I feel like most years I get to reasonably write this sentence: “There is s a ton of parity in college basketball this season.” But seriously, there’s a TON of parity in college basketball this season.
Take the ACC where after one week of play, only two teams remain perfect (Notre Dame and Florida State) and only one team remains winless – if you follow me on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs or generally follow the minutiae of college basketball you might already know this answer to this fun trivia question – the lone winless squad? Yup, #9 Louisville. Ninth in the country, fifteenth in the ACC.
Parity, man. Parity.
Duke is 1-1 with a 14-point loss at Virginia Tech and a 53-point win over Georgia Tech for a what HAS to be a record 67+/- swing in their first two ACC games. Virginia Tech, of course, followed up their “program changing” win with a 26-point loss to NC State. Today the circus moves to new cities with Duke hosting BC, Pitt at Syracuse, VA Tech at Florida State, L’Ville at GA Tech, Clemson at Notre Dame and NC State at UNC. You go 6-0 straight up in all of those games at your own peril…(though with the spread, I have a few likes today)
Alas, before I stake the 19-9 ATS mark on The Saturday Edge to some more scrutiny, here’s a quick look at Bracketeering for January 7th, my own personal slant on the Top 16 teams in the country if the tournament were played tomorrow. Again, I am not interested in polls. Polls (sic) are for strippers, and rankings are just there to throw red herrings at the general public wagering on games. The Committee doesn’t use them, and Vegas SURE doesn’t. This is MY TAKE on who the best teams are if the Tournament was played tomorrow.
As always, feel free to agree, disagree, mock or gently troll @TheMarchManiacs (and yes, Indiana in the Elite Eight two weeks ago was a, um, slight whiff. Ugh….) I’ll keep it brief today since I want to get to a handful of picks ATS as well…
BRACKETEERING – JANUARY 7th
West Virginia, Oregon, Creighton, Butler, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Arizona, Florida State
Man, this was a tough cut. I’d listen to arguments for Xavier, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville (despite the 0-2 ACC start), Florida, Cincinnati, USC, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana (stubborn, maybe, but still have wins over UNC and Kansas), St. Mary’s, Clemson, Dayton, and about ten more teams. But the above are my eight for the Sweet Sixteen.
West Virginia doesn’t have big names, but MAN they defend and will be a tough out for anyone. They have road wins at Virginia and Okie State and their recent loss was a 77-76 road loss at underrated Texas Tech (oh, add them to the fifty team glut listed above). They are 13-2 and a nightmare for opposing guards.
Oregon is in my Sweet Sixteen with a bullet. The dramatic win over UCLA was one of the two signature moments of the early season. The follow up thrashing of USC was impressive as well. This was a preseason Top 5 team who is finally healthy. Don’t be surprised to see Oregon leapfrog one of the Elite Eight in my next rankings.
Florida State and Notre Dame are the only perfect ACC teams, but that’s not why I have them here. Florida State has NBA-level talent and now owns wins over Minnesota, Florida and @Virginia. Their lone loss was a neutral to Temple. Things get real starting today with a game hosting VA Tech then a visit from Duke. Likewise, Notre Dame owns wins over Northwestern, Colorado, Iowa, Louisville and @Pitt. The road is never easy in the ACC with 13 teams still harboring NCAA dreams, so their next two weeks featuring Clemson, @Miami, @VA Tech and @Florida State is tough, but about par for the course, but Mike Brey’s squad has a Spurs-ian quality to them; unassuming stars and smart, turnover-free, floor-spacing offensive efficiency.
Then there’s Wisconsin. It’s getting tougher and tougher to figure out WHO is actually GOOD in the Big Ten. The ACC feels like parity. The Big Ten feels like mediocrity. Perhaps that isn’t fair, but because of the success of Nebraska and Minnesota, coupled with a rough start for Michigan State, down years for Michigan and Ohio State and the banana peel Indiana slipped on – it just feels like the league is just a little down. But Wisky has legit talent and experience from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad and appears to be the best, though I’m not giving up on the size and depth of Purdue and expect Michigan State to be Top 20 by tourney time.
The Big East has three legit contenders for Villanova’s throne, but I’ll give the ranking edge to Butler. I’ve been slow to come around on them, but now that they own wins over Indiana, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Arizona, Utah and Villanova, it’s time to let the St. John’s loss go and give the ‘Dogs their due.
Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Baylor
Kansas and North Carolina still have easy Final Four ceilings, but the near-loss at home to Kansas State and North Carolina’s complete no-show at Georgia Tech slot them a peg behind my Final Four. Meanwhile, it is probably time to admit that if Gonzaga wins at St. Mary’ (a big IF, the Gaels are really good) they will likely enter the WCC Tourney as the nation’s lone unbeaten team.
And Baylor. I do not dispute they DESERVE to be the #1 team in Monday’s poll. They are unbeaten, and no one else in a Power Conference is. But I still hold fast to the belief that their ceiling is far lower than the seven teams I have above them. They beat Oregon at home without Dillon Brooks and they beat Xavier, also at home. They had a nice tournament in the Bahamas, knocking off VCU, Louisville, and Michigan State. But I think the near-loss at home to Iowa State is a show of some vulnerability and I expect them to fall from the unbeaten perch this week at West Virginia en route to four or five more losses before March. Win THAT game in Morgantown, and I’ll eat my words and reconsider.
#4 Kentucky – the ceiling is SO, SO high, but their shooting is occasionally iffy. That puts them a notch behind Villanova, Duke and UCLA. I would be surprised if the Cats lose more than two in the SEC and should enter March as a solid #1 seed.
#3 Villanova – A loss at Butler isn’t a big deal, but it does end a pretty magical run of being able to consistently edge teams out in the final minute. Villanova still has a top National POY candidate in Josh Hart, an elite shot maker in Kris Jenkins and elite point guard in Jalen Brunson. They share the ball as well as just about any team in the country and rarely beat themselves. Villanova is no fluke. They are one of the top programs in the country and a likely #1 seed again this March.
#2 Duke – I’ve been resolutely steadfast in keeping Duke #1 despite some shaky moments. But with Coach K missing time with his back surgery, all the Grayson Allen drama, the depth and relentlessness of the ACC (and of course that VA Tech thrashing) and the still-not-yet-complete integration of all their stunning freshman talent, there is still room for some questioning with Duke. They should cruise today at home against BC, but after that, Jeff Capel will have to guide the Devils through a gauntlet that includes trips to Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame.
That said, dropping Duke to #2 was LESS about “dropping Duke” as it was about elevating this team…
#1 UCLA – If you haven’t stayed up to watch this team play basketball, you are missing out on one of the most beautiful teams I have seen in years. It isn’t just that they are “good” – it is HOW DIFFERENT they look from any other team playing right now. They have some of the Golden State Warriors aesthetics going for them; the create shots so creatively and willingly for a floor balanced with deadly shooter – I am not exaggerating when I say they play breathtakingly beautiful basketball.
Much of it is Lonzo Ball. He impacts a basketball game without scoring as much as any player since Jason Kidd. He, gasp blasphemy, reminds me a little of Magic Johnson early in his career. The jump shot isn’t amazing (and frankly, UGLY), but the playing style and court vision are so uniquely similar.
Add in the Thomas Welsh, TJ Leaf (legit All American candidate despite the huge shadow of Ball), Issac Hamilton, Aaron Holliday (best 6th man in the country, hands-down) and the veteran presence and assassin shooting of Bryce Alford and this team is so balanced, deep and offesnively lethal. Yeah, I’d like them to defend a little more, but when you can hang a hundy in Rupp, you can let some defensive lapses slide.
They are the best team in the country right now by the eye test, and my #1 team.
That’s my take. Again – room for debate, which is the beauty of college hoops in January. So let me have it 😉 @TheMarchManiacs
Here’s a few Saturday Favorite Plays:
Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish -5
I’m tempted to take the points in most ACC matchups right now. I really like Notre Dame, but Clemson is a solid team and five points is a decent cushion. Clemson is actually ranked slightly higher in KenPom, and will be a little salty after the testy overtime loss to North Carolina three days ago. Jarron Blossomgame is a matchup nightmare for the Irish and I think he keeps this game close.
Nothing’s impossible in the ACC, so strap up for what could/should be another thriller.
My Pick: Clemson Tigers +5
Louisville Cardinals at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets +13.5
Forget the 54-point pasting the Jackets just took from Duke. That game got away from them in a major way. Instead, look to last weekend’s home WIN over North Carolina. It’ll be tough to beat a desperate and talented Cardinal squad today who won’t be overlooking anyone as the ACC’s lone winless team. But 13.5 is a lot to cover on the road, especially against a team who has already shown they can defend their home arena the win over Carolina.
My PICK: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets +13.5
North Carolina State Wolfpack at North Carolina Tar Heels -13.5
Another ACC game, another game where I’ll take the points. When parity runs amuck, take the points – it’s a good general wagering and handicapping maxim. North Carolina certainly has a high ceiling, but they haven’t been playing at it often since the Kentucky game. Meanwhile North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Jr. is LEGIT. Joel Barry will have his hands full trying to contain the future Lottery Pick.
Look for the Wolfpack to compete in this rivalry game and keep things interesting.
My PICK: North Carolina State +13.5