2. NO. 4 AUBURN LOST THEIR SECOND GAME THIS WEEK, TOO
Auburn entered this seek as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball, but there were question marks.
The Tigers don’t have a single win over a team ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. They have only played three Quad 1 games this season. Their only Quad 1 win is barely a Quad 1 win: It came at Mississippi State, who currently ranks 70th in the NET; the cutoff for Quad 1 road wins is top 75.
The other two Quad 1 games that Auburn has played this season?
They were both this week.
And they were both ugly losses.
On Tuesday, it was Alabama that ran over Auburn in the basketball version of the Iron Bowl, 83-64. On Saturday, it was Florida doing the damage, as they held Auburn to 25.5 percent shooting from the field, 4-for-23 shooting from three (17.4%) and to just a single point during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half that saw the Gators push their lead from 47-43 to 69-44. They won 69-47.
Suddenly, those concerns look prescient.
The truth is this: Auburn is dangerous. They are a team that can make a lot of threes, that can force turnovers and play in transition and has the ability to play big (with Austin Wiley) or small (without Austin Wiley). They have a lottery pick in Isaac Okoro and they have a couple of guards on their roster capable of taking games over in J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty.
But they haven’t consistently played up to the level of a top five team, and their 15-0 record was inflated by feasting on teams that are just good enough to make us believe.
Auburn is still good.
They’re just not a top five team.
3. OH, AND NO. 5 BUTLER LOST THEIR SECOND GAME THIS WEEK AS WELL!
But this game said a whole lot more about DePaul than it did about Butler.
4. PAYTON PRITCHARD REALLY WANTS TO BE NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The reason Payton Pritchard is one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year is the fact that he is putting up terrific numbers this season for a top ten team and doing so while putting together some incredibly impressive performances in crunchtime.
Saturday might have been his statement game.
Oregon erased a 13-point second half deficit thanks in large part to Pritchard, who hit a huge three with a minute left to tie the game. In overtime, he hit a floater to give the Ducks the lead before burying this insane three to win the game with 3.2 seconds left:
No. 8 Oregon avoided going 0-2 on the Washington road trip with a 64-61 win. Pritchard finished with 22 points. The Ducks are now 3-0 in overtime games this season largely due to the fact that Pritchard is arguably the most clutch player in college basketball.
Is there anyone that you would want taking a big shot in a big game more than him?
5. BUT SO DOES MYLES POWELL
Seton Hall capped off an absolutely stellar week by going into Madison Square Garden and knocking off their biggest regional rival, St. John’s, on the road despite trailing by 13 points at the half.
That’s a big time win.
And Powell was, as you might expect, once again a big time player.
He scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half and made big shot after big shot down the stretch. This came just three days after he went for 29 points as Seton Hall erased a 10 point halftime deficit on the road against No. 5 Butler.
In fact, the Pirates are currently sitting at 6-0 in the Big East after a slow start to their season, and they already have won at DePaul, at Xavier, at Butler and at St. John’s.
And now they get three straight home games.
Kevin Willard’s club has put themselves in a great position to make a run at the 2020 Big East regular season title.
6. KENTUCKY RALLIES AFTER COACH CAL GETS TOSSED
This was awesome.
Coach Cal was ejected on Saturday in the most mild-mannered way I’ve ever seen.
He was arguing with the refs about the way they were implementing the flop rule against his team, and — I think — he was given two technicals for being out of the coach’s box and staying out of the coach’s box to curse at the refs. Look at this:
7. HOUSTON BLEW OUT WICHITA STATE TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE AMERICAN
The Houston we expected to see all season long showed up in Wichita on Saturday night.
The Cougars beat the No. 16 Shockers in their own building, 65-54, and it wasn’t really that close. Wichita State was down 49-27 at one point, allowing just one player to crack double-figures.
The Shockers lost two games this week and now sit a game off the pace in the American, behind Houston and Tulsa, who are tied for first.
8. WEST VIRGINIA SOMEHOW GAVE UP 84 POINTS TO KANSAS FREAKIN’ STATE
Kansas State entered Saturday ranked 198th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. James Madison, the 275th-best team in college basketball, and VMI, the 291st-best team in college basketball, ranked directly behind them. The only “high-major” players worse than Kansas State offensively this season?
Temple, South Florida, Virginia, East Carolina and Boston College.
West Virginia, on the other hand, entered Saturday ranked as the single-best defensive team in the entire sport. They were playing defense at a level that would rank among the very-best defensive teams that we have ever seen. Their four Big 12 opponents were averaging 51 points against them.
Kansas State had 42 points at halftime. They scored 84 points on the night. They won 84-68 to drop the Mountaineers two games out of first place in the Big 12 title race, because …
9. … BAYLOR ERASED A 12 POINT DEFICIT ON THE ROAD
The Bears looked like they were going to be the top five team to blow a win they should not be blowing on Saturday.
Oklahoma State threw a 2-3 zone on the Bears, doing the exact same thing that Washington did to Baylor late in the only game that they lost thus far this season, and Baylor was lost for the first half. They trailed 36-24 at one point late in the half before slotting MAtthew Mayer at the high post and thwarting all of Oklahoma State’s plans.
In the end, however, the Cowboys still had a shot to win late, but that was until Devonte Bandoo banged home three threes in the final eight minutes, including two in a one minute span after the final TV timeout, to secure a 75-68 win.
Bandoo scored 14 points off the bench. He is the fourth-best guard on this Baylor roster.
Put another way, this team is deep, they are loaded, and the guys all the way down their bench can make the shots that beat you.
10. SAN DIEGO STATE IS STILL UNDEFEATED
The Aztecs trailed at the half but ran Nevada off the court after halftime, taking home a 68-55 win.
Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.
One bracket decision was easy today: Baylor as the No. 1 overall seed. The Bears are 5-1 against Quadrant 1 teams, have a win at Kansas, and haven’t lost since dropping a close game to Washington in early November.
Elsewhere, the Big Ten reigns, filling up the field with a dozen teams. Much of that has to do with the strength and depth of the conference, with quality wins available almost every night and home teams rarely losing. Another contributing factor is fewer contenders in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, and even the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Whether those trends continue remains to be seen. Ultimately, the Big Ten is more likely to end up with nine or ten bids.
In a close call, Butler remains the final No. 1 seed, but loses its Midwest route to Kansas. The Bulldogs depth of wins against teams in the Field was the difference. But one could make an equally compelling and accurate case for San Diego State.
The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …
UPDATED: January 17, 2020
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Minnesota vs. Virginia Tech
NC State vs. Washington
ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T
PR VIEW AM vs. NO COLORADO
SOUTH – Houston
WEST – Los Angeles
16) PV-AM / NC A&T
5) WICHITA STATE
12) NC State / Washington
13) S.F. AUSTIN
13) NEW MEXICO ST
11) Saint Mary’s
3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
7) Penn State
10) Texas Tech
2) SAN DIEGO STATE
15) NORTHERN COLORADO
EAST – New York
MIDWEST – Indianapolis
16) ALBANY / ROB MORRIS
5) Ohio State
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST
13) GEORGIA STATE
11) Minnesota / Virginia Tech
11) NORTHERN IOWA
3) MICHIGAN STATE
14) WILLIAM & MARY
14) WRIGHT STATE
2) West Virginia
2) Florida State
15) AUSTIN PEAY
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, Butler Seed List
Breakdown by Conference … Big Ten (12) Big East (6) ACC (5) SEC (5) Big 12 (5) Pac 12 (5) American (3) West Coast (3) Atlantic 10 (1) Mountain West (1)
College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke, Baylor, Gonzaga round out top three
And in lieu of going through and talking about every single team my college basketball top 25 today, I have something that I want to say about rankings. The genesis of this stems from a conversation that popped up last week. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports and Poll Attacks fame brought to light the fact that the people that produce the AP poll have started releasing the individual ballots of voters on Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon, thus eliminating the relevance of the column.
This led to a discussion about whether or not Parrish was right to go after AP voters and eventually brought us to a place where I was having multiple conversations about the process when it comes to voting.
And that is what I want to discuss today.
Full disclosure: I am an AP voter this year. The top 25 that you see in this space is the ballot that I submit every week, and it frustrates me to no end when people don’t vote with the same goal in mind as I do. I’m looking to list out the top 25 teams in college basketball, full stop. Not the top 25 teams with the best wins, not the top 25 resumes. The best 25 teams in college basketball, in order, and for me, the thinking goes like this: The best team in the country is the team that would be favored on a neutral court against every other team in the country. The second best team is the one that would be favored against all but one team in the country, and so on and so forth.
Fundamentally, I do not believe that the outcome of a one possession basketball game should influence how good you think that a basketball team is. There are two prime examples of that this season. The first is Duke. The Blue Devils are sitting at 15-1 on the season, which is really good except for the fact that they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin in what was, at the time, one of the biggest upsets that we have ever seen in the sport. That game was decided by a coast-to-coast layup that was released with 0.1 seconds left on the clock; it had to be reviewed to determine whether or not the shot would count.
Now, the Lumberjacks have proven to be much better than anyone expected in the preseason, but this was still a very disappointing performance from the Blue Devils. Because of that loss, which happened two months ago, Duke could very well end up getting dropped out of the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll for Baylor. There is absolutely no chance that would happen if Nathan Bain’s game-winner in Cameron was waved off and Duke won in overtime.
You really think there are people that would be willing to drop one of the three remaining undefeated teams out of the top spot in the poll when they have wins over Kansas and at Michigan State when the gap between them and the No. 2 team in KenPom’s rankings is almost as big as the gap was between Kentucky and the No. 2 team in the country in 2015?
There wouldn’t be.
And the proof is what’s happening with San Diego State.
Back in December, the Aztecs played an absolutely horrid game at home against a San Jose State team that is significantly worse that the SFA team that beat Duke. Malachi Flynn hit a three with less than a second left so that the Aztecs avoided a humiliating loss that would be their only loss of the season. There is no chance that the Aztecs would be inching closer to the top five if they had a home loss to a sub-250 team on their resume. Absolutely none.
The point here is that the perception of just how good teams like Duke and San Diego State are should never, ever be impacted one possession in one 70-possession game when these teams have played 16 games and more than 1,000 possessions this season. Put another way, we knock Duke for losing to a lesser team at home in a game they played like crap but ignore the fact that San Diego State did the exact same thing.
The only difference was the way the last possession played out.
One, single possession.
To me, that is not a sharp way of thinking about the sport of basketball.
Now, there are two things I want to be crystal clear on here:
1. The point of this stream of consciousness is not to say that Baylor doesn’t deserve to be the No. 1 team in the country this week. If that’s the way you feel, you’re not wrong. The Bears have very much earned it. Picking who was No. 1 in my poll was not easy to do, and I think there are valid arguments to make for any one of Duke, Baylor and Gonzaga for the top spot.
The point is to say that if you’re picking Duke, who is the only team on KenPom with a top 10 offense and defense, to drop from the No. 1 spot because they lost on a buzzer-beater in November while keeping San Diego State in the top five because they won on a buzzer-beater in December, you’re being silly.
2. The fact that Duke lost and San Diego State won absolutely should factor into the things that actually matter. You can check the receipts. I was one of the people banging on the loudest about the fact that whatever metric the NCAA developed to replace the RPI must keep some kind of results-based influence in the algorithm. We cannot have the most important metric in our sport be a fully-predictive metric.
The reason for this is simple: What is the point of watching sports if the win doesn’t actually matter? What is the point of getting excited about a buzzer-beater if that buzzer-beater doesn’t have outsized influence on the season at-large? Duke absolutely, 100 percent should have that home loss to Stephen F. Austin ding them as the bracket is put together. And San Diego State should 100 percent be allowed to go up to the Selection Committee and point out how it’s January 12th and they still have not lost a basketball game.
Wins have to matter when seeding teams.
They have to.
But they should not matter in weekly rankings. Those are supposed to determine who are the best teams in the sport at this very moment. By definition, the best team is the one that would be favored to win a game played on a neutral court against every other college basketball team in the country. Anyone with any analytical sense or basketball IQ will understand that the outcome of a game that comes down to a final possession will have a negligible impact on spreads, KenPom projections and the things that are infinitely smarter than some person with an opinion.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Brad Stevens moments, seen in the clip below. Watch him at the end of this insane finish. As Roosevelt Jones is making the game-winning shot, he’s calmly turning and walking up the floor to shake Mark Few’s hand.
Butler guard Rotnei Clarke was asked about this.
“The outcome is irrelevant if [Stevens] thinks you played as well as you can,” Clarke said.
If you’re not going to listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to him.
Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.
1. DUKE (15-1, Last Week: 1)
2. BAYLOR (13-1, 6)
3. GONZAGA (18-1, 3)
4. BUTLER (15-1, 7)
5. AUBURN (15-0, 5)
6. KANSAS (12-3, 2)
7. MICHIGAN STATE (13-4, 4)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (17-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (14-2, 9)
10. OREGON (14-3, 10)
11. KENTUCKY (12-3, 13)
12. FLORIDA STATE (14-2, 14)
13. LOUISVILLE (13-3, 15)
14. WEST VIRGINIA (13-2, 16)
15. SETON HALL (12-4, 20)
16. OHIO STATE (11-5, 11)
17. TEXAS TECH (10-5, 12)
18. VILLANOVA (12-3, 23)
19. WICHITA STATE (15-1, 24)
20. MICHIGAN (11-5, 17)
21. MARYLAND (13-3, 19)
22. IOWA (11-5, 22)
23. CREIGHTON (13-4, NR)
24. ILLINOIS (12-5, NR)
25. MEMPHIS (13-3, 25)
DROPPED OUT: 18. Arizona, 21. Penn State
NEW ADDITIONS: 23. Creighton, 24. Illinois
Monday’s Overreactions: Tyrese Maxey, West Virginia, and UCLA
It is not a coincidence that, in the two biggest wins Kentucky has had this season, Tyrese Maxey was the star. On Saturday, in a 78-70 overtime win over then-No. 3 Louisville, Maxey went off for 27 points on 9-for-14 shooting while hitting 4-for-5 from three. This came after his 26 point outburst on the opening night of the season in a win over Michigan State.
And that right there is what makes the difference for the Wildcats. Nick Richards played the best game of his life Saturday. Ashton Hagans was as solid as always, even if his scoring wasn’t quite there. Immanuel Quickley stepped up and hit some big shots in big moments. But having a go-to guy, a bucket-getter that was create something out of nothing is absolutely enormous for a team that has so many question marks elsewhere on their roster.
We don’t know what Kentucky is going to do at the four. We don’t know if Kahlil Whitney or E.J. Montgomery or Johnny Juzang are going to be able to contribute this season in significant ways. Some of that gets mitigated if Maxey can be the guy that can create offense on the most important possessions of a game.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia
There was not a team in college basketball that I was more wrong about being bad than West Virginia. I thought they were going to be the worst team in the Big 12.
Turns out, they are not.
The Mountaineers landed themselves a marquee win on Saturday, beating Ohio State in Cleveland in fairly dominant fashion despite the fact that Oscar Tshiebwe played eight scoreless minutes due to foul trouble. Much of that is the result of Miles McBride, who went for a career-high 21 points, but it also had quite a bit to do with the fact that West Virginia’s defense is suffocating.
They aren’t Press Virginia anymore, but they are one of the 10 best defenses in college hoops.
And now, they are sitting pretty with wins over Ohio State, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Pitt and Rhode Island. That is a serious resume this early in the season.
1. I FEEL BETTER ABOUT LOUISVILLE NOW THAN I DID BEFORE THE KENTUCKY GAME
The biggest knock of Louisville this season is that they are a team that is forced to ride or die with Jordan Nwora because they don’t have anyone else on the roster that is capable of creating for themselves. This is why they looked so bad offensively against Michigan and Texas Tech, and why they struggled so much in the first half against Kentucky. Through the first 100 minutes that the Cardinals have played against elite defenses this season, they had mustered a total of 139 points in 171 possessions, or 0.813 PPP. For reference, the best defenses in college basketball hover around the 0.850 PPP allowed range.
It’s not a coincidence that, in that same time frame, Jordan Nwora was 14-for-47 from the floor and 3-for-17 from three.
That’s relevant because, in the second half and overtime on Saturday afternoon, Nwora more or less played as a decoy. Kentucky face-guarded him wherever he was on the floor, and he simply got out of the way. That’s when he wasn’t actually on the bench. Louisville erased a 12-point second half deficit against the Wildcats on Saturday, and the run to regain a foothold in the game came when Nwora was out.
Steve Enoch finished with 18 points, knocking down a three and getting his back-to-the-basket game going. Dwayne Sutton had 14 points and 10 boards, making some key defensive plays and picking up a few critical loose balls.
But the most important performance came from Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer point guard from St. Joe’s that currently backs up Darius Perry. He had 12 points and four assists, making some crucial plays in the second half to keep the Cardinals moving in the right direction. Point guard play has been the biggest concern for Louisville this season, and playing arguably the best team in what was definitely the toughest venue they’ve seen this year, Kimble had his best game. Someone needs to be able to make plays to create easy offense for people not named Nwora, and Kimble – along with Sutton, Enoch and even Darius Perry, to a point – were able to do that and bring Louisville back.
That’s big, even if it comes in a loss.
2. SATURDAY SHOWCASED THE BAD SIDE OF OHIO STATE’S POINT GUARD PLAY
After Ohio State’s win over Kentucky, I sang the praises of D.J. Carton and, to a lesser extent, C.J. Walker, as they were instrumental in leading the Buckeyes to a massive win over the Wildcats.
On Sunday, we saw the other side of things. Carton was 1-for-5 from the floor, turned the ball over five times and, in his 22 minutes, looked exactly the way you would expect a raw freshman to look against West Virginia. Walker wasn’t much better, finishing with one assist and four turnovers.
Ohio State does not have all that much offensive firepower. There really aren’t that many guys that can create offense for themselves, so when their point guards aren’t able to initiate offense and can’t create easy points for their teammates, they’re in trouble.
3. SO LET’S TALK ABOUT UCLA AND MICK CRONIN
Over the weekend, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports wrote a column blog post about UCLA that, in so many words, said that Mick Cronin should not be judged based on this season because he has a roster that lacks anything close to the talent we typically see on a UCLA roster.
It created quite a bit of dialogue, both on twitter and in private conversations, among the people I talk to, so I figured this space was the perfect place to do that after a slow weekend.
If you missed it, UCLA lost to Cal St.-Fullerton on Saturday night, a team that ranks 274th in KenPom and did not have a single win over a top 300 team prior to that game in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins are now 7-6 on the season, and Mick Cronin is getting more and more frustrated.
Now, I’m going to be talking out of both sides of my mouth here, but there’s a lot to chew on with this discussion.
Cronin knows how to win. He’s one of just six coaches to reach each of the last nine NCAA tournaments, along with Coach K, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Mark Few and Roy Williams. He did it at Cincinnati with his defense. His teams finished an average of 15th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric over that nine-year run.
But the Cincinnati program has a very different culture and ethos to the one that he walked into in UCLA. That doesn’t change overnight, as evidenced by the fact that a roster loaded with four-star, top 100 talent is currently sitting at 199th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.
It took four years for Cronin to get it rolling at Cincinnati. It’s going to take him some time to get it rolling at UCLA, and he should not be judged on his ability to turn that thing around until he has three or four years under his belt and “his guys” in the program.
That said, what UCLA has done this season is terrible. Think about it like this: Steve Alford was fired right around the New Year last season after a 7-6 start that featured home losses to Belmont and Liberty, two mid-majors that won an NCAA tournament game last season. As the calendar flips this season, UCLA is sitting at … 7-6 with losses to mid-majors Hofstra and Fullerton, neither of whom are as good as Belmont or Liberty was last season.
This summer, I wrote about how much work Cronin has in front of him re-establishing the culture he needs to win. I think there is still the same chance that he can get there as when the season started.
But this season is a mess, and while Alford did not leave Cronin with a roster good enough to get to a Final Four, he certainly left him one that should be good enough to beat Fullerton and Hofstra in their own building.
4. JORDAN BONE WAS THE SINGLE-BIGGEST EARLY ENTRY LOSS IN COLLEGE HOOPS
Losing Jordan Bone was always going to be a major blow for Tennessee. As a junior, Bone was one of the best point guards in the SEC. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.8 assists for the Vols, and if he had returned to school, he might have been a preseason All-American.
And that’s to say nothing of the fact that a perimeter attack that consisted of Bone, Lamonte’ Turner, Josiah-Jordan James and Jordan Bowden would be among the best in the country.
But now that Turner is gone, his loss is magnified even more. Tennessee got absolutely steamrolled on Saturday afternoon, scoring just 48 points in a blowout loss at home against a Wisconsin team that was 0-5 away from the Kohl Center. It was all bad, and it stemmed from the fact that Tennessee does not have a point guard on the roster right now. Having Bone would have made a difference.
The good news is that reinforcements have arrived. Freshman point guard Santiago Vescuvi, a native of Uruguay, enrolled last week and arrived in Knoxville on Saturday morning.
Just in time for league play.
Bueno suerte, hermano.
5. ARKANSAS IS DANGEROUS
Eric Mussleman’s best Nevada teams were known as offensive juggernauts where he let his best players rock out while hoping that they would be able to do just enough defensively to get the wins they needed. He let Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline do what they do, and the result was 110 wins over four years, three straight seasons with at least 28 wins, two tournament berths and a trip to the Sweet 16.
At Arkansas, he’s once again letting his guys rock out. Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe are both having terrific individual seasons. The difference is that the Razorbacks are a top 10 defense in college hoops right now, which gives me hope that this 11-1 start to the season isn’t a fluke.
I don’t fully trust this team just yet. Their best win is at Indiana, who may or may not be good themselves, and I cannot get the thought of the overtime period at Georgia Tech out of my head.
But this team has a chance, and in an SEC where we are not sure who is actually good outside of Kentucky and Auburn, that may be enough for a top three finish.
Your guide to the 16 best early-season college basketball tournaments
Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season.
It’s Holiday Tournament time!
Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.
So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.
1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
WHEN: Nov. 27-29
Michigan vs. Iowa State
No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon
FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.
I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.
FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.
TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?
FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.
4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.) TICKETS: Click here
Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU
FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.
TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?
PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCU–Tennessee.
5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
Miami vs. Missouri State
Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
UConn vs. Buffalo
FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?
TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?
PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.
6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
Mississippi State vs. Tulane
Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
Utah vs. Coastal Carolina
FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.
TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.
7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1 TICKETS: Click here
No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
Texas A&M vs. Harvard
USC vs. Fairfield
Marquette vs. Davidson
FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.
Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?
PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.
8. LEGENDS CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Wisconsin vs. Richmond
No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico
FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.
TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Auburn–Wisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.
FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.
10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun) TICKETS: Click here
No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
Arizona State vs. St. John’s
FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.
PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.
11. WOODEN LEGACY
WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim) TICKETS: Click here
Providence vs. Long Beach State
Wake Forest vs. Charleston
UCF vs. Penn
Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona
FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for Arizona–Providence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.
12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City) TICKETS: Click here
Butler vs. Missouri
Oklahoma vs. Stanford
FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.
TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.
13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT
WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas) TICKETS: Click here
No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
Clemson vs. TCU
FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?
TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.
14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Ole Miss vs. Penn State
Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse
FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.
TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …
IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.
15. CANCUN CHALLENGE
WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27
Wichita State vs. South Carolina
Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia
FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.
TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.
16. PARADISE JAM
WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)
Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
Nevada vs. Fordham
Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green
FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.
TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season
PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?
Monday’s Overreactions: Myles Powell, Florida’s fix and Virginia’s shooting woes
Coming off of an ankle injury – the severity of which can probably be debated – Powell went for 37 points in a three-point loss at home against Michigan State. It might have been a loss, but it was still one of the most impressive and entertaining performances that we are going to see this college basketball season.
Powell then followed that up on Sunday with a 26-point performance in a win at Saint Louis, a 3-0 Atlantic 10 team that knocked off the Pirates when they played in Newark last season. All told, Powell after spraining his ankle exactly nine days ago, Powell went out and averaged 31.5 points as the Pirates picked up a solid road win and played well enough to beat one of the three best teams in college basketball.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols picked up the best win of the weekend, as they flew up to Toronto and landed themselves a victory over a Washington team that had impressed everyone when they knocked off Baylor last week. Tennessee made a bunch of threes and Lamonte Turner played well despite struggling to shoot the ball, but the key was the Tennessee frontcourt. Going up against Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, Tennessee’s overmatched frontline won the day. John Fulkerson had 14 points, six boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks while Yves Pons finished with 15 points and a block of the year candidate on Naz Carter.
I was in on Tennessee in the preseason. I am very in on Tennessee today.
1. FLORIDA IS REALLY BAD, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FIXABLE
I’m ready for the influx of bad Florida takes today because that’s what happens when a preseason top ten team plays terribly for the first two weeks of the season. I’m going to do my best to avoid being frustrated by people saying that Florida was overhyped because Kerry Blackshear was the last guy to commit, or that Scottie Lewis is overrated as a top ten prospect, or that Mike White is just a bad basketball coach.
Well, the latter may actually have some merit if this thing doesn’t get turned around, but we’re not there yet.
Because the simple truth is that Florida is struggling because they cannot shoot. The Gators are shooting 24.1 percent from three this season. The only guy on the roster shooting better than 28.6 percent from beyond the arc is Keyontae Johnson, and he’s the starting four-man. Andrew Nembhard, a former five-star recruit and Florida’s sophomore starting point guard, is shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Noah Locke is 5-for-22 (22.7%) from three and shooting 9-for-36 (25%) overall. He is playing with the confidence level of eighth grader at a school dance.
This shooting cripples Florida for three reasons:
The Gators are built to play small-ball. Small-ball is entirely ineffective when you are incapable of scoring from the perimeter.
Florida’s inability to score means they can’t set their defense, get into a press or force turnovers. That means they are forced to play every possession in the halfcourt, which is a nightmare for a team designed to play small-ball that can’t make a shot.
The entire reason we believed Florida was going to take a leap forward this season was that they replaced their high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers with freshman Tre Mann and sophomores Locke and Nembhard. As it turns out, those three have been high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers through four games.
The issue to date has not been Blackshear. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 11 boards as the sole interior presence on a team where defenses have not had to leave the paint yet.
He’s not the problem.
He’s been fine.
The issue is, quite literally, everything else.
2. TENNESSEE IS THE ONLY TEAM IN THE SEC OUTPERFORMING EXPECTATION
The SEC has been the most disappointing conference in major college basketball this season. Florida, obviously, has been a disaster to date. Kentucky owns the second-best win on the season (Michigan State in NYC) when the best win on the season was themselves (Evansville’s upset in Rupp).
Auburn has been fine, but the win over Davidson does not look nearly as good today as it did when it happened. Arkansas has looked good while beating no one. LSU lost at VCU and struggled in wins over Bowling Green and Nicholls State. Alabama has been bad. Vandy and Texas A&M have been about as bad as we expected.
Other than the Vols – and maybe Missouri – no one in the league has been better than we thought they were before the season started.
3. VIRGINIA GAMES ARE GOING TO BE PARTICULARLY UGLY THIS YEAR
There is a certain faction of college basketball fans that believes that Virginia plays the ugliest brand of basketball in the history of the sport, and for the most part, those people just don’t appreciate a good, well-executed offensive possession or the beauty of a shot clock violation.
Usually, I’d push back against these takes. Because usually, Virginia’s offense is ruthlessly efficient, just really so. That’s not really the case this year. Through three games, UVA is shooting just 20 percent from three. There are only five teams in the entire country that are hitting triples at a lower rate, and given that there are no Ty Jeromes, or Kyle Guys, or De’Andre Hunters on this year’s roster, I don’t know how much that’s actually going to improve.
Should I mention that Virginia didn’t allow their 100th point until there was 5:16 left in the second half of their third game of the season?
4. VERMONT IS THE BEST MID-MAJOR TEAM IN THE COUNTRY
The Catamounts went into Carnesseca Arena and knocked off St. John’s on Saturday after. Anthony Lamb hit the game-winner with 1.9 seconds left. It’s the third true road win of the season for John Becker’s club, who also owns victories over St. Bonaventure and Bucknell.
UVM will get two more cracks at high-major opponents in the next two weeks. They’re at Virginia on Tuesday and at Cincinnati on Dec. 3rd. If they can land one of those wins, and if they roll through the America East undefeated, I think there is a real chance that this group can get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.