough for a team that has some limitations on the other end.

Kentucky needs to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams and they have the athletes to do so. What they don’t always have, however, is elite toughness and the kind of defensive instincts you want them to have.

Kentucky is growing and learning and improving. You can see it. But they still have a ways to go before we can start talking about them as a title contender. (RD)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

KANSAS IS NOT THE BIG 12 FAVORITE

Kansas has won 13 Big 12 titles in a row, so they’re probably the betting favorite right now, but when you look at the resumes, it’s hard not to surmise that Texas Tech is the team to beat in the conference. The Red Raiders’ only loss came to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden, and now they already own a win over the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and beatdowns over Baylor and Kansas State.

The computers love Texas Tech – KenPom has the Raiders ranked fourth – and the eye test gives the same impression. In Lawrence, Chris Beard’s team was the tougher, more disciplined and more cohesive group on the court for basically the full 40 minutes. That almost never happens in Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech is elite defensively, pretty darn good offensively and have a star in Keenan Evans. They’ve got a ton of experience and plenty of talent, too. The Red Raiders are legit. And the best team in the Big 12.

But they’re not alone atop the league. West Virginia has been terrific, became the first team to truly slow down Trae Young and are still waiting on getting Esa Ahmad back. Oklahoma … well they have Trae Young. Even TCU looks like a team that will make some noise in the title race. (TH)

VIRGINIA IS RECESSION-PROOF, AND THE BEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Virginia has suffered a lot of losses in the last couple years. Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes all moved on. A drawback from this recent run of success wouldn’t be all that surprising. But the Cavaliers look to be as strong as ever.

Obviously, it’s the defense. Tony Bennett’s team ranks No. 1 in adjusted defense on KenPom thanks to opponent effective field goal percentage of 42.4, a 23 percent turnover rate and strong defensive rebounding.

At Virginia, the system is the star. The pack-line defense has excelled year after year under Bennett. The Cavs control pace – they rank outside the top-300 in both offensive and defensive length of possession – and dictate nearly every aspect of the game. The roster may turn over, the All-Americans may graduate and their games may be boring, but Virginia is proving they’re just going to keep winning regardless. With a 14-1 overall record and a 3-0 mark in the ACC, Virginia is just doing Virginia’s thing.

THE PAC-12 IS NOT GOOD

Arizona has been an unqualified disappointment. Arizona State has lost some shine. UCLA is fine. USC, Oregon and Utah are whatever. And those are the highlights this season for the Pac 12.

The league is really stinking up the joint this year.

Six Pac 12 teams (Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State, Colorado and Cal) are ranked outside the KenPom top-100. Of the other power conferences, only the ACC has multiple teams fitting that distinction with two. The Big East and SEC – the SEC! – have none. And Pac 12 has six. Six.

It’s really been a rough run for the league since its last high point of late in the last decade. Last year, Oregon was the league’s first Final Four participant since UCLA in 2008. Maybe the Wildcats or Sun Devils get back there in a few months, but anything short of that is going to keep the conversation very much about what’s wrong with the Pac 12. (TH)

THERE MAY NOT BE AN AT-LARGE BID FROM OUTSIDE THE POWER CONFERENCES

The way that it looks right now, the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, the WCC and the Missouri Valley could all end up being one-bid leagues this season. Rhode Island and Gonzaga will probably be worthy of at-large bids if they don’t end up getting the automatic bid from their conference. Nevada and Saint Mary’s will be in the mix.

But what if URI and Gonzaga both win their league tournaments? What if Saint Mary’s doesn’t pick up a win over Gonzaga this season? What if Nevada doesn’t put together a résumé worthy of an at-large?

All of those things are pretty likely to happen.

And if they do, every one of the available at-large bids will end up in the hands of power conference teams.

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”