First Month of College Hoops Run Down
Photo from Purdue Athletics
The first month of college basketball has been absolutely electric. Early season tournaments such as the PK85 and the Maui Invitational highlighted some of the elite teams in the country, and also showed who is not quite ready for the big stage (North Carolina). So far, there have been plenty of upsets separating top teams from others, so let's dive into it.
Contenders - After a month of play, there are 10 remaining unbeaten programs. Those teams consist of UNLV, Virginia, Houston, Purdue, UConn, Utah State, New Mexico, Auburn, Missouri, and Mississippi State. Of these teams, Virginia, Houston, Purdue, and UConn have really set themselves apart. Houston took the AP #1 ranking after the fall of the Tarheels, and they have held onto it for two weeks now. The Cougars have been led by veteran Marcus Sasser and freshman phenom Jarace Walker. Virginia holds big wins over Illinois and Baylor in Vegas, and over Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Cavaliers boast one of the toughest and most talented backcourts in the country, led by three guards: Armaan Franklin, Kihei Clark, and Reece Beekman. Purdue has been the biggest surprise so far. The Boilers ran through the PK85 tournament and defeated both Duke and Gonzaga by lofty margins. Zach Edey is currently the frontrunner for National Player of the Year, as he is averaging 23 PPG and 13 RPG after jumping from 19 to 30 minutes per game this season. The UConn Huskies are the first team in the nation to 10-0. Their resume showcases double digit wins over Oregon, Iowa State, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Florida already, and it is only the second week of December. The Huskies are led by Adama Sanogo, of course, but have also been pleasantly surprised by the breakout of Jordan Hawkins, as well as transfer Tristen Newton, among others.
The Fall of UNC - The North Carolina Tarheels struggled early against low and mid major programs, leading myself, among many, to question if they deserved their number 1 spot in the polls. The Heels quickly proved that they did not, by losing to Iowa State in the PK80 Tournament. The Heels followed that loss up with 3 more in a row to Alabama, Indiana, and Virginia Tech, to bring their record to 5-4. UNC has had the quickest fall from preseason #1 to unranked in college basketball history. The Heels struggles have been led by poor shot selection from guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love, as well as injury concerns from All-American Armando Bacot. There is still a lot of time for Hubert Davis' squad to put it together, but it is safe to say that the Heels were overhyped going into the season.
Breakout Stars - Zach Edey has been the most dominant player in college hoops thus far, but he is not the only one to take an immense leap in production. Iowa's Kris Murray has been a superstar, averaging 19 PPG and 10 RPG, a year after his brother earned first team All-American status. SEC Freshmen Cason Wallace and Brandon Miller have been outstanding. Wallace is averaging 11 4 4 and 2.5 steals for Kentucky, while Miller is averaging 19 and 9 for the Crimson Tide. Michigan freshman Jett Howard has made a name for himself as well, averaging 15 PPG on 49% shooting in the Maize and Blue. Joel Soriano from Saint John's is averaging 15 and 12.5, a year after putting up 6 and 5.5, he has been the biggest factor in the Johnnie's early season success.
Surprise Teams - While Purdue and UConn have been two of the country's biggest surprises, there are many other teams that are making a name for themselves. For example, the Maryland Terrapins. After having minimal expectations, the Terps have gotten off to a blazing hot start, sitting at 8-1 and 13th in the AP Poll. Like the Terps, Mississippi State came into the year projected as one of the bottom feeders of the SEC, but they find themselves at 8-0 and 23rd in the AP Poll as of now. The Charleston Cougars have been one of, if not the best mid major in college hoops so far. The Cougars sit at 9-1 with wins over Chattanooga, Colorado State, Davidson, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Richmond, and more. In Charleston's lone loss, they led the then-ranked #1 Tarheels at halftime in Chapel Hill. Coach Pat Kelsey has been on a tear in what looks to be Charleston's best season in a long time.
Faltering Blue Bloods - Kansas is currently the only blue blood in the top 14, sitting at 6 in the polls. The Jayhawks got up to #3 before losing to Tennessee by 14 in the Battle 4 Atlantis title. Other blue bloods such as aforementioned North Carolina, Kentucky, and Villanova have struggled. Kentucky is currently ranked 16th, but they have losses to Michigan State on a neutral court, and at Gonzaga by double digits. Villanova has been the most disappointing team in the country so far. The Cats are missing veteran Justin Moore and freshman superstar Cam Whitmore, but that does not make up for a current 4-5 record. Nova has losses to Temple, MSU, Iowa State, Portland, and Oregon. Duke and UCLA come in at 15 and 19 in the polls, but neither has shown that they can compete for a national championship so far.
This college basketball season has been blessed with many upsets, breakouts, and surprises this far into the season, and we are hoping that it stays that way as we head into conference play.