Fantasy football season is officially in the books and we are still a week away from actually seeing the college football playoff happen.
Just about every meaningful non-conference games has been played, conference play is right around the corner and the most interesting part of the NBA right now is whether or not Lebron will actually be able to get Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time to catch everyone up on what is happening in a fun, crazy and wide open college basketball season.
So here we go …
ALL THOSE DUKE FRESHMEN ARE ACTUALLY AMAZING
It’s an annual tradition at this point. Duke enrolls a recruiting class that is stuffed to the gills with future lottery picks and players with endless amounts of hype. The Blue Devils get ranked at the top of the polls in the preseason, and then once the games are actually played, the product doesn’t match the hype.
That’s not the case this year.
Zion Williamson is must-see TV, an absolutely dominant force at the college level that has gone from being looked at as nothing but a dunker to being the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. R.J. Barrett is the second-best player on the Duke roster, and he’s averaging 24 points, seven boards and four assists. Duke is so good that Cam Reddish, himself a top five pick, can barely find a role in this offense while Tre Jones has been turned into Patrick Beverly.
Who knows if this Duke team will actually win the national title — weird things happen in March — but I will say this: They are going to be the favorite to win it all as long as they stay healthy for the next three months.
BUT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO GO UNDEFEATED
That ship sailed less than three weeks into the season thanks to a Gonzaga team that is loaded in their own right.
I know we say this a lot, but this might be the best Gonzaga team that we have ever seen. Rui Hachimura is a sensation with an incredible back story — he is to Japanese basketball what Yao Ming was to Chinese hoops. Brandon Clarke has become the best defensive player in college hoops. Zach Norvell Jr. has stones that bigger than Sam Cassell’s.
Should I mention that Gonzaga has been playing without Killian Tillie this year?
ZAGS GOT TRIPPED UP BY TENNESSEE
But even that Gonzaga team found themselves getting picked off twice before WCC play even started. Losing at North Carolina is one thing, but the Zags took an L playing against Tennessee on a neutral court in a game that proved to just about everyone that the Vols are probably the best team in the SEC this season.
I didn’t see it happening, not with what Kentucky was supposed to be this year and not with a roster that already seemed to max out its talent. But what do I know. Admiral Schofield has turned into an NBA player, Grant Williams expanded his shooting range and ability to pass and the Tennessee guards have been terrific even though they are playing without Lamonte Turner right now.
I hope you got your futures odds in on Tennessee early.
KENTUCKY, HOWEVER, IS GOOD AGAIN
The Wildcats were utterly humiliated by Duke on the opening night of the season, getting beaten by 34 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. John Calipari’s club then proceeded to look unimpressive in a bunch of wins over mid-major opponents on their home floor before falling to Seton Hall in MSG.
But when Kentucky took the floor against North Carolina in Chicago over the weekend, they looked like the team that we all saw play in the Bahamas in August. And while Keldon Johnson and P.J. Washington and Ashton Hagans finally played like the players we expected to see all season long, the truth is that the reason to buy into Kentucky right now is that they are (finally) playing defense at a level we expect.
When they do that, we know Kentucky is good.
WE DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW IF KANSAS IS GOOD
The Jayhawks have the best resume in college basketball. They have wins over Michigan State, Villanova, Marquette and Tennessee. They have five more wins over top 150 teams on KenPom. Their only loss on the season came by four points on the road against an Arizona State team that is the best team in the Pac-12. That’s impressive.
What’s less impressive is the fact that Kansas has not looked all that good in each individual game. They trailed Vermont in the second half. They trailed Louisiana by 12. They were down big at the half against Marquette. They needed overtime to beat Stanford at home. They beat New Mexico State by three. They are playing without Udoka Azubuike right now, and they might as well be playing without Quentin Grimes.
Right now, the Jayhawks are Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson and a bunch of guys. I think they’ll figure it out eventually, but right now, this is not Kansas at their best.
WE DON’T KNOW IF THE BIG EAST IS GOOD
Villanova certainly isn’t, at least not by their standards. They are 9-4 on the season with a home loss to Furman and a 27 point home loss to Michigan to their name. St. John’s is undefeated, but they literally don’t have a single win that I care about. Butler, Creighton and Seton Hall have looked good, but they are a combined 26-10 on the season. Providence is young and banged up. Xavier is young and not all that good.
At this point, Marquette is carrying the flag in the league, but a major reason for that is Markus Howard going absolutely bonkers twice in the last three weeks. They’ve won seven straight, with wins over Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Buffalo thrown in the mix.
WE DO KNOW THAT THE PAC-12 IS BAD
The league is just not good.
Outside of Arizona State, no one in the league finished non-conference play in a way that would make them feel good about getting an at-large bid to the tournament. And Arizona State? They blew a 12 point lead in a loss to Nevada, they lost by 16 at Vanderbilt despite the fact that Vanderbilt’s best player is done for the season and they needed a miracle rally to erase an 18 point deficit at Georgia.
If they didn’t get that win over Kansas on Saturday, we might be sitting here talking about whether or not this is a one-bid league.
AND WE DO KNOW THAT THE BIG TEN IS LOADED
The Big Ten, however, could end up getting ten teams into the NCAA tournament. That has as much to do with the fact that there are a lot of bad leagues around the country right now that will struggle to produce at-large candidates, but the Big Ten does have 11 teams in KenPom’s top 50 and 12 teams in the top 60.
Michigan is the headliner you need to know about. They are, once again, one of college basketball’s very best defensive teams, but the development of Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews as well as the addition of Ignas Brazdeikis has turned the Wolverines into a juggernaut. Wisconsin is loaded again, mainly because Ethan Happ is a certified beast. Michigan State is really good. Indiana is getting wins despite being young and banged up. Ohio State is apparently going to be a top 20 team regardless of who is on their roster for as long as Chris Holtmann is head coach. Nebraska is the real deal.
This league is going to be an absolute nightmare on a nightly basis, and that is going to be a good thing for the teams that finished 8-10 in the league. They’ll still have a shot at a bid.
AND, AS SHOCKING AS THIS IS, VIRGINIA MIGHT BE BETTER THIS YEAR THAN LAST
They really might be. De’Andre Hunter has taken a step forward, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are one of the best guard tandems in the country and this freshman Kihei Clark is everything you could possibly want out of a Tony Bennett point guard.
I think the Cavaliers are Villanova circa 2015. At that point in time, we all knew Jay Wright was a handsome man that happened to be a terrific basketball coach, he just had a reputation for choking in March. That’s exactly how people feel about Bennett and Virginia right now, but you can’t win the Big One until, you know, you do.
Is this the year Virginia finally breaks through and gets to the Final Four?
I think it is.
FIVE TEAMS I DIDN’T MENTION YOU NEED TO KNOW
NEVADA: We knew about Nevada heading into the season. With the Martin twins and Jordan Carolina back, they are old, talented and dangerous. They are also going to be the team that makes a run at an undefeated season.
TEXAS TECH: Chris Beard did it again. The Red Raiders are the nation’s best defensive team, Jarrett Culver is a certified star and Tech will be the favorite to unseat Kansas in the Big 12 this season.
ARIZONA STATE: This is the only team in the Pac-12 you need to pay attention to at this point. The Hurley brothers have a way of staying relevant.
BUFFALO: Coming off of a year where they upset No. 4 seed Arizona in the NCAA tournament, the Bulls are primed for another tournament run. This is the best mid-major team in college hoops by a good stretch.
OKLAHOMA: Trae Young is gone, but the Sooners might actually be better this year. I’ll let you guys argue about whether or not that is a result of Young leaving the program or everyone else on the roster being one year older.