As always, the last week of tournament play did not disappoint. Duke was down at halftime in all three of their tournament affairs and still managed to win. The Texas A&M Aggies looked legitimately competitive on both offense and defense in their tournament win over USC. Amongst the more dubious accomplishments was the second-ranked team in the country (Arizona) losing three games in a row in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. These are just a few snippets of what was an immensely entertaining week of college basketball and the intensity will only continue to elevate as straight up, compelling non-conference play commences.
1. Duke Blue Devils
It would be fair for fans and pundits to be somewhat concerned with this team’s unsustainable propensity to have to come back time after time. However, just looking at the nearly unprecedented talent of Marvin Bagley (22.3 PPG, 11.3 RPG) and it becomes abundantly clear that this program can overcome any deficit, against any team at any time. With the veteran and fearless shooting presence of senior guard Grayson Allen (43.9 3P%) and the passing prowess of freshman guard Trevon Duval (6.5 APG), the Blue Devils have the talent and coaching to only get better as the season wears on.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
The presumptive kings of the BIG 12, the Jayhawks are loaded with veteran and youthful talent. Senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has done an incredible job at embracing his position as the Jayhawks go-to scorer (18.8 PPG) while sophomore guard Udoka Azubuike has come into his own as both a trusted shooter (16.8 PPG, 77.6 FG%) and tenacious rebounder (7 RPG). This is just a small sample of the talent-laden Jayhawks, who do not appear to have any glaring weaknesses at this point in the season.
3. Villanova Wildcats
Even with the Wildcats struggling to put together a complete game, they have still managed to remain undefeated thanks to having both a great defense (63 PAPG) and offense (84.5 PPG). With junior guard Jalen Brunson leading his team in scoring (18.7 PPG) and assists (4.3 APG), the Wildcats have a strong veteran presence with great instincts when it comes to making the right play to help his team consistently succeed. With coach Jay Wright running the show from the sidelines, the Wildcats will only continue to improve on both sides of the ball, which is a scary thought considering how elite they already are.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Despite playing poorly on offense in their win against North Carolina, the Spartans defense was consistently oppressive as it held an incredibly talented Tar Heels program to just 45 points. With that said, the Spartans will be in some trouble if they continue to turnover the ball over at a rapid pace as their offense will continue to suffer as a result. Nevertheless, the return of sophomore guard Miles Bridges in conjunction with the outside shooting ability of sophomore guard Joshua Langford (47.6 3P%) should allow the Spartans to regroup and improve on their weaknesses.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
If you thought the Fighting Irish were deadly on offense last season, you have to bear witness to what is clearly an equally effective defense this year (60.2 PAPG). Already a fantastic scorer and rebounder, senior forward Bonzie Colson has become a tenacious defender (2.3 BPG, 1.8 SPG), which should allow him to be a top contender for the Wooden Award by the end of the season. As long as Colson can be this dynamic and dominant, he will continually provide the spark for a Fighting Irish program that looks ready to contend for a National Title.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
Since their close loss to Kansas earlier in the season, coach John Calipari has allowed his young team to run wild against four straight cupcake opponents. Freshman forward Kevin Knox has come on as the Wildcats leading scorer (16.1 PPG) while fearlessly using his length to rebound consistently. Although the Wildcats are still fairly raw, the top-notch athleticism is clearly their and Calipari will have his team more than ready once they get another opportunity to face a legitimate opponent.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where junior forward Jordan Murphy goes (22 PPG, 12.3 RPG) the Golden Gophers will inevitably follow. Aside from Marvin Bagley, Murphy may be the best two-way big man in basketball as he has scored and rebounded in double-figures in the Golden Gophers first five games of the season. Of course, Murphy has a great facilitator by his side in senior guard Nate Mason (4.1 APG, 13.7 PPG), who is more than comfortable with being a relatively unknown contributor to what has been a dominant Minnesota team.
8. Texas A&M Aggies
With wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma State and USC this season, the Aggies are one of the few teams that have proven their greatness this early on in the season. It all starts with junior center Tyler Davis (13.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.7 BPG) who has been simply sensational on both sides of the court. However, not to be outdone, junior forward DJ Hogg has taken his game to the next level as both his rebounding numbers (5.1 RPG last year, 7.3 RPG this year) and perimeter shooting percentage (36.7 3P% last year, 52.5 3P% this year) have improved mightily. As no team has come close to dispatching these Aggies yet, Texas A&M should be expected to break into the top-5 sooner rather than later.
9. Miami Hurricanes
For the Hurricanes, the defense is the name of the game (54 PAPG). With sophomore forward Dewan Hall being the teams leading scorer this season (13.4 PPG, has not taken a three-point shot this year), the Hurricanes appear to be relatively content with taking close-range shots while relying on their defense to provide them with numerous possession opportunities. With a highly-aggressive Minnesota program to contend with next, the Hurricanes will quickly discover if their dominant albeit one-dimensional style of basketball is sufficient enough to take down elite programs.
10. Florida Gators
Although the Gators ultimately fell victim to a resilient and tenacious Blue Devils team, they still emphatically displayed their potent offense (99.5 PPG) and impressive ball movement abilities (18 APG). Clearly, junior guard Jalen Hudson is the catalyst for the Gators current offensive surge (21.8 PPG, 47.5 3P%) while senior guard Chris Chiozza is a gritty two-way player (13.2 PPG, 6 RPG, 6.7 APG) that is hard to contain due to his tremendous versatility. Assuming the Gators continue on this frenetic offensive trajectory, this is a program that will seriously challenge both Kentucky and Texas A&M as the best SEC team.
11. Wichita State Shockers
While the loss to Notre Dame was nothing short of devastating, this is a well-coached program that could quickly develop into a national powerhouse. Between the shooting efficiency of sophomore guard Landry Shamet (15.8 PPG, 60 FG%) and the high-flying rebounding abilities of senior forward Rashard Kelly (8.8 RPG), the Shockers have some great players who know how to play their defined roles to near perfection. Although the offense will need to improve to take down the elite opposition, the talent and discipline are there for this program to grow and succeed as the season progresses.
12. North Carolina Tar Heels
Despite a dreadful loss to Michigan State in the PK80 tournament, the Tar Heels have, for the most part, looked fantastic as a deep offensive unit (84.8 PPG) and as a tenacious rebounding team (43.2 RPG). Now, with that being said, the Tar Heels have to quickly turnaround and beat a great defensive program in Michigan if they hope to put their most recent loss in the rearview mirror.
13. Cincinnati Bearcats
Like most talented programs, the Bearcats have easily dispatched their initial opponents and are chomping at the bit to prove themselves. Luckily for the Bearcats, December is right around the corner with Xavier and Florida equally anxious to sharpen their teeth against a formidable opponent. With the Bearcats offense (88.7 PPG) and defense (58.3 PAPG) currently firing on all cylinders, this is a program that is worth keeping a close eye on in the coming weeks.
14. USC Trojans
If the Trojans learned anything from their whipping at the hands of Texas A&M it is that you have to be more than just a proficient rebounding program (41.8 RPG). For starters, Bennie Boatwright needs to rediscover his efficiency at the free throw line (90.7 FT% last year, 70.8 FT% this year) while Jordan McLaughlin needs to be more than just a savvy ball-facilitator. Without question, the Trojans are a highly-talented program, they just need to look more dynamic and confident on both sides of the ball.
15. Baylor Bears
If senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (11.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG) and the Baylor Bears can continue to be this dominant on defense (59.4 PAPG), they could feasibly challenge Kansas for the BIG 12 Title by the end of the season. Until then, Baylor should be more than content with the production they are receiving from their veterans in senior guard Manu Lecomte (19 PPG) and senior forward Terry Maston (11 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 60 FG%). With Xavier and Wichita State on the schedule next, the Bears will look to establish a much more consistent presence offensively while staying true to their effective and relentless defensive nature.
16. Arizona Wildcats
What appeared to be a highly-potent offensive juggernaut initially now looks like a program without an identity. During their three-game losing streak, the Wildcats went from losing a shootout to NC State (90-84) to losing a defensive grudge match to SMU (66-60) and then finally appeared to give up on both sides of the ball in a blowout loss to Purdue (89-64). Considering the Wildcats possess immensely talented assets such as junior guard Allonzo Trier (24.5 PPG) and freshman forward Deandre Ayton (20.3 PPG, 12 RPG), their recent woes become that much more baffling.
17. Gonzaga Bulldogs
If the Bulldogs can address the glaring weakness when it comes to their inconsistent defense, this could be an accomplished, well-rounded program by the end of the season. With senior forward Johnathan Williams leading the team in points per game (17.2) and blocks per game (1.2), the Bulldogs have a tremendous veteran presence that can set the tone every game on both offense and defense. With Creighton and Villanova coming up in December, the Bulldogs can continue to bolster their resume with some more impressive non-conference wins.
18. Louisville Cardinals
While fans of the Cardinals are feeling alright despite the departures of Rick Pitino, the Cardinals 4-0 record could be the calm before the storm. With Purdue (a dangerous scoring program) and Seton Hall (an efficient defensive program) on the schedule next, the Cardinals will have a difficult time relying on their pure shooters. However, if the Cardinals can maintain their tenacity when it comes to rebounding (42.8 RPG), they may have a chance at overcoming both opponents despite their obvious issues when it comes to sharing the ball (14.5 APG).
19. Xavier Musketeers
Without shame, the Musketeers are fully aware that they will live or die by their high-scoring offense (91.2 PPG). Led by senior guard Trevon Bluiett (21.3 PPG, 51.3 sP%), the Musketeers can soundly handle most offensively challenged opposition, but will ultimately stumble against programs that have more talented shooters (see Arizona State) or that can rebound the ball consistently. With Baylor (41.2 RPG) and Cincinnati (47.3 RPG) on the schedule next, the Musketeers will need to be particularly proficient at shooting the basketball.
20. Virginia Cavaliers
As long as Tony Bennet is the coach of the Cavaliers, this is a program that will worry about defense first (52.3 PAPG) and offense second (73.3 PPG). With their last two wins coming over the likes of Vanderbilt and Rhode Island, the Cavaliers continue to prove that their supposedly outdated formula for success is still viable year after year. While the Cavaliers will need a decisive shooter to step up in a big way at some point this season, that can be a cause for concern when a respective opponent can prove that they can consistently score against what could be the best defense in the country.
21. Syracuse Orange
Although the Orange expectedly cruised through a weak five-game stretch to start the season, their defense (57.6 PAPG) and rebounding abilities (46.8 RPG) has the potential to carry this team through what will be a fairly tough three-game stretch (Maryland, Kansas, UConn). Freshman forward Oshae Brissett (9.2 PPG, 11.6 PPG) is already developing into a double-double machine while second-year guard Tyus Battle (48.6 FG%, 20 PPG) is a fearless and reliable shooter. Assuming the Orange can get this same type of production from the aforementioned players, they could quickly emerge has a highly-competitive ACC opponent.
22. Seton Hall Pirates
Despite a tough loss to what appears to be a very good Rhode Island program, the Pirates have stayed true to their relentless defensive style of basketball….and not much else. With senior forward Desi Rodriguez leading the team in points per game (17.8PG) in spite of a paltry perimeter shooting percentage (33.3 3P%), the Pirates are in danger of being exposed by teams that are proficient at guarding the paint. With Texas Tech coming up next, the Pirates will need every bit of senior center Angel Delgado’s rebounding prowess (9.3 RPG) to overcome a formidable BIG 12 opponent.
23. West Virginia Mountaineers
Since losing to Texas A&M in their first game of the season, the Mountaineers appeared to have rediscovered their dominant defensive ways (66.3 PAPG). However, with a close call victory over a Michael Porter-less Missouri program, the Mountaineers clearly still have some kinks to work out when it comes to shutting down the worthy competition. As the Mountaineers do not face a serious opponent until December 5th (Virginia), their place in rankings remains safe…for now.
24. Purdue Boilermakers
After looking dominant offensively during their first four games of the season, the Boilermakers succumbed to two non-conference opponents in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. Although Purdue somewhat redeemed their heartbreaking losses by taking down Arizona, there still has to be some concern about the Boilermakers lack of a true perimeter shooter outside of guard P.J. Thompson (57.1 3P%). However, the Boilermakers can get back on track with a win against a ranked Louisville program this week.
25. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Aside from a win over the Boston College Eagles a couple of weeks ago, the Red Raiders have not been challenged in their five other victories. However, the Red Raiders have certainly looked the part of an elite defensive team (55.3 PAPG) as senior guard Keenan Evans (2 SPG, 15 PPG) has been a tenacious defender for the Red Raiders and could very well be one of the more underrated two-way players in basketball. With Seton Hall next on the schedule, the Red Raiders will finally get an opportunity to prove that their brand of basketball can stifle reputable opposition.