The college football season has come to a close with Clemson pulling off the upset over Alabama in the National Championship Game. I didn’t watch because I truly had no interest in watching the same game for a second year in a row, but also because I had already fully immersed myself in the wonderful world of college basketball!
It’s tough to pay a ton of attention during the non-conference season considering college football is entering it’s postseason, but now that conference play has begun, it’s time for me to start focusing more on the basketball season, and an interesting one at that.
We already have just one undefeated team remaining (Gonzaga), and the field appears to be pretty wide open. There are about 10-15 teams that at this point have a legitimate argument for why they will win the National Championship, and I think that’s a great thing.
I’m going to be pretty busy with work this season, so I won’t be posting quite as much content as I did last basketball season, but you can look forward to some weekend preview posts (like this one), as well as Top-25 and Bracketology posts. So for my first post of the college basketball season, here is a preview of the biggest games this weekend, as well as a quick look at my Top-25.
#7 Duke (14-3, 2-2 ACC) at #14 Louisville (14-3, 2-2 ACC)
Sat 1/14, 12:00 noon, ESPN
Love that we’re starting off the day with a great one like this! Louisville is flying a little under the radar, but they are a very good team, boasting wins this season over Wichita State, Purdue, Indiana and Kentucky. According to Kenpom.com, Louisville has the most efficient defense in the nation, but that defense will be put to the test by a Duke team overflowing with talent. Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, just so much talent. That being said, that talent is struggling to mesh as a team, and they need to play team basketball to defeat Louisville. The Blue Devils are likely to be without center Amile Jefferson once again, and as you probably know, Coach K recently had back surgery and will miss the game as well. Without those two, pulling out a road victory over Louisville would be extremely impressive.
#15 Xavier (13-3, 3-1 BE) at #12 Butler (14-3,3-2 BE)
Sat 1/14, 2:00 pm, FS1
The Big East is a meat grinder this season. These teams are going to beat each other up, but I expect the ones that make the Tournament to be better off for it. This is a matchup of Top-15 teams, one of which was expected to be good, the other a bit of a surprise. Many experts saw Xavier as the team best positioned to challenge Villanova for the Big East crown, led by Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, but they have yet to earn that “feather in the cap” victory that they need to prove themselves a legitimate contender. They are coming off a 79-54 drubbing in Philly by Nova on Tuesday night. They’re looking to get back on track against the Butler Bulldogs, who just seem to be right there in the mix every season. The Bulldogs are led by junior forward Kelan Martin, one of the best players in the Big East. Butler seems to play their best on the big stage, with wins this season over Arizona, Indiana, Cincinnati and Villanova, but they also have losses to Indiana State and St. John’s. They are a perfect 9-0 at home, and will look to extend that winning streak on Saturday afternoon.
#9 Florida State (16-1, 4-0 ACC) at #11 North Carolina (15-3, 3-1 ACC)
Sat 1/14, 2:00 pm, ESPN
The ACC is stacked once again, and you may not realize it, but Florida State might be the best team in the conference. The Seminoles are 4-0 in the conference with wins over Top-10 teams Virginia and Duke, as well as likely Tournament teams Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac are all legitimate stars, and are the foundation of what is likely the best team Leonard Hamilton has had in Tallahassee. This will be the toughest test for the Seminoles as they head to Chapel Hill to battle the Tar Heels. It hasn’t been the best start to the ACC season for UNC, as they opened with a loss to Georgia Tech, then needed overtime to defeat Clemson and were pushed to the limit Wednesday night by Wake Forest. If North Carolina wants to win a National Championship, they need to start playing much better, and getting a victory over one of the hottest teams in the country in Florida State would be a great way to get back on the right track.
#10 West Virginia (14-2, 3-1 B12) at Texas (7-9, 1-3 B12)
Sat 1/14, 4:00, ESPN2
As far as the quality of the games go, this probably won’t be the best one you can watch on Saturday, but I’m pointing it out because West Virginia is a team that you should start to become familiar with. They are without question one of the top five teams in the nation, and are a legitimate contender for the National Championship. You probably can’t name a single player on their team, and that’s okay, because I think that’s the way they like it. When they go into a set offense, Nathan Adrian is the inside-out threat, standing 6-9 with the ability to step outside and hit jump shots. But the Mountaineers thrive in the full court pressure defense, forcing steals at an incredible rate. Their guard trio of Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip are spectacular defensively. West Virginia is one of two teams that Kenpom.com has in the Top-10 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency (Kentucky is the other), and I’m telling you, start watching them now, because they are going to be a major factor in March.
#1 Baylor (15-1, 3-1 B12) at #25 Kansas State (13-3, 2-2 B12)
Sat 1/14, 4:30 pm, ESPNU
Baylor won’t be ranked #1 for long, considering their 89-68 loss on Tuesday night to West Virginia, but that just means they’ll be hungry to get back to their winning ways as they travel to Manhattan to take on a very good Kansas State team. The Wildcats were absolutely screwed by the officials in a 90-88 loss at Kansas on January 3, and they are coming off a one-point loss in Lubbock against Texas Tech this past Tuesday, so they too will be motivated, with a huge chance to give Baylor their second consecutive loss. K-State’s three losses are by a combined four points (!!!), so this team is legit. Baylor will need big games from their big men, Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil, if they’re going to pull off the road victory over the Wildcats.
Wichita State (15-3, 5-0 MVC) at Illinois State (13-4, 4-0 MVC)
Sat 1/14, 8:00 pm, ESPN2
This matchup will be a battle between the two favorites to secure the Missouri Valley Conference’s auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. This is not the Wichita State team that you are used to from the last few years, but don’t let that fool you, this is still an extremely solid team. They are led by forwards Markis McDuffee and Darral Willis, and their three losses are all to likely Tournament teams Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma State. They are the odds-on favorites to win the MVC, but Illinois State will be the biggest roadblock. The Redbirds have a formidable frontcourt, led by juniors Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh, who both average over 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. There aren’t many teams in the MVC who can matchup with Wichita State’s frontcourt, but Illinois State most certainly can. If the Redbirds want to challenge for the MVC title, they need to take this game from the Shockers on their home court.
#21 Saint Mary’s (15-1, 5-0 WCC) at #5 Gonzaga (16-0, 4-0 WCC)
Sat 1/14, 10:00 pm, ESPN2
Mark Few is a borderline magician. It is amazing what he is able to do at a school like Gonzaga. The Zags have been to the NCAA Tournament 18 consecutive seasons, and they are without a doubt going to make it 19 straight this year. The difference between this year and a lot of others is that they are a legitimate threat to win the National Championship. Few has had some great teams, but I think this is his best one yet. Przemek Karnowski is one of the best big men in the nation, and guards Jordan Mathews, Josh Perkins and Washington-transfer Nigel Williams-Goss run the show for the Bulldogs, each averaging double-digit points and each shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. That is incredible, and that is what gives them a shot to run the table and enter the Tournament undefeated. Standing in their way are the Saint Mary’s Gaels, who are one of the best teams that you know nothing about. The Gaels are the 13th best team in the nation according to Kenpom.com, so don’t think for one second that they can’t go to Spokane and pull off the upset. They swept the Zags last season, and you know they’ll be motivated to do it again. 6-11 junior forward Jock Landale is the best player you’ve never heard of, averaging 17.8 points and 9.7 assists per game. He is easily capable of taking over any game he plays in, and if he does on Saturday night, we could be left with no more undefeated teams.
Iowa (11-7, 3-2 B10) at Northwestern (14-4, 3-2 B10)
Sun 1/15, 7:30 pm, BTN
The Sunday slate this week isn’t the strongest, so I’ll showcase the Northwestern Wildcats, who believe it or not are attempting to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Yes, you read that right. Northwestern has never reached the Tournament in men’s basketball. This season is the best chance that they’ve had in a very long time. The Wildcats suffered early losses to Butler and Notre Dame by only a combined six points, and their two Big Ten losses are to Michigan State and Minnesota, two teams likely to also reach the Tournament. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law make up the core of this team that is looking to make some major noise in the wide open Big Ten. Keep a close eye on Northwestern. I’m rooting for them to finally make the Tourney, and I think most basketball fans will do the same!
I will have a more extensive and detailed version of my Top-25 early next week, but as of today, here are who I believe are the best 25 teams in the country.
- West Virginia
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- Notre Dame
- Saint Mary’s
- Kansas State
- Iowa State