May. 30, 2016
Trying to Sort Out College Hoops
Well, this season is officially one of the wildest and best we probably will ever have. Think about it this way, six ranked ACC teams (but none in the top four), the highest rated Big Ten team is #14, behind teams including three Big East, three Big 12 and Gonzaga. Defending champion Villanova is number one for now, but it won't last forever. UCLA is in the top five for the first time in many years, probably since Darren Collison was there. This might be the best Gonzaga team yet, and they are only ranked seventh. Ditto for Creighton, and that includes the Doug McDermott teams. North Carolina and Kentucky have looked like the best teams in the country, and they aren't in the top five. Oh, and did you know that Middle Tennessee (not the one in Knoxville, just to be clear) is sixth in RPI? I guess what I'm trying to understand is, where will this all be come March? I'm going to be going by conference to sort things out a bit easier.
Gonzaga is going to keep climbing the rankings, mainly because they have such a good team and have only Saint Mary's on the schedule, so they have an inside track at a number one seed. They are 11-0 with wins over Florida, Arizona and Iowa State, and they've also added Washington and San Diego State to that tally. I know they don't have anybody left on their schedule except Saint Mary's, but those wins are going to look better and better as the season goes on, and F Lauri Markkanen of Arizona might be the number one pick in the draft. At this point nobody outside of Gonzaga has a real shot at a one seed.
Another team that benefits from a "soft" remainder of the schedule is Kentucky, who will continue to follow Isaiah Briscoe and five five star freshmen into battle. The only real competition for Kentucky is South Carolina and Florida in the SEC, and they are both miles behind the Wildcats. Arkansas, LSU and Auburn are all fraudulent, Ole Miss will be forever a 4-8 seed in the conference tournament, and Georgia can't beat top ten teams with just two players. Kentucky will wind up with a one seed.
As far as the Big East is concerned, Villanova isn't as good as last year, and they aren't deep enough to make it through the Big East unscathed. They have two games against Butler, Creighton and Xavier, along with Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence, so I doubt the Wildcats go undefeated. If they do, look out, because those are some high quality teams and this isn't a team to mess with. Creighton is also undefeated, and have wins over Ole Miss, NC State and Wisconsin. They have a shot at a top seed as well.
When it comes to the Big 12, you always lean Kansas. Even when an Oklahoma team has four star seniors and a great junior point guard, you lean in favor of Kansas. If LeBron James played for Texas, you lean towards Kansas. As long as Bill Self is in Lawrence, you lean towards Kansas. I don't care if Baylor won a best of seven series vs. the Golden State Warriors, I won't pick against Kansas anymore until they prove me wrong. I understand Baylor and West Virginia look like they might have great seasons, but Kansas has that look too. This isn't a down year for the Jayhawks where another Big 12 team has a chance to swoop in, this is a year where they have the best backcourt in America and a potential number one pick at forward.
In the Pac-12, I'm still not so sure about UCLA. Arizona and Oregon both have really good teams, and Washington is capable of winning any game with Markelle Fultz on the roster. USC and Stanford also look better than expected, while Colorado and Utah have not fallen as far off either. California is also looking to have a good season too. At this point, UCLA has proven it deserves the edge in the conference, but Arizona and Oregon have been there and done that more recently. I think Arizona wins the Pac-12, but UCLA still will have a shot at a one seed.
This conference is no longer completely top heavy, as a good Syracuse team, a Dennis Smith-led NC State team lead a group of underachievers at the middle and bottom of the ACC standings. The conference still runs through the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area, but Virginia and Louisville are both right there. Florida State, with two potential lottery picks, also just has one loss and Notre Dame doesn't seem to mind the early exit of PG Demetrius Jackson. That's not to forget Clemson, Pittsburgh or Virginia Tech. Honestly, every team besides Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech can win this conference, but if Duke can return a healthy Harry Giles, I think Duke wins it.
This conference is probably the hardest to predict, mainly because nobody seems to want to stand out. The Wisconsin Badgers have played well outside of a game in Maui against North Carolina, Purdue has a dynamic frontcourt, and Indiana will light up the scoreboard, but after that it's anybody's guess. Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers??? are all overachieving, where Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa are supremely underachieving. Northwestern is still Northwestern, and Penn State will always suck at basketball. Ohio State has officially joined Illinois in basketball purgatory. I think Wisconsin wins this conference, but probably won't end up with better than a three seed.