Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.
One bracket decision was easy today: Baylor as the No. 1 overall seed. The Bears are 5-1 against Quadrant 1 teams, have a win at Kansas, and haven’t lost since dropping a close game to Washington in early November.
Elsewhere, the Big Ten reigns, filling up the field with a dozen teams. Much of that has to do with the strength and depth of the conference, with quality wins available almost every night and home teams rarely losing. Another contributing factor is fewer contenders in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, and even the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Whether those trends continue remains to be seen. Ultimately, the Big Ten is more likely to end up with nine or ten bids.
In a close call, Butler remains the final No. 1 seed, but loses its Midwest route to Kansas. The Bulldogs depth of wins against teams in the Field was the difference. But one could make an equally compelling and accurate case for San Diego State.
The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …
UPDATED: January 17, 2020
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Minnesota vs. Virginia Tech
NC State vs. Washington
ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T
PR VIEW AM vs. NO COLORADO
SOUTH – Houston
WEST – Los Angeles
16) PV-AM / NC A&T
5) WICHITA STATE
12) NC State / Washington
13) S.F. AUSTIN
13) NEW MEXICO ST
11) Saint Mary’s
3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
7) Penn State
10) Texas Tech
2) SAN DIEGO STATE
15) NORTHERN COLORADO
EAST – New York
MIDWEST – Indianapolis
16) ALBANY / ROB MORRIS
5) Ohio State
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST
13) GEORGIA STATE
11) Minnesota / Virginia Tech
11) NORTHERN IOWA
3) MICHIGAN STATE
14) WILLIAM & MARY
14) WRIGHT STATE
2) West Virginia
2) Florida State
15) AUSTIN PEAY
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, Butler Seed List
Breakdown by Conference … Big Ten (12) Big East (6) ACC (5) SEC (5) Big 12 (5) Pac 12 (5) American (3) West Coast (3) Atlantic 10 (1) Mountain West (1)
Rose leads Temple to upset of No. 16 Wichita State
PHILADELPHIA — Quinton Rose scored 19 points and Temple used a strong defensive performance to upset No. 16 Wichita State 65-53 on Wednesday night.
Jake Forrester and Monty Scott each chipped in 11 points for the Owls (10-6, 2/3 American Athletic Conference), who snapped a three-game losing streak while defeating a ranked opponent for the 13th consecutive seasons.
James Echenique scored 20 points and Jamarius Burton added 16 for the Shockers (15-2, 3-1), who had won nine straight.
The Owls, under first-year coach Aaron McKie, clamped down on the Shockers. They held Wichita State to a season-low in points while forcing them to shoot 30.2% (19-for-63) from the field and 14.3% (3-for-21) from 3-point range.
Shockers leading scorer Erik Stevenson went scoreless, missing eight shots and five from 3-point range. Tyson Etienne, who entered tops in the conference with 37 3-pointers made, also was scoreless and missed three 3-point tries.
The Owls opened the second half on an 11-0 run over the first 4:06, going up 37-32 on Nate Pierre-Louis’ jumper with 15:54 left. Wichita State missed all four of its field-goal attempts, and Temple forced the Shockers into four turnovers during the stretch.
Temple, helped by getting in the bonus with nearly 11 minutes left, kept control from that point. The Owls went up by as many as 10, 55-45, on Forrester’s layup with 4:26 left. Temple’s defense kept the Owls in control, and they clinched the win on Rose’s driving layup that made it 61-53 with 1:39 remaining.
The Shockers jumped to an early lead behind consecutive Burton 3-pointers and were up by as many as nine, 21-12, after a pair of Echenique free throws with 9:53 left in the first half.
Temple used a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press to limit Wichita State’s offense for much of the remainder of the first half. The Owls got as close as within 28-26 on Rose’s second straight two-point jumper with 3:02 left before intermission. But the Shockers scored the final two buckets of the period, on layups by Trey Wade and Morris Udeze, to lead 32-26 at the break.
Wichita State: The Shockers still are in first place in the conference and will try to get back on track on Saturday against Houston.
Temple: The Owls avoided falling into a last-place tie with Central Florida in the 12-team league. They’ll try to pull out of the middle of the pack on Saturday at SMU.
Wichita State: Host Houston on Saturday.
Temple: At SMU on Saturday.
College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke, Baylor, Gonzaga round out top three
And in lieu of going through and talking about every single team my college basketball top 25 today, I have something that I want to say about rankings. The genesis of this stems from a conversation that popped up last week. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports and Poll Attacks fame brought to light the fact that the people that produce the AP poll have started releasing the individual ballots of voters on Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon, thus eliminating the relevance of the column.
This led to a discussion about whether or not Parrish was right to go after AP voters and eventually brought us to a place where I was having multiple conversations about the process when it comes to voting.
And that is what I want to discuss today.
Full disclosure: I am an AP voter this year. The top 25 that you see in this space is the ballot that I submit every week, and it frustrates me to no end when people don’t vote with the same goal in mind as I do. I’m looking to list out the top 25 teams in college basketball, full stop. Not the top 25 teams with the best wins, not the top 25 resumes. The best 25 teams in college basketball, in order, and for me, the thinking goes like this: The best team in the country is the team that would be favored on a neutral court against every other team in the country. The second best team is the one that would be favored against all but one team in the country, and so on and so forth.
Fundamentally, I do not believe that the outcome of a one possession basketball game should influence how good you think that a basketball team is. There are two prime examples of that this season. The first is Duke. The Blue Devils are sitting at 15-1 on the season, which is really good except for the fact that they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin in what was, at the time, one of the biggest upsets that we have ever seen in the sport. That game was decided by a coast-to-coast layup that was released with 0.1 seconds left on the clock; it had to be reviewed to determine whether or not the shot would count.
Now, the Lumberjacks have proven to be much better than anyone expected in the preseason, but this was still a very disappointing performance from the Blue Devils. Because of that loss, which happened two months ago, Duke could very well end up getting dropped out of the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll for Baylor. There is absolutely no chance that would happen if Nathan Bain’s game-winner in Cameron was waved off and Duke won in overtime.
You really think there are people that would be willing to drop one of the three remaining undefeated teams out of the top spot in the poll when they have wins over Kansas and at Michigan State when the gap between them and the No. 2 team in KenPom’s rankings is almost as big as the gap was between Kentucky and the No. 2 team in the country in 2015?
There wouldn’t be.
And the proof is what’s happening with San Diego State.
Back in December, the Aztecs played an absolutely horrid game at home against a San Jose State team that is significantly worse that the SFA team that beat Duke. Malachi Flynn hit a three with less than a second left so that the Aztecs avoided a humiliating loss that would be their only loss of the season. There is no chance that the Aztecs would be inching closer to the top five if they had a home loss to a sub-250 team on their resume. Absolutely none.
The point here is that the perception of just how good teams like Duke and San Diego State are should never, ever be impacted one possession in one 70-possession game when these teams have played 16 games and more than 1,000 possessions this season. Put another way, we knock Duke for losing to a lesser team at home in a game they played like crap but ignore the fact that San Diego State did the exact same thing.
The only difference was the way the last possession played out.
One, single possession.
To me, that is not a sharp way of thinking about the sport of basketball.
Now, there are two things I want to be crystal clear on here:
1. The point of this stream of consciousness is not to say that Baylor doesn’t deserve to be the No. 1 team in the country this week. If that’s the way you feel, you’re not wrong. The Bears have very much earned it. Picking who was No. 1 in my poll was not easy to do, and I think there are valid arguments to make for any one of Duke, Baylor and Gonzaga for the top spot.
The point is to say that if you’re picking Duke, who is the only team on KenPom with a top 10 offense and defense, to drop from the No. 1 spot because they lost on a buzzer-beater in November while keeping San Diego State in the top five because they won on a buzzer-beater in December, you’re being silly.
2. The fact that Duke lost and San Diego State won absolutely should factor into the things that actually matter. You can check the receipts. I was one of the people banging on the loudest about the fact that whatever metric the NCAA developed to replace the RPI must keep some kind of results-based influence in the algorithm. We cannot have the most important metric in our sport be a fully-predictive metric.
The reason for this is simple: What is the point of watching sports if the win doesn’t actually matter? What is the point of getting excited about a buzzer-beater if that buzzer-beater doesn’t have outsized influence on the season at-large? Duke absolutely, 100 percent should have that home loss to Stephen F. Austin ding them as the bracket is put together. And San Diego State should 100 percent be allowed to go up to the Selection Committee and point out how it’s January 12th and they still have not lost a basketball game.
Wins have to matter when seeding teams.
They have to.
But they should not matter in weekly rankings. Those are supposed to determine who are the best teams in the sport at this very moment. By definition, the best team is the one that would be favored to win a game played on a neutral court against every other college basketball team in the country. Anyone with any analytical sense or basketball IQ will understand that the outcome of a game that comes down to a final possession will have a negligible impact on spreads, KenPom projections and the things that are infinitely smarter than some person with an opinion.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Brad Stevens moments, seen in the clip below. Watch him at the end of this insane finish. As Roosevelt Jones is making the game-winning shot, he’s calmly turning and walking up the floor to shake Mark Few’s hand.
Butler guard Rotnei Clarke was asked about this.
“The outcome is irrelevant if [Stevens] thinks you played as well as you can,” Clarke said.
If you’re not going to listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to him.
Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.
1. DUKE (15-1, Last Week: 1)
2. BAYLOR (13-1, 6)
3. GONZAGA (18-1, 3)
4. BUTLER (15-1, 7)
5. AUBURN (15-0, 5)
6. KANSAS (12-3, 2)
7. MICHIGAN STATE (13-4, 4)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (17-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (14-2, 9)
10. OREGON (14-3, 10)
11. KENTUCKY (12-3, 13)
12. FLORIDA STATE (14-2, 14)
13. LOUISVILLE (13-3, 15)
14. WEST VIRGINIA (13-2, 16)
15. SETON HALL (12-4, 20)
16. OHIO STATE (11-5, 11)
17. TEXAS TECH (10-5, 12)
18. VILLANOVA (12-3, 23)
19. WICHITA STATE (15-1, 24)
20. MICHIGAN (11-5, 17)
21. MARYLAND (13-3, 19)
22. IOWA (11-5, 22)
23. CREIGHTON (13-4, NR)
24. ILLINOIS (12-5, NR)
25. MEMPHIS (13-3, 25)
DROPPED OUT: 18. Arizona, 21. Penn State
NEW ADDITIONS: 23. Creighton, 24. Illinois
The ten wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade
The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.
We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.
We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watch Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach like to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.
It’s been a wild ride.
And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.
Today, we are talking about the wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade. The first five are in this story, and the top five can be found here.
I think everyone in the state of Indiana, or at least in West Lafayette, remembers the exact moment that this happened.
There were just over seven minutes left in the first half of Purdue’s game at Minnesota. It was something of a look-ahead game, a Wednesday night fixture before a massive Sunday afternoon tip against Michigan State that would put the Boilermakers two wins from clinching their first outright Big Ten title in 14 years. Hummel drove into the middle of the paint, came to a jump-stop and had his right knee buckle.
At the time, Purdue was the No. 3 team in the country, a stifling defense that relied on their three-headed monster of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Hummel to put enough points on the board to get them wins. With Hummel, they looked like one of the few teams that would have a shot at winning the title. Without him, they lost that game to Michigan State, got dropped in the second round of the Big Ten tournament and ended up with a No. 4 seed, getting drubbed by Duke in the Sweet 16.
But the story gets worse.
Just eight months after he initially tore the ACL, he tore it again, in his first practice back. So not only did Purdue miss out on a chance to win a title in 2010, they never got to see what Hummel could have done playing alongside Johnson and Moore in their senior seasons.
Purdue has not been to the Final Four since 1980. Last year’s Elite Eight run was their first since 2000 and just their second since 1994. I have a feeling those numbers would be different had Hummel’s right ACL been less disagreeable.
9. WHAT IF JOHN WALL GOES PRO INSTEAD OF GOING TO KENTUCKY, OR IF JODIE MEEKS RETURNS TO KENTUCKY INSTEAD OF GOING PRO?
I’m not quite sure how many people are actually going to remember this, but there was a time where it was unclear if John Wall would actually end up in college. In was in April after his senior season in high school and before he committed to Kentucky to play his college ball. There was a chance that Wall was eligible to go straight to the NBA draft like Anfernee Simons did and Hamidou Diallo tried to do.
You see, Wall had spent five years in high school. He spent two years at Garner Magnet school before transferring to Broughton High as a junior. Midway through that school year, he again transferred, this time to Word Of God Christian Academy, where he enrolled as a sophomore. Combine that with the fact that he was 19 years old at the time, and he could have made a pretty compelling case.
Ultimately, it never came to that because he never declared, instead enrolling at Kentucky.
But what if he didn’t?
What if Wall had been determined to be eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft and went straight to the pros out of high school? Where would the Kentucky program be? Would the Wildcats have still been in a position to send five players to the first round of the NCAA tournament? Would Coach Cal still have been posted at the NBA draft talking about the most important day in the history of their program? Would Kentucky still have been able to change the way that college basketball programs built super teams with recruiting arms races?
But that’s not the only interesting ‘What if?’ surrounding the 2010 Kentucky team.
What if Jodie Meeks returned to school for his senior season?
When Billy Gillispie was fired following the 2008-09 season, there were two key players who had their future up in the air. One was Patrick Patterson, who opted to return to school and play alongside Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe for a season. Meeks, who averaged 23.7 points as a junior, did not. He went pro, was picked 41st and found a way to carve out a 10-year NBA career.
So it worked out for him.
But that Kentucky team had one fatal flaw, and it was their ability to shoot. I don’t need to remind Kentucky fans this, but those Wildcats, as a team, shot 33.1 percent from three. They were 4-for-32 from beyond the arc in the Elite Eight loss to West Virginia. What would have happened if they had an All-American that, the year before, had shot 40.6 percent from three on eight attempts per game on the floor? Do you think there’s any chance that a team with a starting five of Wall, Bledsoe, Meeks, Patterson and Cousins loses?
With Meeks back, does 2010 Kentucky become the first 40-0 team in college basketball history? Does John Calipari actually get an NBA job after he wins a second title in three seasons? Is there an alternate reality where Cal gets hired by the Celtics and it’s actually Brad Stevens that is currently coaching the Wildcats and winning national titles with nothing but three-star prospects from Kentuckiana? I like to think there is.
8. WHAT JALEN BRUNSON WENT TO TEMPLE?
There are so many ‘What ifs?’ surrounding this Villanova dynasty that would be fun to dive into.
What if Kris Jenkins missed that buzzer-beating three? You know the one that I’m talking about. Does Villanova hang on to win that game in overtime? If they don’t, if the Tar Heels take home the 2016 national title, do they bring back everyone and become the first team to win back-to-back titles in 2017, or do the likes of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks turn pro?
Or how about this one: What if Omari Spellman isn’t ruled ineligible for the 2016-17 season? If he isn’t forced to redshirt, does he ever put in the work he needed to in order to change his body and become a first round draft pick? What if Phil Booth doesn’t miss that season with an injury, either? Might we actually be looking at a situation where the Wildcats win three straight national titles?
And if you want to play the inception game, what if Villanova’s higher-ups decide to fire Jay Wright when he followed up the 2009 trip to the Final Four with a 25-win season, a 21-win season and then a 13-19 season in 2011-12?
But those are not the most interesting ‘What ifs?’ involving this Villanova dynasty. This is: What if Jalen Brunson had actually ended up at Temple?
Because that’s what the plan was. Brunson’s father, Rick, is a Temple alum. Fran Dunphy was going to use a spot as an assistant coach to hire Rick and bring along his McDonald’s All-American offspring until Rick went and got himself into a bit of legal trouble. Hiring him became untenable, which meant that Brunson had to find elsewhere to play. Just so happens that Philly’s intracity rival needed a point guard, and the rest is history.
Would Villanova have found the same amount of success if Brunson had not ended up on the Main Line? He was a starter for two teams that won national championships, the second of which came in a season where he won National Player of the Year. That’s a pretty big loss to overcome.
At the same time, it is fair to wonder if he would have had the same amount of success had he not ended up playing for Villanova. Brunson has carved out a nice little role for himself in the NBA, operating as a part-time starter for the Dallas Mavericks and averaging 9.0 points and 3.2 assists in two seasons as a pro. He probably gets there either way, but given that he was still a second round pick after three sensational years at Villanova, would he have actually gotten a chance at the NBA if he hadn’t cut down so many nets while a Wildcat?
I think there’s a very real chance that, were it not for the fact that he ended up at Villanova, Brunson ends up being a four-year player at Temple that has to go through Europe to get to the NBA, a la Nigel Williams-Goss.
7. WHAT IF BRANDON ASHLEY DOESN’T BREAK HIS FOOT IN 2014?
One of the fun little tools that Ken Pomeroy has added to his website, KenPom.com, is a way to look at archived ratings. If I wanted to go back and see who was considered to be the best team in college basketball on, say, Sat., Feb. 1st, in 2014, I can do that.
On that morning, the Arizona Wildcats were sitting pretty as one of just three undefeated teams left in college basketball. They were the No. 1 team in the country, receiving 63 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the AP poll, and they were No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings. At that moment in time, the gap between Arizona and the team in second (Duke) was only slightly smaller than the gap between 2015 Kentucky and the team that finished second (Wisconsin) on the final day of the season.
Put another way, on February 1st in a season where a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed played in the national title game, Arizona was very clearly the best team in college basketball.
And then Brandon Ashley broke his foot.
It happened early in a game at Cal that would go down as Arizona’s first loss of the season. Without Ashley in the lineup, Arizona would go on to lose three of their final 10 regular season games in a watered down Pac-12. They lost in the Pac-12 tournament title game to UCLA. They lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight in overtime.
It’s that last loss that I want to discuss.
At the time, Ashley was a sophomore averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 37.9 percent from three. He was a really good player on a team that had quite a few really good players. But the real value Ashley carried was evident in the game against Wisconsin, when the quicker Frank Kaminsky was able to exploit Kaleb Tarczewski to the tune of 28 points and 11 boards on 11-for-20 shooting. Ashley’s health would have allowed Sean Miller to be able to play a more fleet-a-foot big at the five without going to a small lineup.
That doesn’t sound like much, but in a game that went to overtime when only one guy on the winning team had a good game, slowing him down even a little bit would have been the difference.
Maybe Sean Miller still winds up without a title. Maybe Kentucky’s 2014 team was just a team of destiny that ran into Shabazz Napier and another team of destiny in the title game. Or maybe, with Ashley in the fold, the best team in college basketball goes out and wins themselves a national title in a down year.
We’ll never know, but it may go down in history as Miller’s best chance at a ring.
6. WHAT IF BRANDON DAVIES DOESN’T GET AN HONOR CODE VIOLATION?
On the same day that a then-27-2 BYU team was ranked No. 3 in the AP poll for the first time ever, Brandon Davies was in the process of learning that he would no longer be a part of that team.
On Monday, Feb. 28th, just two days removed from beating San Diego State and Kawhi Leonard by 13 points on the road in a top ten showdown, the school was made aware of an honor code violation that was committed by Davies – he reportedly had sexual relations, something that is not allowed by the school. Davies admitted it, and the next morning the school announced that he was suspended for the rest of the season. On that Wednesday, they got blown out at home by New Mexico and would never be the same team.
San Diego State got their revenge in the Mountain West title game with an 18 point win. The Cougars would bow out of the NCAA tournament with an overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16. And that was the end of Jimmermania.
Davies was the most athletic member of BYU’s frontcourt that season. He was their third-leading scorer, their leading rebounder and one of just two players on that roster that would go on to play in the NBA. His loss was a devastating blow, one that cost us a chance to see if Jimmer could play his way into the final weekend of the season.
In a year where the Final Four consisted of a three-seed, a four-seed, an eight-seed and an 11-seed, anything could have happened.
Just imagine a national title game that featured Jimmer vs. Kemba.
It definitely would have been more exciting than this.
Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season.
It’s Holiday Tournament time!
Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.
So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.
1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
WHEN: Nov. 27-29
Michigan vs. Iowa State
No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon
FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.
I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.
FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.
TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?
FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.
4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.) TICKETS: Click here
Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU
FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.
TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?
PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCU–Tennessee.
5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
Miami vs. Missouri State
Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
UConn vs. Buffalo
FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?
TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?
PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.
6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
Mississippi State vs. Tulane
Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
Utah vs. Coastal Carolina
FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.
TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.
7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1 TICKETS: Click here
No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
Texas A&M vs. Harvard
USC vs. Fairfield
Marquette vs. Davidson
FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.
Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?
PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.
8. LEGENDS CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Wisconsin vs. Richmond
No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico
FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.
TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Auburn–Wisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.
FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.
10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun) TICKETS: Click here
No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
Arizona State vs. St. John’s
FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.
PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.
11. WOODEN LEGACY
WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim) TICKETS: Click here
Providence vs. Long Beach State
Wake Forest vs. Charleston
UCF vs. Penn
Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona
FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for Arizona–Providence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.
12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City) TICKETS: Click here
Butler vs. Missouri
Oklahoma vs. Stanford
FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.
TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.
13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT
WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas) TICKETS: Click here
No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
Clemson vs. TCU
FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?
TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.
14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Ole Miss vs. Penn State
Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse
FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.
TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …
IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.
15. CANCUN CHALLENGE
WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27
Wichita State vs. South Carolina
Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia
FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.
TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.
16. PARADISE JAM
WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)
Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
Nevada vs. Fordham
Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green
FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.
TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season
PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?
Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue
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.