SPOKANE, Wash. — Filip Petrusev had 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots as No. 8 Gonzaga beat North Dakota 97-66 on Tuesday.
Corey Kispert scored 20 points and Anton Watson added 15 for Gonzaga (3-0), which has romped to victory in all three games. Six Bulldogs scored in double figures.
The Zags have won all six meetings with the Fighting Hawks.
Marlon Stewart scored 21 points and Filip Rebraca had 16 points and 13 rebounds for North Dakota (1-1), which took Gonzaga to overtime before losing here in 2017.
No such thriller this time, as Gonzaga held the Fighting Hawks to 34.7% shooting and outrebounded them 53-29.
Gonzaga jumped to a 15-2 lead as North Dakota missed eight of its first nine shots.
Kispert and Admon Gilder each hit 3-pointers as Gonzaga built a 25-9 lead.
North Dakota found its shooting touch and consecutive 3-pointers by Stewart cut Gonzaga’s lead to 30-21.
The Bulldogs replied with a 14-1 run.
Gonzaga led 55-36 at halftime, after holding the Fighting Hawks to 35% shooting and outrebounding them 28-14 in the first.
Gonzaga pushed the lead to 65-40 midway through the second, behind three consecutive baskets by Watson.
North Dakota: Freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens scored 22 points in a season-opening win over Crown, but was held in check Tuesday. North Dakota has never beaten a ranked team since joining Division I in 2008. North Dakota has 11 returning letter winners, including four who started at least 16 games last season.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in shooting 60% from the field, second in the nation. They average 102.5 points per game. They have six freshmen on their roster and one returning starter in Kispert. Gonzaga’s 165 wins in the past five seasons are tops in Division I.
Maxey was the best player at the Champions Classic last week, scoring 26 points in the final 30 minutes as the Wildcats picked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.
I wrote about it from Madison Square Garden. Kentucky was looking for a star heading into this season. We didn’t know who their best player was going to be this year, and to be frank, we don’t know for sure if it actually is Maxey or if he just got hot at the right time in the right building.
But if Maxey can end up being something close to the guy that we all saw in the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night, it is unquestionably a difference-maker for the Wildcats. The knock on this group was that there was no clear answer about who is the go-to guy, who is going to be asked to have the ball in their hands, who is going to be capable of making plays at the end of a clock.
Well, now it seems that we have an answer.
It’s Tyrese Maxey.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns
Texas went into Mackey Arena on Saturday evening and knocked off No. 23 Purdue, 70-66. There are a number reasons why this performance was impressive, from the emergence of Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell to how well Matt Coleman played to the toughness shown by Andrew Jones in grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking down four straight free throws in the final minute.
But to me, what was so impressive about this win was that Texas actually looked like a competent offensive team. We knew this group was going to be able to guard. They’ve always been able to guard under Shaka Smart, and this season they added defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich to the coaching staff. No, the reason to be bullish on Texas – the reason I think that they are the second-best team in the Big 12 – is because they sliced and diced a good Purdue defense.
There are shooters on this roster. There are multiple playmakers on the floor at any given time. They may not have the lottery pick, but Jericho Sims can do a lot of the same things.
Watch out for the Longhorns.
THE PAC-12 IS ACTUALLY GOOD
Last season, the Pac-12 was an utter disgrace. The league put three teams in the NCAA tournament because Oregon found a way to win the automatic bid. They got their brains beat in during non-conference play, and there wasn’t a single team from the conference that finished higher than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This year is an entirely different story.
Five days into the college basketball season, the Pac-12 is 18-1 overall, and there are some pretty good wins in the mix. Arizona smacked around Illinois. Washington beat Baylor on a neutral court. Oregon has a couple of impressive wins over Mountain West teams. Oregon State beat Iowa State. Utah beat Nevada. Hell, the only loss any team in the Pac-12 suffered came when Arizona State lost to Colorado, another Pac-12 team, in China in a non-league game.
At this point last season, the Pac-12 only had three losses to their name. But they had not won a single game against a high-major opponent had seen Washington get blown out by Auburn, Cal get blown out by Yale and USC to lose to a Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC.
ARIZONA IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12
I came into the season thinking that Oregon would probably be the best team in the conference. After watching them comeback against Baylor on Friday, I thought that Washington would be the best team in the league.
But at this point, I think I’ve come around to the idea that it’s Arizona. Nico Mannion looks like he is going to be the real deal. He put 23 points and eight assists on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, who forced Cassius Winston into a nine-turnover game last season. Josh Green is making shots from the perimeter. Zeke Nnaji has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season.
I’m buying this Arizona team early. Get on board while you can.
JADEN MCDANIELS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE
To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best player in the league. I don’t think he’s the most valuable player in the league. Hell, I don’t think that he is either of those things for his own team.
But McDaniels is the guy that is going to determine who wins the Pac-12 this season. He’s just such a weapon in this zone because of his length. Mike Hopkins has been using him at the top (in the two) of his 2-3 zone, and that created a lot of problems for Baylor shooters getting used to his 6-foot-10 frame. And then there are the things that he can do offensively, where he has so much more skill and polish than I initially thought he would.
Put another way, McDaniels was just fantastic during the comeback against Baylor. If the plays like that as opposed to playing like a 195 pound wing that hasn’t quite grown into his height, the Huskies are going to be a nightmare.
FLORIDA IS OVERRATED
I was very surprised by just how slow and small Florida looked when they took on Florida State in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. Granted, this was a tough matchup for the Gators. The Seminoles overplay passing lanes and switch everything, and that basically dares opponents to try and beat them 1-on-1. That’s tough to deal with for anyone.
But it’s particularly problematic for a Florida team that lacks playmaking and features a point guard that is, relatively speaking, slow and unathletic. Nembhard couldn’t create off the bounce, and when he couldn’t create, Florida’s offense slowed to a crawl.
There aren’t many teams out there that can guard the way Florida State can, and the Gators were certainly not aided by the fact that their good three-point shooters spent Sunday firing up brick after brick, but I’m much more concerned about Florida’s future now than I was before Sunday.
AUBURN’S WIN SAID MORE ABOUT DAVIDSON THAN IT DID ABOUT AUBURN
I really thought Davidson was going to have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, not after they were completely taken out of anything they want to run by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Davidson just could not deal with that level of athleticism. They missed roughly 800 layups on Friday, they committed head-scratching, self-inflicted turnovers and they couldn’t keep out of foul trouble thanks to a lack of size inside.
And yet, they were a bucket away from having a chance to win this game on the road.
That’s not a good sign for Auburn.
College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Kentucky’s No. 1 as the top reshuffles
There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.
Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.
To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.
Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.
It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.
As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.
No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72
This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.
And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.
PICK: Davidson (+2.5)
WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66
Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.
(You’re going to notice trend here.)
But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.
Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?
PICK: Baylor (-5)
ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72
I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.
PICK: Under 146.5
TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63
I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.
PICK: Texas (+9)
FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65
The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.
PICK: Florida (-4)
ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)
KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70
This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.
PICK: Arizona (-6)
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.
It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.
COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.
Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.
RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.
Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.
No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.
JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.
STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.
Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.
UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.
BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.
UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.
The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.
SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.
BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.
NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.
Kispert leads No. 8 Gonzaga over Alabama State 95-64
SPOKANE, Wash. — Corey Kispert is the only returning starter for No. 8 Gonzaga from last year’s Elite Eight team, and he knows many of his young teammates are looking for leadership.
He provided it Tuesday.
Kispert scored a career-high 28 points as Gonzaga used a second-half surge to beat Alabama State 95-64 in the season opener for both teams.
“Setting the tone for the team is kind of what I am trying to do,” Kispert said after making 10 of his 13 shots, including five from 3-point range.
“I was in rhythm, not thinking too much,” Kispert said. “I let it come to me. That’s when the best things happen.”
Kispert knows he has to take a leadership role on a team that lost four starters to the NBA.
He said he learned how to be a leader from former teammates Johnathan Williams two years ago and Josh Perkins last year.
“I played with guys who did it well,” Kispert said.
Filip Petrusev added 15 points, Admon Gilder scored 12 and Ryan Woolridge had 11 for depleted Gonzaga, which is down to nine scholarship players. The Bulldogs have won 16 consecutive season openers dating to 2003.
Jacoby Ross scored 16 points and Brandon Battle had 10 for Alabama State in the first meeting between the teams.
Gonzaga led 42-30 at halftime behind 13 points from Kispert. Alabama State was hampered by 12 turnovers in the first half that led to 14 Gonzaga points. Gonzaga had just three turnovers in the first.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Ross allowed the Hornets to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 50-41 early in the second.
“It was a complete breakdown in our coverage,” Kispert said. “We’ve got to tighten up.”
Gonzaga replied with 15 straight points, while holding Alabama State scoreless for nearly six minutes, to take a 65-41 lead and was not threatened again. Kispert had nine points in that run.
Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said the 24 fouls called on his team were a big problem.
“We wanted to come out aggressively on defense, but we picked up too many fouls,” Jackson said. “They got too many points off the free-throw line.”
Gonzaga sank 17 free throws, to just seven for the Hornets.
“Jacoby played really well,” Jackson said. “He was aggressive on defense and played with a lot of poise.”
Forward Killian Tillie is still recovering from knee surgery and did not play, while freshman guard Brock Ravet, who was expected to contribute, has temporarily left the team for personal reasons. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Tillie is the team’s most experienced player, despite missing much of last season with various injuries. “It’s frustrating for him,” Few said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back.”
Alabama State was plagued by 21 turnovers that led to 29 Gonzaga points. The Zags committed just eight turnovers.
Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 34-25 and shot 57.6% to 49% for the Hornets.
Alabama State: The Hornets are starting the season with 15 consecutive road games. They do not play at home until January. Jackson is seeking his 200th career victory.
Gonzaga: The Zags are picked to win an eighth consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title. They have averaged 33 wins per season since 2014-15, tops in the nation.
Alabama State plays at Missouri State on Sunday.
Gonzaga hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.
The 14 bold predictions that are guaranteed to come true
Here are 14 bold predictions that are guaranteed to happen.
KANSAS WINS THE NATIONAL TITLE
I know this isn’t exactly bold, but I wanted to get this on the record before the season begins. Given the injuries that Michigan State is currently dealing with, the youth movements on the rosters of Duke and Kentucky and the point guard question marks that exist on Louisville’s roster, I think that Kansas is probably the best team in the country right now. I think that after the Champions Classic comes to an end on Tuesday night, that will become the national consensus.
So let’s get out in front of it.
The Jayhawks win it all.
And Bill Self lives to coach another day.
NO ACC TEAMS GET TO THE FINAL FOUR
The ACC is weird this year. I think there is a very clear-cut top four in the league – Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. But all four of those teams are dealing with some serious question marks. Virginia is replacing three NBA players and integrating a number of new pieces into their system. (More on them in a minute.) North Carolina lost their top five players from last season and is heading into this season built around Cole Anthony. Recent high-volume one-and-done guards have not had all that much success at the collegiate level. I’ve spent too much time talking about Duke and some of their flaws this season, so I’ll leave it at this: I find it hard to see how they are going to be able to field a team that can simultaneously be good defensively and capable of being elite offensively.
That leaves Louisville, and while I love Jordan Nwora and Chris Mack, I tend to err on the side of caution when dealing with teams that have question marks at the point guard spot. Last week, Louisville started Darius Perry – not Fresh Kimble – at the point guard spot while David Johnson continues rehabbing a shoulder injury. That’s not ideal.
TEXAS FINISHES SECOND IN THE BIG 12
Kansas is very clearly the best team in the Big 12, but after that, things open up. Baylor and Iowa State are good but not great. I’m not sold on Texas Tech. (See below.) After that, the next team in the league that’s worth talking about is … Oklahoma State? I think?
Put another way, this is does not shaping up like a season where there are going to be many contenders to the Big 12 crown. That brings me to Texas. When it comes to on-the-court stuff, I think we can safely assume that the Longhorns are going to end up being one of the best defensive teams in the country. That has been their strength since Day 1 of the Shaka Smart era, and this offseason they hired Luke Yaklich, the mastermind behind Michigan’s emergence as one of college basketball’s elite defensive forces. They are going to guard the hell out of you.
Where Texas has struggled is with offensive efficiency, and I think they are going to be better this year. For starters, they have some shooting on the roster. Jase Febres shot 37.2 percent from three last season. Courtney Ramey shot 38.6 percent from three. Matt Coleman is at least dangerous enough that he has to be guarded out to the three-point line, while Kamaka Hepa should be in like for a big bump in minutes as a sophomore. Throw in the fact that Andrew Jones is back and looks to be in line for some significant minutes. Throw in bigs Jericho Sims, Kai Jones and Will Baker, and there is a lot to like.
But I think there’s a narrative here that needs to be discussed. Smart built a culture at VCU. He took over a program that ran itself and turned it into something special. He had guys that stayed for four years, that loved the university, that loved their teammates and that were 22 year old men by the time that they left. This will be the first time at Texas that he has had this many players with this much sweat equity in his program. I don’t think that’s something we can overlook.
BOTH TEXAS TECH AND VIRGINIA FALL SHORT OF SWEET 16
Virginia’s issues are obvious. This is a program that lost three NBA players off of last year’s roster. That can be mitigated at a place that churns out one-and-done talent. That’s not easy to navigate at a place that has to develop pros, that relies on roster continuity to win. Ask Villanova. They entered last NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, and I think that Virginia might end up in that same boat this year.
The problems at Texas Tech are a bit different. Chris Beard is no stranger to turning over a roster and building from scratch, but the key to making that happen is buy-in. The word out of Lubbock is that has not been as easy this season as it was last season. The key, beyond vets like Davide Moretti and Chris Clarke taking control of the locker room, is Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is the big, versatile combo-guard that Beard loves. He, in theory, should be this year’s Keenan Evans or Jarrett Culver. As of today, I’m not convinced that will become a reality.
THERE ARE AT LEAST TWO FINAL FOUR TEAMS THAT ARE FIVE SEEDS OR LOWER
The teams at the top of the polls this season just aren’t all that intimidating. Michigan State is supposed to be the veteran-laden team, but without Josh Langford, just three scholarship players are upper-classmen, and one of them – Kyle Ahrens – is already banged up. Kentucky’s frontcourt consists of E.J. Montgomery, Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina and the already-injured Nick Richards. Duke’s fit is a concern, so is Louisville’s point guard play. Virginia is young. Villanova is younger. Gonzaga has two guards on the roster and their best big, Killian Tillie, is perpetually hurt. Florida’s rise to prominence is built around a 23-year old from Virginia Tech. Maryland is Maryland.
Put another way, there is a way to poke holes in seemingly every single team in the top 25. No one is all that good, which means that the teams at the top of the bracket are not going to be all that much better than the teams at the bottom of the bracket. Upsets and Cinderellas will shine this March.
AT LEAST SEVEN BIG EAST TEAMS GET TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The Big East is the most interesting league in the country this season. There are three teams that can legitimately be called the favorite to win the regular season title today – Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The best player in the conference, Markus Howard, isn’t on any of those three teams, and while Marquette lost the Hausers, they could realistically win the league title. Providence has Alpha Diallo, a talented sophomore class and a grad transfer to take over the point guard spot. Gerogetown brings back their backcourt of Mac McClung and James Akinjo and pairs them with Omer Yurtseven. Creighton has arguably the best overall backcourt in a league that has Howard and Myles Powell.
Put another way, there are seven teams in this conference that deserve top 25 consideration, and there’s no clear-cut answer to who is the best. I think all seven will get a bid to the tournament.
OREGON EARNS A NO. 2 SEED
I’m very high on Oregon this season. I think they are going to win the Pac-12, and given how strong their non-conference schedule is, winning the Pac-12 should be enough to get them at least into the discussion for a No. 1 seed. They play Memphis in Portland. They get Houston at home. They open up with Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis and, if they win, draw Gonzaga in the semifinals. They play at Michigan. They’ll be battle-tested for league play.
LSU WINS A SHARE OF THE SEC TITLE.
On paper, I think LSU is one of the most underrated teams in the country. Much of it depends on how well Trendon Watford adapts to the collegiate level and whether or not Will Wade can navigate this roster through the rough waters of an NCAA investigation, but in terms of talent on a roster, the Tigers can more or less match Florida and Kentucky. The difference is in their league schedule. The Tigers play Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama and Arkansas twice. They do get Florida twice as well, but they only play Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee once each. That’s a favorable schedule for the reigning SEC regular season champions.
MARYLAND FINISHES OUTSIDE THE TOP FIVE IN THE BIG TEN
On paper, Maryland should be a top ten team. But when has a Maryland team lived up to or exceeded expectations under Mark Turgeon? If Anthony Cowan avoids a six-week swoon like he had last season, if he can go an entire season playing like an All-American, and if the Terps’ sophomore class – Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo – all take a step forward, Maryland will be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ for one roster.
MEMPHIS ENTERS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT AS A SIX SEED OR LOWER
I’ve said for months that we should have some real concerns about whether or not this Memphis team is among the nation’s elite. That’s what happens when you put seven freshmen on a roster and none of those freshmen are Zion Williams or R.J. Barrett.
To be clear, I think the Tigers will be good. I can see them winning 23 or 24 games before the postseason starts. I think that they have the talent to make a run in March possible. Hell, I’m holding a 50-1 ticket on their national title odds. But with this much youth and a schedule that includes just one top 25 opponent on KenPom (No. 19 Tennessee) and five sub-250 opponents, I think getting a top four seed is going to be tough.
Oh, and should I mention that we haven’t actually seen James Wiseman play for the Tigers yet? He missed their overseas tour and both exhibition games.
HOUSTON WINS THE AMERICAN
Everything is lining up for the Cougars to be the best team in the AAC once again. Memphis is young. Cincinnati is undergoing a coaching change. South Florida’s best big man just had his season come to an end. Wichita State and UConn both look like they’re a year away from hitting their peak.
They just found out they’re going to have Quentin Grimes, a former top ten recruit and McDonald’s All-American, eligible for this season. That’ll do.
HARVARD FINISHES THE SEASON WITH NO MORE THAN THREE LOSSES
The Crimson look like they’re going to be the runaway favorites in the Ivy League this year. They bring back basically everything from a team that went 10-4 in the Ivy and came a loss at Yale away from getting to the NCAA tournament. They also will, potentially, add a healthy Seth Towns, an Ivy Player of the Year candidate that missed all of last season with an injury. Their non-conference schedule, frankly, sucks, and given the fact that Fairfield is on the opposite side of their bracket in the Orlando Invitational, it seems very unlikely that they will lose more than two games in that event.
SAINT MARY’S WINS THE WCC
Gonzaga is a bit of a mess right now. Their backcourt is, essentially, a pair of grad transfers – Admon Gilder and Ryan Wooldrige – now that Brock Ravet has taken a leave of absence. Killian Tillie seems to always be banged up, and beyond that, they are young. Saint Mary’s has the best player in the WCC in Jordan Ford. They have size (Aaron Menzies), athleticism (Malik Fitts) and plenty of shooting. They are coached by Randy Bennett, the only man since Mark Few’s first season as a head coach in 1999-2000 to beat Gonzaga to a WCC regular season title. It all adds up.
THREE ATLANTIC 10 TEAMS WIN A TOURNAMENT GAME
The Atlantic 10 is loaded this year, particularly at the top of the league. I think there’s an argument to be made that three different teams can be put into the preseason top 25 — VCU, Davidson and Dayton. It’s going to take some work in the non-conference from the league as a whole to ensure that all three are in a position to get at-large bids, but I do think that all three are good enough to win at least one game