By Hocine LOUKKAF on 12/1/2018
This first month of competition has been very interesting with great matchups including the showdown between Gonzaga and Duke which led the Bulldogs to the first place. Kansas, Virginia or Michigan are among the other unbeaten teams looking to bother Gonzaga’s domination.
#1 Gonzaga (6-0)
After a solid start and victories against Texas A&M, Illinois and Arizona, the win against Duke has propelled Gonzaga to the number spot. The roster is incredibly deep with Hachimura as the leader and glue guy (21.9pts 5.4rbds), San Jose State’s transfer Blandon Clarke (15.9pts 7.4rbds 4.1bl) as the rim protector and main inside threat and the duo of Norvell (17.3pts 5.6rbds 3.7as) and Perkins (11.4pts 8as) to lead the backcourt. Serbian 6-10 freshman Petrusev (9.6pts 4.6rbds) has been very efficient while his Euro U18 all tournament teammate Ayayi still is searching for more playing time. Don’t forget that Tillie is out and may come back in January to bring another solid option for the Bulldogs.
#2 Kansas (5-0)
The Jayhawks have already been tested against two top 15 teams, Michigan State and Tennessee (and another solid team, Marquette), where they proved that the newcomers have found their role in the roster. Vick has been hot with already 21 three pointers made in only five games. Dedric Lawson is still the same versatile monster (17.8pts 10.4rbds 3.8as) while freshmen Dotson and Grimes combine for almost 20pts and 6as. Finally, Azubuike Kansas is not playing any top 20 teams in December so the goal is to stay unbeaten until then.
#3 Duke (6-1)
After crushing UK by 34 and beating a rugged Auburn team, Duke could not last against more experienced Gonzaga. Yet, the Blue Devils, above all their freshmen, have been outstanding. Despite their lack of shooting efficiency, Williamson (21.3pts 9rbds 2.6bl) and Barrett (22.7pts 6.1rbds 3.6as) are projected as next draft’s first two picks. Reddish (15.3pts 43% 3pt) may end up a top five pick while Jones (10.3pts 5.9as for 1.1to) has displayed incredible savvy for a freshman. There was some fear that the rest of the team couldn’t follow the freshmen but White (7.7pts 6.7rbds 38% 3pt) and Bolden (11pts 9rbds 7bl vs Auburn) bring much need help.
#4 Michigan (7-0)
Despite reaching the championship game last year and losing their best player to the NBA draft, the Wolverines may be more complete and talented this year. They have already shown what they could do by destroying Nova by 27 before beating UNC by 17. Freshman Brazdeikis has replaced Wagner right away with almost identical stats (16.9pts 5.7rbds). Poole (10pts 4rbds 2as) and Simpson (5rbds 6as for 1.6to) form a solid backourt while Livers (8.3pts 4.6rbds 0.9bl) and Teske (6.9pts 5.9rbds 2.4bl) make the team much bigger than last year. Except for next game against Purdue, the Wolverines have a quiet schedule before the Big Ten begins.
#5 Nevada (7-0)
Before its games against USC and Arizona State, Nevada has not played any big team yet, the reason why I ranked them “only” fifth. The Wolf Pack may not have any big prospects but it has shooters, versatility and big bodies inside. Jazz Johnson (12.7pts 58% 3pt) and Caleb Martin (21pts 4.7rbds 2.7as) have combined 42 threes in 7 games on almost 45% 3pt while brother Cody (10.1pts 6.1as) plays as the primary playmaker. Inside, seniors Caroline (17.7pts 9.9rbds), Thurman (8.9pts 6.3rbds) and Porter (7.6pts 5.3rbds 1.1bl) are imposing their will, well helped by top 50 freshman Jordan Brown (6.3pts 3.6rbds).
#6 Tennessee (5-1)
With only one loss in OT against top three ranked Kansas, Tennessee is having a pretty good start. They have another big game coming soon as they will play Gonzaga on December 9. The Vols have a experienced group of upperclassmen with potential first round pick Grant Williams (21.5pts 8.8rbds 4.3as) and Alexander (10.3pts 6.5rbds 2bl) controlling the paint. Schofield (16.2pts 6.5rbds 3.7as) completes the one-two punch he forms with Grant Williams. Tennesses has plenty of other weapons and the depth to bother Gonzaga and many other teams.
#7 Virginia (7-0)
Like last year, Virginia is starting perfectly as they limited all their opponents but Maryland to less than 60pts. Hunter has recovered well from last march’s injury (16.6pts 6.1rbds 2.6as) and the backcourt of Jerome (14.4pts 4as) and Guy (13pts 2.9as) has shot exceptionnaly well with 35/81 from three in seven games. Despite a lack of dominating big men (no players with more than 5rbds or 0.7bl), the Cavaliers have limited Maryland’s inside duo of prospects Fernando/Jalen Smith to 20pts. The schedule is pretty quiet until January.
#8 Auburn (6-1)
Another tough team this season, the Tigers lost against a very talented team of Duke but also beat teams like Washington and Arizona. Bryce Brown (17.3pts 39% 3pt) and Jared Harper (14.6% 7as 43%) form a very efficient backcourt, Harper being one of the most underrated PG of the nation. Wiley (12pts 4.7rbds 1.3bl) and McLemore (7.6pts 6rbds 1.9bl) have not been as dominant as many thought while Okeke has been pretty interesting (11.9pts 7.3rbds 2.4as 1.1bl). Against Duke, despite limiting the star trio to less than 20pts each, Wiley was the only player to score with more than 40%. If every player is efficient the same day, this team can beat anybody.
#9 Wisconsin (6-1)
Wisconsin’ schedule has been pretty tough with a loss against Virginia but solid wins against Stanford, Oklahoma, NC State and #14 seed Iowa. Ethan Happ (17.4pts 11.6rbds 5.3as 1.9bl) has found a way to improve his rebounding, passing and blocking numbers but his weakness at the FT line with 46% makes him a potential target in the clutch time. Outside, Trice (17.4pts 58% 3pt) brings some much needed shooting with an incredible 28/48 from three in seven games. Reuvers (6.4pts 2.3bl) and Iverson (5.3pts 5.4rbds) help Happ controlling the paint while guards Davison, Pritzl and King (21.3pts 24/70 3pt) complete the Badgers’ methodical puzzle.
#10 Texas Tech (6-0)
A bit like Virginia, this Tech team is centered around its guards with potential first pick Jarett Culver leading the team in scoring (18.8pts 5.2rbds 4.3as 50% 3pt). The four other best scorers are guards scoring between 7 and 11pts shooting at least 37% from three. Inside, Owens and Odiase combined for 10rbds and 3.5bl in 37min. The Raiders, who had two solid games against USC and Nebraska that they won by 15 and 29, will play next against Memphis before their first real test against Duke on December 21.
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