There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.
Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.
Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes
When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.
What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.
Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.
It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?
Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue
Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.
Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.
Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.
Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.
Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.
Will Wade loses to his former school
As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.
That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.
That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.
VCU fans aren't holding back on Will Wade and LSU. 😂
Dressed as FBI agents, they're right at the end of the bench harping on Wade's part in the FBI scandal. pic.twitter.com/FlPX5YjERU
Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.
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.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Matt Coleman III scored 22 points and Gerald Liddell added a career high 14 on Saturday night to help Texas upset No. 23 Purdue 70-66.
The Longhorns (2-0) have won seven straight dating to last season’s run to the NIT championship and they became the first non-conference team to beat the Boilermakers on their home court in nearly three years.
Sasha Stefanovic scored 14 points to lead Purdue (1-1). Eric Hunter Jr. and Jahaad Proctor each had 12.
The Boilermakers looked like they were in control when they scored seven straight to take a 62-57 lead with 3:14 to play.
But the Longhorns forced three straight turnovers and the next seven to take a 64-62 lead on a 3-pointer from Jase Febres with 1:25 to go.
Purdue only got two more baskets the rest of the game.
Texas: The Longhorns passed a key early-season test. They went into Mackey Arena, which has been nothing but trouble for visitors the last four-plus seasons, and pulled off the upset by grinding out a victory. It’s a promising sign that the Longhorns could be on their way back.
Purdue: This one will sting for Purdue. The Boilermakers looked like they were about to pull away late, but their inability to take care of the ball and make free throws proved costly in the end. And now they’ll have to start working on a new home-court winning streak.
Texas: Coleman had four rebounds and seven assists while Liddell also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. … Febres finished with 11 points and Jericho Sims scored 10 despite playing most of the night in foul trouble. … Texas was 9 of 22 on 3s and shot 53.3% from the field.
Purdue: Stefanovic made his first four shots, all 3s, after sitting out Wednesday’s opener with a foot injury. … The Boilermakers were 8 of 16 on 3s and shot 41% from the field. … Purdue had a 36-24 rebounding edge. … The last non-conference team to win in West Lafayette was then No. 3 Villanova in November 2016. … Purdue also had an 18-game home-court winning streak snapped.
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.
Revamped backcourt helps No. 23 Purdue get past Green Bay
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Jahaad Proctor and Eric Hunter Jr. gave Purdue’s revamped backcourt a completely different look Wednesday night.
If the new tag-team tandem keeps operating at peak proficiency, the Boilermakers again could pose major problems for opponents.
Proctor scored 26 points in his first game at Mackey Arena, Hunter added 15 and No. 23 Purdue pulled away from Green Bay for a 79-57 victory — the Boilermakers’ seventh straight opening-night win.
“I just know when the (shot-clock) is winding down it’s time to go make a play,” Proctor said, noting it was the biggest crowd he’s played in front of. “Most of the time I don’t like settling for jump shots because the defense is, nine times out of ten, going to foul you if you get to the basket.”
The style change was obvious right from the start.
Rather than having Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline pull defenses out with 3-pointers, Proctor and Hunter challenged the Phoenix by driving to the basket.
Together, they were virtually unbeatable.
Proctor, a graduate transfer from High Point, went 11 of 17 from the field while grabbing five rebounds. Hunter, who made only one start last season as a freshman, was 7 of 14 from the field with four rebounds and six assists.
The Boilermakers considered it the perfect ending on a celebratory night on which they unveiled their 24th Big Ten championship banner and played highlights from last season’s Elite Eight run.
But it certainly wasn’t what Green Bay coach Linc Darner envisioned when he scheduled the return to his alma mater.
“He had a great game and when he gets going downhill there,” Darner said, referring to Proctor. “It was hard to guard, we’ve got to do a better job of helping.”
The Phoenix (0-1) never really had a chance after giving up the first eight points and falling behind 14-2 less than six minutes into the game.
Freshman Amari Davis scored six of his 10 points during an 8-0 run that got Green Bay within 14-10, but Purdue scored the next eight to make it 22-10 and the Phoenix never seriously challenged again.
Kameron Hankerson led the Phoenix with 15 points. JayQuan McCloud also scored 10 for Green Bay.
Purdue finally sealed the game with an 8-0 run that extended the lead to 69-49 with 4:32 to play.
“You’ve got to be able to cut through the paint, you got to be able to get the ball in and get angles and attack people in different actions,” coach Matt Painter said. “I thought those guys (Proctor and Hunter) were able to do that.”
Green Bay: Darner’s team just couldn’t match Purdue’s size or depth. But the Phoenix managed to stick around long enough to show why they could be a legitimate Horizon League contender.
Purdue: The Boilermakers certainly can play defense. They held the usually high-scoring Phoenix without a 3-pointer in a first half during which they also forced 10 turnovers. They just need to find a quicker knockout punch.
The only real score for Purdue was the wrist injury starting guard Nojel Eastern sustained when he was fouled with 5:30 to go in the first half.
After a brief delay, the junior walked to the end of the bench with a trainer and then headed straight for the locker room. He returned before halftime with his left wrist taped, then appeared to re-injure himself wrist with less than six minutes to play.
Again, Eastern walked to the end of the bench with the trainer and this time did not return.
Painter described it as a hand injury and said only that it was not broken.
Green Bay: The Phoenix shot 36.5% from the field and went 8 of 21 on 3s after scoring 81.3 points per game last season. … Green Bay has lost 11 straight against Big Ten teams. … Darner’s streak of alternating losses and wins through his first five season-openers continued. He’s now 2-3 on opening night. … Purdue had a 44-16 scoring advantage in the paint.
Purdue: Painter improved to 14-1 in season openers at Purdue. … The Boilermakers have won 16 in a row against Horizon League foes, 18 in a row at Mackey Arena and 20 consecutive home games against non-conference foes. … Matt Haarms had 16 points and seven rebounds. … Aaron Wheeler finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. … Painter said he plans to redshirt freshmen Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman.
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