Jan. 23, 2017
What We've Learned: NCAAM Basketball
Conference games are just beginning in men's basketball, and so is the fun. Conference play is an indicator of madness to come, and basketball fans everywhere anxiously wait for the pinnacle of sporting competition. The season is old enough now that speculations about teams have been put to rest, and it is easier to make claims about teams across the nation. Some teams have flourished under the spot light, and have seen a great deal of success in their non-conference schedules. Others have felt the pressure of all of the eyes on them and crumbled. Some players have stepped up from the shadows to lead their teams to victory. Others who received preseason hype are failing to live up to expectations. As such, let's see what there was to learn from the games played thus far in NCAA men's basketball.
Villanova is a very good basketball team, and Josh Hart is their leader.
Josh Hart shocked the basketball world when he decided to return for his senior campaign. A stellar junior campaign brought him a team high 15 points per game, a national championship, and a plethora of professional interest, Hart decided to stick it out with the Wildcats for one more go around. That decisions has paid off quite well for Villanova. Impressive wins against Purdue, Notre Dame, and Creighton were the crown jewels of a 14-0 start to the 2016-2017 season. Despite a recent loss to conference foe Butler, Villanova is still a strong team, and should be a 1 or 2 seed once tournament time comes around.
Indiana is the most confusing team in the nation.
I'm not sure how to feel about Indiana yet. The Hoosiers have arguably the two biggest wins of any team in the nation, toting victories over Kansas and North Carolina. They seem to bring their best game when all eyes are on them, which could be helpful in the tournament. Their losses, on the other hand, are hard to explain. Their inaugural loss of the season was to Fort Wayne. This was a case of little brother beating up on big brother, those happen sometimes. IU then seemed to get their feet back under them, winning their next 5 games straight. Since the 5 game win streak, IU has dropped 4 of 6 games. The losses have come to the hands of teams like Nebraska and Butler. The Hoosiers seem to have an issue with effort. They have the star power to be a powerhouse this year. Tom Crean has to find a way to rally the troops and make them play as one.
UCLA has more superstars than Lonzo Ball on the roster.
Sports media everywhere has been drooling over freshman Lonzo Ball's play this season. He is deserving of it, too. Ball's natural athleticism is a spectacle every sports fan adores. His high-flying dunks and spectacular passes make him a must see commodity. But, it is not the Lonzo Ball show in Los Angeles. Fellow freshman TJ Leaf is averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds a game. Coach's son Bryce Alford is pouring in 16 a game for the Bruins. UCLA is young, athletic, and can score from anywhere on the floor. In addition, they have quite the extensive bench. The Bruins should be a dangerous title contender come March.
Louisville will be a tough game for anyone.
The Cardinals have been dominant on defense this season. Their 61.5 average points allowed ranks 18th in the nation currently. Louisville has yet to let a team score 80 points on them. That is no small feat, especially against some red hot offenses like Kentucky, IU, and Virginia. Thus far, Louisville has 107 steals and 98 blocks. Defense wins championships, and Louisville undoubtedly has a strong one. On the same hand, Louisville doesn't put up that many points because they don't need to. If they get into a situation where a team makes everything they shoot, things could get sticky. If the Cardinals prove themselves as having potent offensive potential, they will be a definite favorite for a deep tournament run.
Gonzaga has not gotten the attention they deserve.
What a season Gonzaga has had so far. My question is, why are they not all over the headlines? The Bulldogs have done everything right this season. In the games they should win, they win easily. Versus small conference opponents, Gonzaga usually wins by about 20 points. This includes a 109-70 thrashing of Bryant and a 92-62 win over Pepperdine. As for the more formidable opponents, Gonzaga has taken care of business, hence why they're still defeated. Up to this point, they've beaten Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Washington. The Bulldogs have an impressive season built currently, and Saint Mary's seems to be the only team standing between them and an undefeated campaign. The one-two punch of Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski lead the offense, averaging 13.8 and 12.7 points per game, respectively. The Bulldogs can put points up in a hurry, and have an above average defense, good enough to make them a tournament threat. Gonzaga will make more news as they inch closer to a perfect season, but you heard it here first, Gonzaga is nothing to mess with.