By Hocine Loukkaf on 12/8/2021
With most favourites having lost at least once, Purdue has become the evident number one before conference play begins.
One of the most balanced teams, Purdue benefits from the talent of top 10 prospect Jaden Ivey (15.9pts 5.8rbds 3.6as) and a solid rotation of eight players above 6pts. Among them, three averages 7rbds or more per game while four have recorded at least 14 three-pointers over these first eight games. Wins against UNC, Villanova, Florida State and then-unbeaten Iowa make them a logical #1.
Despite wins against Kentucky and Gonzaga, Duke fell against Ohio State as freshmen Banchero (4/14 FG) and Keels (3/12 FG) couldn’t match the tougher Buckeyes. Yet, Duke has been solid with Moore leading the boat as the point forward (17.8pts 6.5rbds 5.6as) and Mark Williams protecting the rim like he did against Gonzaga (17pts 9rbds 6bl). The Blue Devils may remain in the top three for most part of the season.
One of the remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball, Baylor has not faced as tough a competition as his top 10 ranked counterparts. Like last year and despite the departures of Butler and Mitchell, the Bears rely mainly on their guards with five of them playing at least 23min and making up for 49 of the 84pts averaged by the team per game. Freshman glue guy Kendall Brown (13.4pts 3.8rbds 2as 1.4st) could become the leader of this team when things will become more serious.
Except for the game against Wichita State, the Wildcats destroyed their opponents by at least 18pts, including then #4 ranked Michigan. Despite their weakness at the PG position, Arizona can count on maybe the best inside trio in college basketball with Koloko (15.6pts 7.3rbds 3.4bl), Tubelis (15.6pts 6.4rbds 0.9bl) and Gonzaga transfer Oumar Ballo (6.7pts 5.9rbds 1bl). This trio is helped by potential first rounder Benedict Mathurin who is leading the team in scoring with 16.1pts. With scheduled showdowns against unbeaten Wyoming, Illinois, UCLA and Tennessee, December will give us more indications on the potential of these Wildcats.
Gonzaga entered the season with a target in the back as the consensus #1, above all with the commitment of Chet Holmgren. Yet, with already two losses after less than ten games, the Bulldogs have returned in the ranks. While the defeat against Duke was understandable, the loss against Alabama exposed the backcourt’s lack of toughness as the trio of Shackleford/Quinerly/Davison combined for 65pts (sic) on 11/20 from three. More is also expected from Holmgren who, despite his stats (13.3pts 7.4rbds 3.9bl), has struggled in the two losses shooting consistently from three an ealing with physicality.
With its five best scorers shooting at least 35% from three, UCLA has the weapons to beat anybody. Yet, it wasn’t enough to beat then #1 Gonzaga as the Bruins were overmatched in the paint (38rbds to 30, 14rbds 6bl fro Timme/Holmgren). Transfer Myles Johnson needs to step up inside and Coach Cronin needs to find playing time for top 15 recruit Peyton Watson. UCLA has bounced back with wins against UNLV and Colorado. They will be tested onced again on Saturday against Marquette.
If it wasn’t for their loss against then-unbeaten Iona, Alabama could be in the top 5. With three of his best scorers shooting above 38% from three, Coach Oats relies a lot, maybe too much, on his guards. That’s what allow the Crimson Tide to beat Gonzaga but that’s also part of how they lost against Iona as Shackleford shot 6/17 from the floor while the non-guard players contributed for only 22pts of the team’s 68pts scored.
Can we reaaly criticize Villanova for their losses against UCLA or Purdue? The Wildcats were solid in both games, sending UCLA to overtime while they lost against Purdue by 6 in the last five minutes. Moore and Gillespie might form one of the best backcourts in the country as they combined for 33pts against Purdue and 32 against UCLA but the paint is a problem as Villanova conceded a ten-rebound margin in each of its losses (32 to 46 vs UCLA, 26 to 38 vs Purdue).
A team made of vets and lacking the elite freshmen Kansas used to recruit not so long ago, the Jayhawks could have been ranked much higher if it wasn’t for the loss against Dayton. They beat two other solid teams Michigan State and St John’s as Ochai Agbaji is showing the way to his teammates (52pts combined on both games and 22.6pts per game on 46% 3pt over the first eight games).
Another team mainly made of upperclassmen, especially transfers, Texas has its only loss against then number one Gonzaga as they were crushed by Drew Timme who scored 37pts on 15/19 FG. The Longhorns haven’t played any other Big Conference opponents but will face Top 25 ranked Seton Hall in their next game. For the moment, the transfer-strategy has had a limited success as the player who was supposed to have the biggest impact, Marcus Carr, is underperforming with 8.9pts 4as on 39% FG and 35% 3pt.
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