Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. Which team not in the AP top 10 has the best win this season?
Mitch Light: You could argue that Oakland’s win at Tennessee is the best for a non-top 10 team, but that really isn’t in the spirit of the question. I’ll go with Georgetown, which beat Missouri in Kansas City — basically a home game for the Tigers. I think Mizzou might be a bit overrated (No. 13 AP), but that is still a very good win.
Braden Gall: Probably Oakland. Its brutal early schedule — at Purdue, at West Virginia, at Illinois and Michigan State — finally paid off for the Golden Grizzlies when they went into Knoxville on Tuesday and handed the Tennessee Vols their first loss of the year. Greg Kampe, with 445 career wins, is one of the longest tenured coaches in America and he has a potential NBA player in big man Keith Benson. Benson dropped 26 and 10 on the Vols.
Nathan Rush: UCF’s 57–54 win over Florida could redefine the entire Golden Knights basketball program. In his first season in Orlando, Donnie Jones needed just six games to secure a signature win. Even better, the win came against mentor Billy Donovan. There have been other nice wins from teams outside the top 10 this year, but I’m not sure any were as potentially historic as UCF’s monumental win over in-state big brother Florida.
2. Which team have you changed your opinion on the most — either positively or negatively — since before the season started?
Mitch: Florida. I still think this is a good team and a team that should make the NCAA Tournament, but it looks like the same as last year’s team with the same issues — shaky guard play, inconsistent outside shooting and a lack of depth. The Gators aren’t getting much help from their freshmen, either. Patric Young, a big man ranked among the to 30 recruits, is averaging 3.2 points and 2.9 boards in 15.0 minutes, and swingman Casey Prather is averaging less than 10 minutes per game.
Braden: Florida on the negative side and UConn on the positive. The Gators returned largely intact with an excellent front line and talented backcourt, but Billy D’s group got dominated at home by Ohio State and then lost to a first year coach at UCF. This team still hasn’t won a tourney game since 2007, and until proven otherwise, I am back to being cautious with this team after lots of preseason hype. UConn has the National Player of the Year in Kemba Walker. Center Alex Oriakhi is one of the most improved players in the nation. Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun will have to continue to develop his youngsters if he wants to make a deep tourney run, but no team has surprised more than the Huskies.
Nathan: It’s hard not to pick Connecticut. Although Jim Calhoun has run one of the top programs in the nation for decades, this year’s club was not supposed to be a Final Four contender. But the unreal play of Kemba Walker (28.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.3 spg, 53.3 percent from the field, 88.4 percent from the line) has carried the Huskies to an 8–0 start with impressive wins over Michigan State (70–67) and Kentucky (84–67). Obviously, the real tests will come during Big East play and in a strong non-con schedule that includes Texas (Jan. 8) and Tennessee (Jan. 22). But right now, UConn is playing way above my preseason expectations.
3. Who is the most underrated player in the country?
Mitch: There a lot of candidates, but I will go with Mississippi State swingman Ravern Johnson, who is leading the SEC in scoring with 23.8 points per game. Don’t expect that average to remain that high all season, though. Johnson has been asked to shoulder a large part of the scoring early in the season with big man Renardo Sidney (who is now eligible) and point guard Dee Bost (will play in January) out of the lineup. What makes Johnson’s productive impressive is his efficiency; he is shooting .481 from the floor (while averaging over 16 shots per game) and .472 from 3-point range.
Braden: A recent ESPN player power poll had Wisconsin’s versatile forward Jon Leuer as the No. 7 player in America. He wasn’t anywhere near pre-season All-American status for most publications, but all the 6-10 smooth shooting big man has done so far is average 20 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting. He grabs a team-leading 7.5 boards per game with nearly two blocks and over two assists per contest as well. He is shooting nearly 80 percent from the stripe and 50 percent from long range. With little scoring around him, few teams count on one player more than UW counts on Leuer.
Nathan: If players were stocks, Harrison Barnes would be a Warren Buffett special. He’s a blue-chip who has fallen on hard times and the market has overreacted to a point where the No. 1-ranked incoming freshman in the country has become the most underrated player in the land. The North Carolina rookie is being talked about as if he is a bust. Barnes (11.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 35 percent shooting) hasn’t found his sea legs yet, but I expect him to approach his preseason first-team All-America and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick expectations once he does.
4. Name an off-the-radar team that has been as disappointment. Preferably a team not in a Big Six power conference.
Mitch: Dayton, who we picked fourth in the A-10, jumped out of the gate with a 7–0 start but lost three of its next five games. The slide started with a stunningly lopsided 68-34 loss to rival Cincinnati and continued with a 73-68 loss at home to ETSU. Then after a too-close-for-comfort two-point win over Central Connecticut State, Dayton lost at Old Dominion, 74-71.
Braden: I will go with Gonzaga, if Spokane counts as “off-the-radar?” Honestly, I cannot remember the last time the Bulldogs were under .500 like they are now at 4-5. All five losses are respectable — Kansas St, Notre Dame, Washington State, Illinois and San Diego State — and Elias Harris’ Achilles/shoulder injury has hurt. But Robert Sacre and Steven Gray have played uncharacteristic basketball. Without any qualifiers, however, North Carolina (and its dozen or so McDonald’s All-Americans) is easily the most disappointing team in the nation.
Nathan: Richmond could and should be undefeated right now. The Spiders have pulled off upsets over Purdue (65–54) and at Arizona State (67–61), but have also been upset twice — at Iona (81–77 in 2OT) and at Old Dominion (77–70). Star point guard Kevin Anderson (17.1 ppg, 4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.3 spg) had two of his three highest point totals (24 at Iona, 23 at ODU) in those losses. Although an 8–2 start is respectable, Richmond has failed to capitalize on an opportunity to be mentioned among the mid-major powers.
5. Kansas State vs. Florida in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday. Who wins?
Mitch: Tough call, but I will go with K-State. This isn’t a true road game, but it will obviously be a pro-Gator crowd. Kansas State is 2-0 on the road, with a quality win at Washington State and a victory at Illinois-Chicago in a homecoming game for guard Jacob Pullen. I think the Wildcats’ defense can be the difference; they are holding their opponents to 38.5 percent shooting overall and 31.9 percent from 3-point range. K-State’s biggest issue is on the foul line; they can’t shoot (54.3 percent) and they send the other team to the stripe far too many times.
Braden: Kansas State will win the game, but it won’t be easy. The Wildcats are 345th (out of 346) in free throw percentage at 54.3 percent, so Frank Martin’s bunch can’t get out of its own way at times. The game being in the Sunshine state will help Florida, but only a little. South Florida is Martin’s old stomping ground from, so he will have his guys ready to go.
Nathan: The Gators will have the crowd on its side in this “neutral” site, so I’ll go with Billy Donovan’s inconsistent squad to pull off the upset over K-State. Guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are streak shooters with the ability to get red hot at the right time, while senior big men Vernon Macklin (6-10, 240) and Alex Tyus (6-8, 220) provide matchup nightmares down low. But versatile glue guy Chandler Parsons or athletic true freshman Patric Young will need to step up in order for the Gators to take down a top-10 Wildcats squad.