Just a few weeks into this college basketball season, there has been no shortage of drama and intensity between the country’s top teams. Some have already begun to live up to their preseason hype, some have faltered a bit, and others have emerged as possible contenders. Let’s go over a few of the biggest stories thus far:
Duke The Blue Devils came into the year as the consensus #1 team in the nation, and have done nothing to change that opinion. Knocking off Michigan State in a then #1 vs #2 matchup showed just how much firepower Duke has this year. With Grayson Allen playing on an entirely new level – and Bagley and Duval contributing in major ways already – Duke is a force to be reckoned with.
Michigan State Michigan State faltered a bit out of the gate, but no one can fault the hard-fought loss to the Blue Devils. Miles Bridges is now “day to day” with an ankle sprain, a cause for concern for many. This, however, is just a minor setback. The Spartans will be fine.
USC Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical of USC coming into the season. All the talk of all five starters returning was a major talking point, but USC barely made the tournament last season with the same five. However, a gutsy road trip to Vanderbilt resulted in one of the games of the year thus far. Jordan McLaughlin tied the game on a long 3-ball, sending the game to overtime where the Trojans finished the win off in style. This is a great win and one that shows that USC is a contender this season.
Minnesota The Golden Gophers have looked as good as any team in the nation, boosted by a very solid road win over Providence already on the resume. Richard Pitino has Minnesota in a great spot, and with a Big 10 Championship not out of the question – this is truly a program on the rise.
Xavier Chris Mack and Trevon Bluiett have Xavier rolling early with a big win at Wisconsin. The Musketeers have exploded on offense, averaging 94 points through their first three games. The X-factor for this Xavier team is clearly JP Macura, bringing leadership, poise, and maturity to a team loaded with talent.
Purdue The combination play of Isaac Haas and the Vince/Carsen Edwards duo has Purdue flying high early in the season. A statement win at Marquette had analysts across the country drooling over this gritty and experienced group.
Seton Hall Similar to Purdue, the Pirates have ample experience on the roster. Another team with all five starters returning is complimented by the much-improved play of sophomore Myles Powell and a deep, talented freshman class. Playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in basketball, the next 5 games will show what type of team the Pirates really are.
Virginia The underrated Cavaliers have started hot, especially on the defensive end. Credit must be given to Tony Bennett for his non-conference scheduling, with away games at VCU and West Virginia that many big-brand teams would never have scheduled. This is also complimented with matchups against Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, and potentially Seton Hall.
Texas Tech The Red Raiders have stormed onto the scene with a solid neutral court win over Boston College serving as a prelude to the obliteration of Northwestern a few nights later. Tech looked exceptional in every facet of the game, dominating the now unranked Wildcats by 36.
Nevada A mid-major but a contender nonetheless, Nevada is home to one of the most lethal cores in the country. Jordan Caroline is a potential NBA player and the Caleb/Cody Martin pair adds an average of 32 points per game. In a mediocre Mountain West, Nevada likely needs only turn aside Boise State to earn a bid. However, this team is capable of an at-large bid should it come to that, proven in its win over Rhode Island.
UT Arlington The Mavericks have only played two games thus far, but the college basketball world must take note of a convincing away win at BYU. Next up will provide Arlington a real look in the mirror – a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama. Like Nevada, UTA should have little to no problems in conference play and will have an outside chance at an at-large bid if needed.
Northwestern Wow. After a magical season, many expected the Wildcats to come out firing and take over the Big 10. Just the opposite has occurred, as Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay have struggled to lead this group, losers of two games already – a home loss to Creighton and a demolition at the hands of Texas Tech.
Wake Forest Wow….. wow. This one is simply excruciating to discuss. A bubble team in our preseason bracket, Wake has started in a fashion that is about as awful as humanly possible. Neutral court losses to Drake and Houston (!) were preceded by two home losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty (!!!) – simply dreadful from Danny Manning’s squad. As Jon Rothstein would say, their current state is the epitome of brutality.
Saint Bonaventure A heartbreaking loss to Niagra on opening night without their star Jaylen Adams immediately adds a bad loss to the Bonnies’ tournament resume. Most won’t be thinking resume this early in the year, but we have a feeling that St. Bonaventure will be as bubbly as any team across the country this season. Chances to redeem themselves with solid wins are there for the taking, as Maryland and Syracuse loom on the upcoming schedule.