We are a little over one month into the college basketball season and it has been a wild season to begin and with such a chaotic season there have been many surprising lessons to start and here are just a few observations from the first part of the season
This season is up for the taking
Last season it felt like Gonzaga’s championship to lose as it ran through the regular season and most of the postseason going 31-1 and losing only its singular game in the national championship against Baylor. The Bulldogs were the number one in the AP poll the entire season, this year is a much different story with three teams already have been ranked first with Gonzaga and Duke haven already lost as the top-ranked team.
With those two teams that have lost, the Purdue Boilermakers are No. 1 for the first time in its program history, but that will likely change after their 70-68 loss to Rutgers. With the Purdue loss, the reigning National Champion, Baylor Bears, are the only other top 10 team still left with an undefeated record. And although these appear to be the top teams for the moment it is clear this year that there will not be a consensus number one team for the entire season like last year.
Duke and Kentucky Are Back
Last year was an astonishing year as both Duke and Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament as the schools had their most disappointing seasons in recent memory going 13-11 and 9-16 respectively. But both teams have bounced back in a big way with both being clear contenders for the championship with Duke beginning the year off 7-1 and Kentucky 8-1. Duke has arguably two of the biggest wins of the year after defeating both Gonzaga and Kentucky in November and preparing itself to a number one ranking before falling to unranked Ohio State in Columbus. Kentucky meanwhile lost to Duke on opening night and has won 8 straight since albeit against lesser opponents has not missed a beat and looked completely dominant when it needs to.
The biggest change for Duke is, of course, the addition of Paolo Banchero who has been arguably not only the best freshmen but best player in the nation, and the improved play of Wendell Moore who has been a tremendous point guard. Meanwhile for Kentucky transfers Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler lead the country in rebounds and assists respectively along with the play of freshmen Tyty Washington. As the season continues expect both of these teams to make a return to the NCAA tournament after their absences last year and to be serious contenders for the national championship.
Some Teams have their Work Cut out for them
Coming into the year many people had big expectations for schools such as Michigan, Memphis, and North Carolina. And up to this point, it is safe to say that none of these teams need to get their issues resolved quickly. Michigan began the season at No. 6 in the ap poll and the team has struggled to come close to living up to the expectations of a top 10 team. Michigan has lost three games up to that point including at home against Seton Hall, a neutral court against Arizona State, and against North Carolina with the losses to Arizona State and North Carolina being games where the team looks completely out of place.
North Carolina meanwhile Is struggling in the same vein as the team started the year ranked 19th overall and quickly became unranked after two straight losses early in the year and have struggled to schools such as Brown, and College of Charleston in Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels have since bounced back beating Michigan but for most of the year have had abysmal at-best defense and a weak offense in Hubert Davis’ debut season with the Tar Heels. And while I can see a path for these two teams to bounce back and they seem to be rising slowly but surely after their early struggles I do not expect the Memphis Tigers to bounce back this year. The Tigers are now 5-3 after three straight disappointing losses and have struggled in nearly every aspect on the floor.
The Tigers seem to have no flow or rhythm whatsoever on offense and cannot consistently on defense. The issue, of course, starts at the top with head coach Penny Hardaway throwing players under the bus on several occasions, and if this continues the Tigers will continue their NCAA tournament drought since 2014.
Down year for the ACC?
As stated already Duke has been outstanding this year and is, of course, the highest-ranked team in the conference but after the Blue Devils, there does not seem to be another team that stands out in the conference. A team like Wake Forest at 8-1 has a strong but while a good record the team’s best win up to this point has been Virginia Tech and has defeated only one other power 5 school in overtime against Oregon State.
This week Duke was ranked third in the AP poll and after that, the only other school that even received votes to be ranked in the poll was North Carolina who as previously mentioned has struggled up to this point. Virginia, who is usually a strong contender not only in the conference but nationally was ranked at one point, has fallen from grace as the Cavaliers currently has a record of 6-4 with its most recent loss being to James Madison University.
As the season goes along there could very well become another strong team to come from the conference but currently, Duke looks to be the only team possible of making a run in the NCAA tournament at this point.