Welcome back to college basketball, friends that have been in a football cave! It’s been an exciting season as the parity in the game has never been stronger, with more teams contesting for NCAA bids and the top of the polls than we’ve seen in years. It’s a game of parity, and sometimes the bottom games aren’t as appealing to watch, but the top of the product is as deep and good as it has been in years.
The NCAA tournaments kicks off on March 17th, and one month from today the first conference tournaments get underway. Here’s some of the major storylines from the college basketball season so far:
Nobody is flawless
There’s not a team in America you’d say is ready for prime time. The No. 1 Baylor Bears are 19-1 and certainly deserving of that slot, their only loss being at a very mediocre Washington team in early November. But they don’t exactly exude what normally wins in college basketball in 2020: they only shoot 35.1% from three-point range, and are just seventh in SRS (Simple Rating System) that factors in schedule strength with margin of victory.
The Kansas Jayhawks are No. 3, with losses to Duke at MSG, at Villanova, and Baylor at home. But can they win it all? They defend well, but if they can’t beat you inside they struggle as well. The No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs? Undefeated, but zero Top 25 wins too, and some games with scores closer than you’d like to see (won by four at a pedestrian UNLV last week).
Last year on this week’s poll (Week 14), the Top 25 had combined for 90 losses, and this year it’s 98. There were two mid-majors in the Top 10 last year (Gonzaga and Nevada), and now it’s three. With the transfer portal wide open, and more talent in prep and AAU basketball than ever, there’s never been more parity. There’s upsets basically every night, which makes for an exciting product downstream, if a bit muddled at the top.
The ACC is in crisis
Though Duke, Louisville, and FSU are in the mix for the national championship, it’s very possible they’re the only teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference that are even getting invited to the tournament. Virginia (14-6, 6-4 ACC) is probably in now due to their win over FSU last week, but they also got smoked by Purdue and lost by double-digits to South Carolina and Boston College. Syracuse (13-9, 6-5 ACC) can still probably get there too, but they’ve got losses to teams like Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech that are pretty bad.
The last time the league that takes basketball the most seriously only had three bids? 2000. And they only had nine teams then, not 15. Yikes.
The Big 10 might overwhelm the bracket
There are 14 teams in the poorly-named Big 10, and right now 10 (TEN!!) would get into the dance if the bracket was released tomorrow. The depth of the league is stunning, with 12 teams in the top 52 by the NCAA’s NET ranking. And according to CBS’s bracketologist Jerry Palm, none of them would even be in Dayton for the First Four — plus Minnesota and Purdue can certainly still sneak their way in as well. But as of now all 10 would go directly to their first-round site, with Indiana the lowest-seeded team as a No. 9.
It’s one of the more phenomenal seasons for any conference in the modern era, and will give the NCAA committee nightmares with bracketing principles pushing them to prevent conference teams from facing each other until the Elite Eight.
There’s fun players to watch!
Though the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft James Wiseman had enough of the NCAA’s foolishness and has left Memphis, No. 2 should go to Anthony Edwards of Georgia. He’s a lightning quick 18-year-old shooting guard that is explosive and projects as an excellent pro. Cole Anthony came back for North Carolina on Saturday after minor knee surgery in December, and they desperately need him as their season has gone off the rails. His airball at the end not withstanding, his 26 points off the bench after six weeks off shows his potential to scouts at the next level.
Other players like The Tyrese’s: (Haliburton at Iowa State, Maxey at Kentucky) and Nico Mannion at Arizona are all projected lottery picks as well.
Guys that aren’t necessarily NBA value people but will keep your attention include Precious Achiuwa at Memphis, a rebounding machine, and Markus Howard at Marquette, who puts up a casual 27.9 points per game for a Big East team.