Ten things we’ve learned so far this college basketball season:
1. If Duke gets all its pieces healthy, the Blue Devils will be scary. Even without heralded freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, Mike Krzyzewski’s team started 7-1. The lone loss was to Kansas on a Frank Mason shot with 1.8 seconds remaining in the Champions Classic. Tatum and Bolden played Saturday in the win over Maine. Giles might debut soon. Yikes.
2. Speaking of Kansas, it has the guards. There are a lot of teams out there with great guard combinations, but none are any better than KU’s Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. Mason is an early Player of the Year candidate. If star freshman Josh Jackson improves and Bill Self finds consistent low play, the Jayhawks could be playing for the KU coach’s second national title.
3. UCLA is for real. Doubters had to be convinced by the Bruins’ 97-92 win at Kentucky last Saturday. Lonzo Ball’s numbers weren’t overwhelming, but the freshman point guard has a certain swagger and knack for making big plays. TJ Leaf is tough to deal with at the power forward. A Final Four could be in Westwood’s future.
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4. Villanova could repeat. Kentucky’s Saturday loss moved ’Nova atop the rankings on Monday. Jay Wright’s team boasts the nation’s No. 2 most efficient offense and No. 9 most efficient defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. That’s a strong combination. These days, it’s very tough to go back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament, but early on the Wildcats are showing they’re capable.
5. Louisville can defend. Rick Pitino’s team is having trouble putting the ball in the basket, but the Cards can play defense. True, U of L blew a 22-point lead in its loss to Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis finals, but the Cardinals held all three teams it played there to 66 points or less. Pomeroy ranks Louisville’s defense best in the nation.
6. North Carolina will be right there at the end. Don’t overreact to the Tar Heels’ 76-67 loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. After losing to Fort Wayne, IU had a point to prove. At UNC, Roy Williams has players who have been through the wars — Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt. Freshman Tony Bradley could be a difference-maker by March.
7. The key Hoosier is OG Anunoby. Getting James Blackmon Jr. has helped Indiana’s cause, but the key to IU’s success is the freakishly athletic 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, who scored 16 points in the win over Carolina. If Tom Crean can hold off Wisconsin and Purdue to win a mediocre Big 10 — the league was 0-7 in road games against the ACC — he’ll probably have Anunoby to thank.
8. The SEC is not that bad. South Carolina was ranked 19th and Florida 21st in Monday’s AP poll. Texas A&M lost by seven to UCLA in the finals of the Wooden Legacy, and we know all about UCLA. No one is saying the league is suddenly a roundball powerhouse, but there are signs of life.
9. By March, this could be a really loaded NCAA Tournament. Duke, North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas, UCLA. All have the makings of not being just good college teams, but great college teams. All have terrific freshmen combining with talented veterans. It’s early, yes, but everything is pointing toward a Final Four filled with marquee programs.
10. Kentucky could still be among them. Don’t get too down over the Cats’ rare home loss last Saturday. UCLA was the better team. That doesn’t mean Kentucky can’t be the better team come March. Player development will be the key, especially among John Calipari’s freshmen. As Malik Monk said Saturday, UK is an early December team. The Cats have plenty of time to be a March team.
Ken Pomeroy’s Top 20 teams
- 1. Villanova
- 2. Duke
- 3. North Carolina
- 4. Kentucky
- 5. Kansas
- 6. Virginia
- 7. Louisville
- 8. Wisconsin
- 9. West Virginia
- 10. Baylor
- 11. Saint Mary’s
- 12. Florida
- 13. UCLA
- 14. Gonzaga
- 15. Indiana
- 16. Purdue
- 17. Butler
- 18. Xavier
- 19. Wichita State
- 20. Cincinnati