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Bubble Watch: Breaking down every team in at-large contention

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It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble tracker.

The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.

Dave’s latest bracket can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:



ACC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Florida State (NBC: 2), Louisville (NBC: 2), Duke (NBC: 3)

N.C. STATE (NET: 60, NBC: Play-in game): The Wolfpack, who looked like they could be as high as a 9 or 10 seed last week, would likely be out of the NCAA tournament if it started today. They are 14-7 overall, which isn’t terrible, but they have just one win against a top 50 opponent — Wisconsin (31) at home — to go along with a pair of Quad 3 losses. They do have two Quad 1 wins, but one of those — UNCG (75) on the road — is the bottom of the cutoff for a Quad 1 win.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies may go down as the biggest bubble loser of the weekend. Playing at Boston College (153), Virginia Tech suffered their first Quad 3 loss of the season despite the fact that the Eagles shot just 11-for-27 from the free throw line. That’s just brutal. Bubble teams need to avoid these landmines, and Mike Young’s team couldn’t. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): The Cavaliers are not in a good spot right now. We’re more than halfway through the season and their only Quad 1 win came at Syracuse (64) on the first day of the season. The best team that they have beaten is Virginia Tech (50). They avoided a landmine by winning at Wake Forest (109) on Sunday, but they really need to beat one of the ACC’s elite. It starts on Tuesday night with Florida State (15) at home.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange are starting to play like a top five team in the ACC this season. On Saturday, they knocked off Pitt in the Carrier Dome, pushing them to 6-3 in the league and 13-7 overall. They do have a home loss to Notre Dame (71) that could end up being Quad 3 if the Fighting Irish fall out of the top 75, but they’ve won four true road games in league play, two of which are Quad 1 wins. A 5-7 record in Quad 1 and 2 games is enough to keep them in and around the bubble for now, but zero top 50 wins is a problem. Their best chance at a marquee win will likely be Saturday, when they host Duke (6).

NORTH CAROLINA (NET: 93, NBC: Off the bubble): I still very much believe that North Carolina can get to the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels added their third Quad 1 win — Oregon (16) and Alabama (41) on neutrals, at N.C. State (60) — on Monday night and seem to be figuring some things out. Garrison Brooks has been awesome, Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black are getting better and their supporting cast finally seems to be embracing roles. Most importantly, however, the Tar Heels have five sub-Quad 1 losses and all five came without Cole Anthony. If he returns and UNC again becomes the team that beat Oregon, they’ll have four chances to add elite wins. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8), Wichita State (NBC: 8)

MEMPHIS (NET: 51, NBC: 10): Oh, Memphis. Two days after losing by 40 at Tulsa (65), the Tigers turn around and blow an 11-point lead in the final five minutes at home against SMU (68). They aren’t in real trouble yet, but it is worth noting that they have not beaten a single team in the top 50 in the NET and that their three best wins — Tennessee (55), Cincinnati (57) and N.C. State (60) — are teams that may not make the NCAA tournament. We’re in late-January and Memphis has as many Quad 3 losses as Quad 1 wins.

TULSA (NET: 69, NBC: Off the bubble): I thought Tulsa deserved a mention here given that they are currently tied for first in the American after winning at UConn (97) on Sunday. Their issue is that home wins over Houston (33) and Memphis (51) have both fallen outside of the top 30, which means that the committee will be focusing on the bad things: a Quad 3 loss, a Quad 4 loss and a non-conference SOS of 283rd. Tulsa gets Wichita State (30) at home on Saturday. That’s a must win, as are roadies against Houston and Wichita State.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 4), Oklahoma (NBC: 9)

TEXAS TECH (NET: 38, NBC: Play-in game):  I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (79) at home. They won at Kansas State (88). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-225 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) this week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

TEXAS (NET: 72, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas rallied, and ultimately lost, at home against LSU (25) on Saturday, which is a tough blow for the Longhorns. LSU is a Quad 1 opponent, and the Longhorns have some ground they need to make up. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last seven games, and a November win at Purdue (36) does not look quite as good now as it did at the time. If they don’t win at TCU (61) and beat Iowa State (70) at home this week, it may be time to take the Longhorns out of the mix.

TCU (NET: 61, NBC: Off the bubble): I have TCU here because I think their resume will be one of the easiest to build up in major conferences hoops. They don’t have any bad losses to their name and they sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. Getting a win over Texas Tech (38) last week was massive and they still get Baylor (1) twice, Kansas (4) twice, West Virginia (7) at home and Texas Tech on the road. They need to win at least two, if not three, of those games.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 2), Villanova (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 5), Creighton (NBC: 5), Marquette (NBC: 6)

DEPAUL (NET: 66, NBC: 11): Saturday’s home loss to St. John’s (67) is not going to do any favorites for DePaul. They do have three Quad 1 wins, including two Big Ten road wins — Iowa (21) and Minnesota (43) — as well as Butler at home, but a 1-6 start in the Big East combined with a loss to Buffalo (163) at home puts them in a really tough spot. It doesn’t help matters that four of their next five are on the road, starting with a visit to Seton Hall (13) on Wednesday. I think that the next two weeks will determine where they play in March.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): Since beating Arizona in California on Dec. 21st, St. John’s has now lost six of their last eight games. The only team that they have beaten in that stretch is DePaul (66), who they completed a sweep of on Saturday with a road win. That said, this is the third Quad 1 win for this group to go along with West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), but with eight losses on the season — including a loss at home against Vermont (101) — the Red Storm have work to do. They can start tonight with a win over Villanova (14) in MSG.

XAVIER (NET: 63, NBC: Next four out): The good news for Xavier is that they only have one sub-40 loss to their name, and that was at Wake Forest (109), a Quad 2 loss. the bad news is they have not beaten a top 50 team and their only Quad 1 win came at TCU (61). They’re at Seton Hall (12) on Saturday, host Villanova (14) next month and have two more games against Butler (9). They probably need to win at least one, if not two of those games.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas don’t have a terrible resume right now. They beat Creighton (24) at home, won at SMU (59) and have four Quad 1 wins. They’re 6-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents and have strong computer and SOS numbers. But they’re just 2-5 in the Big East and only have seven scholarship players. Things seem to be trending in the wrong direction.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Michigan State (NBC: 2), Maryland (NBC: 4), Iowa (NBC: 4), Penn State (NBC: 5), Illinois (NBC: 6), Wisconsin (NBC: 7), Indiana (NBC: 7), Rutgers (NBC: 7), Ohio State (NBC: 8)

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): The Wolverines have lost four in a row and five of their last six games, dropping them to 11-8 overall and just 2-6 in the Big Ten. But their “worst” loss came over the weekend, at home against Illinois (32) and they have beaten Gonzaga (3) as well as Iowa (21) and Creighton (24) at home. It’s also worth noting that Isaiah Livers have missed this recent losing skid, and Livers is their best player. There’s enough here for the Wolverines to be pretty comfortable assuming that Livers can eventually get back to 100 percent.

MINNESOTA (NET: 43, NBC: First four out): The Golden Gophers are 11-9 overall, but just one of their losses — DePaul (66) at home — was sub-Quad 1. They’ve swept Ohio State (19) and knocked off Penn State (27) as well. There are going to be plenty of chances for Minnesota to rack up quality wins, and they’ll have a really good shot at earning a bid if they can go 7-4 down the stretch of the regular season.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): Purdue’s schizophrenic January continued on Friday with a blowout win over Wisconsin (31) at home. The Boilermakers have lost four of their last six, and the two wins were utterly dominant wins over the Badgers and Michigan State (8). Their 11-9 (4-5) record isn’t pretty, but a pair of Quad 1 wins and just one Quad 3 loss — at Nebraska (165) — is enough to keep them in the mix.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 2), Colorado (NBC: 6), Arizona (NBC: 7), USC (NBC: 8)

STANFORD (NET: 18, NBC: 10): The last three halves of basketball that Stanford has played has put them smack in the middle of the bubble conversation. They blew a 21 point second half lead and lost at USC (40) before going to Cal (155) and blowing another double-digit second half lead in a loss. Now, the Cardinal are sitting at 1-3 against Quad 1 opponents without a single win over a top 40 opponent, just two top 90 wins and an ugly Quad 3 loss. Hold serve against the Oregon schools this week and they’ll be fine.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 56, NBC: Playin game): The Sun Devils landed just an enormous win on Saturday night, coming back from 22 points down to beat Arizona (10) at home in their last chance to take on the Wildcats during the regular season. Believe it or not, that is the first Quad 1 win for the Sun Devils, and given that they only have one Quad 2 loss — Virginia (58) on a neutral court — this group is not all that far away from getting a bid. They just needed a couple big wins. Knocking off Arizona certainly qualifies.

WASHINGTON (NET: 45, NBC: Off the bubble): The fact that Washington has a neutral court win over Baylor (1) is the only reason they’re still in the conversation here. They’re 12-9 overall and they have just two Quad 1 and 2 wins, which is equal to the number of Quad 3 losses — UCLA (124) at home and at Cal (155) — they’ve suffered. They’re currently in last place in the Pac-12, a game behind Washington State. They badly need to sweep the Arizona schools this weekend.

UTAH (NET: 74, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah is going to be mentioned here because they have beaten Kentucky (22) on a neutral and knocked off BYU (29) at home. They are also 5-5 against the top two quadrants. Now, the key for Larry Krystkowiak is to make up a player that the Utes were missing when they played in Myrtle Beach Invitational so the Selection Committee can overlook losses to Coastal Carolina (196) and Tulane (152).


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 5), Auburn (NBC: 6), Florida (NBC: 9), Arkansas (NBC: 9)

ALABAMA (NET: 41, NBC: Off the bubble): The biggest problem that Alabama has right now is their losses. They dropped a home game to Penn (165) on the opening night of the season, which is a Quad 4 loss. They lost a game to North Carolina (93) in the Bahamas. They also lost to Iowa State (70) in the Bahamas. Those do not look good right now. The Tide have turned their season around — beating Kansas State (89) on Saturday was their fourth straight win and their seventh win in the last nine games — but they have just one win over a top 50 team. They get LSU (24) on the road on Wednesday and, in February, play at Auburn (18) and LSU again. I think winning two of those three games will be critical.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): There’s not a lot to like about Mississippi State’s resume right now. They have one win over a top 75 team this season — Arkansas (28) at home — and their only road win came at Coastal Carolina (196). They’s lost to Louisiana Tech (84) at home and New Mexico State (118) on a neutral floor. What am I supposed to be impressed with? Losing at Oklahoma (46) on Saturday didn’t help. Winning at Florida (37) on Tuesday would.

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): Tennessee missed on a great chance to add a marquee win to their resume when they lost at Kansas (4) on Saturday. The Vols had won four of their last five prior to that game, and it looks like they’ve gotten their season turned around. They are 12-7 overall but just 3-7 against the top two quadrants and they have yet to beat a top 35 team. They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols are in a good spot if they can get hot.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), Dayton (NBC: 3), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

BYU (NET: 29, NBC: 11): The Cougars have really good computer numbers, and they do have some quality wins to their name — at Houston (33), Virginia Tech (50) and Utah State (62) on neutrals — but after losing at San Francisco (95) on Saturday, BYU now has a pair of Quad 2 losses and a 4-7 record against the top two Quads. With games remaining against Saint Mary’s (40) and Gonzaga (4) at home, BYU should be OK if they can get one of those and avoid the landmines.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble): The Aggies have neutral site wins over LSU (25) and Florida (37), which is enough to keep them in this discussion despite road losses at Boise State (102), UNLV (130) and Air Force (184). They make the trip to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State (2) on Saturday, and that feels like a must-win for Utah State at this point.

VCU (NET: 39, NBC: Play-in game): The Rams avoided one of the landmines on their schedule as they went into Philly and knocked off La Salle. VCU is now 15-5 overall with a Quad 1 (LSU, 25) and Quad 2 (at Charleston, 134) win. The Rams have a ton of work left to do, but the fact that their worst loss is against Tennessee (55) on a neutral court and that there are a number of potential Quad 1 wins left on their league schedule is a good thing. Tuesday’s date with Richmond (47) in the Siegel Center feels enormous.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): The Spiders lost to Dayton (5) on Saturday at home, a critical loss because it’s really the only game-changing opponent that they had left on their schedule. They do play VCU (39) twice, and picking them off in Richmond will be a Quad 1 win, but that’s not going to be enough to get them to leapfrog any high-major teams that play a dozen Quad 1 games in league play. Richmond is in a bad spot.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): The Rams avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule, winning at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but they are not in a great spot at the moment. URI is on the wrong side of the bubble right now, and while every team in the power conferences are playing one or two Quad 1 games a week, URI has just two left on their schedule — their two games against Dayton (5). Their win at VCU (39) is nice, but it is counteracted by a loss at Brown (229).

SAINT LOUIS (NET: 68, NBC: Off the bubble): The Billikens are just 2-5 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, with wins at Richmond (54) and Kansas State (88). They don’t have any bad losses, but a Jalen Crutcher three at the buzzer at Dayton (5) two weeks ago may end up being what keeps them from making a real push to be a bubble team.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 49, NBC: 12): Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (89) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but loss at Southern Illinois (166) and Illinois State (214) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago (91) in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large.

LIBERTY (NET: 73, NBC: 13): The Flames killed their hope of getting an at-large this weekend. They are 0-1 in Quad 1 games, 1-0 in Quad 2 games (Akron (65) on a neutral) and 2-1 in Quad 3 games. They have 14 wins over Quad 4 opponents and just lost to Stetson (309). They’re frauds.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 42, NBC: 12): The Buccaneers are in a decent spot right now thanks to a win at LSU (25) in December. They’re 15-3 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins, but they do have one bad loss — at North Dakota State (160) — which means that they cannot step on another landmine during league play. Winning out in the regular season is the only option here.

UNCG (NET: 75, NBC: Off the bubble): Wins at Georgetown (52), Furman (80) and Vermont (98) get the Spartans mentioned, particularly with a game at East Tennessee State (42) left on their schedule. But with a loss at Wofford (142) and at home against Montana State (215), UNCG has to win out and lose to ETSU in the SoCon tournament to have any actual shot at an at-large.

YALE (NET: 53, NBC: 12): The Elis are in this conversation because they don’t really have a bad loss to speak of. Their “worst” loss was a road game at San Francisco (95), and if North Carolina (93)gets Cole Anthony back, then that loss is not going to look nearly as bad by Selection Sunday. Their problem is a lack of quality wins. They won at Clemson (81), which is their only Quad 1 or 2 win. That’s not going to change in the Ivy. I think they need to win out and lose to Harvard in the Ivy title game to have a real at-large chance.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION VCU vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. PR VIEW A&M

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) ROB MORRIS / NORFOLK ST 16) NORTHERN COLORADO
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) COLGATE
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) UC-IRVINE 16) MONMOUTH / PV A&M
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) VERMONT 13) LIBERTY
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan
2) SETON HALL 2) LOUISVILLE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) WINTHROP

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan

Monday’s Overreactions: Vernon Carey, Baylor and UConn is back!

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Vernon Carey, Duke

We may only be three weeks into college basketball season, but at this point I think that it is safe to say that Carey is better than any of us expected him to be. Through three games, he is averaging 18.3 points, 9.2 boards and 1.8 blocks in just 24 minutes. In two games last week in Madison Square Garden, Carey averaged 25.5 points, 11.0 boards and 2.5 blocks as the Blue Devils knocked off Cal and Georgetown en route to the 2K Classic title.

When Carey is playing this well, it changes what Duke is able to do offensively. He’s an absolute monster on the block, and he proved that as he carried the Blue Devils in the first half against a Georgetown team that looked like they were ready to run Duke out of New York City. We were questioning just how Duke was going to be able to score this season, and it turns out, running things through Carey is probably the answer.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears

It’s really hard not to be impressed with what Baylor was able to do this week in Myrtle Beach, and it’s not simply who they were able to beat. Other than Villanova, Baylor didn’t really beat anyone of note. What made their run so impressive was how they did it, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. UCONN IS BACK, BABY

This week felt like a turning point for the UConn program under Dan Hurley.

And not just because they got James GOATKnight, I mean Bouknight, back from his early season suspension.

The Huskies bounced back from an ugly home loss to St. Joseph’s by beating then-No. 15 Florida at home. Then, in a letdown spot against a solid Buffalo team, they put together a fairly easy win before taking Xavier to double-overtime and smacking around Miami like they were still mad at Jim Larranaga for 2006. Bouknight was awesome. Josh Carlton more than held his own. Akok Akok blocked everything. Tyler Polley and Brendan Adams hit big shots.

The guy that didn’t play well was Alterique Gilbert, but even that mattered. Hurley ripped into criticism of him in a press conference, putting himself on the line for a player that, to be frank, missed a couple of big shots in the Xavier loss.

Hurley told me in October that the most difficult part of this job has been teaching these kids, who lost so much with the previous coaching regime, to expect and demand winning. He had to change the culture, and the first signs of change appeared this weekend.

2. FLORIDA IS BACK, TOO

It’s time for a victory lap.

Last week, I said that Florida’s issue was simple: They weren’t making shots. They are a team that is built to play small-ball, and when you are built to play small-ball and you shoot 24 percent from three, you’re probably going to do things like go 2-2.

But when you’re built for small-ball and shoot better than 40 percent from three – like Florida did in Charleston – you do things like win the Charleston Classic.

The Gators play eight players. Four are freshmen. Three are sophomores. One is a graduate transfer. We should have known that it was going to take a little bit of time for them to gel heading into the season. The mistake wasn’t predicting they have a ceiling of a top ten team, the mistake was thinking they’d be at that ceiling from Day 1.

3. GEORGETOWN IS PROBABLY BACK

I do not think the Hoyas are back just yet.

But I do think they have the chance to be a top 25 team this season.

As I wrote on Friday night from Madison Square Garden, Georgetown has all the pieces you need for a team that will be dangerous. They have a talented playmaker at the point in James Akinjo. They have a hoss on the block in Omer Yurtseven. And they have what seems like 20 tough, aggressive, athletic wings that allow the Hoyas to create all kinds of problems defensively.

There are kinks that still need to be worked out – specifically, Yurtseven’s fouling issues and Akinjo’s ball-dominance – but for the most part, the Hoyas have the horses to make some noise when it matters. They haven’t hit their ceiling yet, but it is within reach.

4. VILLANOVA IS DEFINITELY BACK BECAUSE COLLIN GILLISPIE HAS ARRIVED

The most important player on Villanova’s roster is Collin Gillispie.

To understand why, you need to understand what Villanova is trying to do offensively. If you listened to Fran Fraschilla and Rich Hollenberg on the broadcast of the loss to Baylor, you heard them refer to Villanova’s “concepts” at least a half-dozen times. Villanova’s offensive is not built on set plays but instead built on a way to play, and while figuring out how to do it is sometimes tricky, what they are doing is really not all that complicated.

Villanona wants to create closeout situations. They want to get a touch in the paint, draw a second defender, kick the ball out and put the defense into rotation, creating a closeout. They then move the ball until they can get a clean drive or an open look. When Villanova struggles is when they are unable to get the penetration they need to draw that first help defender.

In Myrtle Beach, Gillispie was that guy. He was awesome, there’s really no other way to put it. The 27 points and six assists that he had against Baylor is the performance that people took notice of, but in the three games in South Carolina he averaged 20.3 points and 7.3 assists.

I’m not expecting him to average 20 and seven the rest of the season, but if he can be a guy that puts up 15 points and five assists, shoots 40 percent from three and initiates their offense the way he did this week, the Wildcats’ ceiling is as one of the best teams in the country.

5. BAYLOR NEVER LEFT, BUT THEY’RE THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE BIG 12

Heading into the season, it was fair to assume that Baylor was going to be a team built on their ability to defend, their ability to get on the glass and the fact that they had one of the biggest and best frontlines in college basketball. That’s what happens when you lose your starting guards from a team that finished second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

But that’s not who this team is in reality.

As surprising as this may sound, in a win over Villanova in the Myrtle Beach Invitational title game, it was the Bears that had the best guards on the floor.

Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague sat out last season and they have more than lived up to expectations. Jared Butler took over in the final minutes of the Villanova game and has been the best player for Baylor this season; he’s averaging 19.3 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 52.5 percent from three. As a team, Baylor is shooting 40.6 percent from three.

They’re still really good on the glass and their defense is able to force turnovers, but the truth is that the strength of this roster is their backcourt, which has proven themselves to be one of the best in the country this season.

Your guide to the 16 best early-season college basketball tournaments

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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. 

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS

WHEN: Nov. 27-29

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

Me?

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.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

2. MAUI INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 25, 26 and 27
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Georgia vs. Dayton
  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Michigan State
  • No. 4 Kansas vs. Chaminade
  • BYU vs. UCLA

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?

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

3. 2K EMPIRE CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21 and 22
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS:

  • Texas vs. Georgetown
  • Duke vs. Cal

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.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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 VCUTennessee.

(Porter Binks/Getty Images)

5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

8. LEGENDS CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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: AuburnWisconsin. 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.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

9. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28 and 29
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 12 Texas Tech vs. Iowa
  • San Diego State vs. Creighton

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.

(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

11. WOODEN LEGACY

WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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 ArizonaProvidence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT

WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF

WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

15. CANCUN CHALLENGE

WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27

MATCHUPS

  • 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.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

16. PARADISE JAM

WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)

MATCHUPS

  • 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?

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

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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)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • 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)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • 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)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • 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.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

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.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

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.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

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.