NCAA Basketball: Busting Brackets’ opening top 25
After a week of high-octane NCAA basketball, there is quite a bit of movement in our first top 25 of the year.
Has anyone had a heart palpations yet? This season has been full of tight contests and stunning finishes worthy of late March, not mid-November. A top 25 team went down on opening night and several games have gone right down to the wire. There will definitely be some shakeups in projected contenders in the short term.
That said, we haven’t learned a great deal about some teams. Squads like Michigan State and Duke are battling injuries that are preventing them from hitting their ceiling. In the same vein, conference contenders like Syracuse and UCLA have skated past subpar competition. We won’t know squads’ true talent levels for a week or two more.
That shouldn’t stop us from rankings though! The season is barely two weeks old, but there is still plenty to digest and unpack. Based on what I’ve seen already this November, I have no doubt we are just glimpsing what the season holds.
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Miami Hurricanes – Miami doesn’t have the firepower of a year ago, but The U is still 3-0 in the early going. They are top 25 in both adjusted offense and defense, but among the slower tempo teams in the nation (259th). We will wait to see how this squad handles ACC play before making any bold statements.
Michigan State Spartans – Had Sparty not gotten a dubious narrow victory over Florida-Gulf Coast, they wouldn’t be on this list at all. MSU is just 2-2 after opening as one of the top Big Ten contenders. They have some injuries to depth pieces, but this team is not producing consistently outside of All-American recruit Miles Bridges.
Wichita State Shockers – Once again, Gregg Marshall has this team looking ready for a deep March run. Watch this team closely as we move forward, especially throughout the Battle 4 Atlantis this week.
San Diego State Aztecs – Coach Steve Fisher’s team was drubbed in Spokane, but rebounded against Cal. The Mountain West favorites are superb defensively, but might need to score some more points to truly crack the top 25.
Cincinnati Bearcats – A narrow loss to Atlantic-10 power Rhode Island drops the Bearcats for now, but a victory against Big Ten sleeper Penn State keeps Mick Cronin’s squad in the mix. Watch a December 1st matchup at high-powered Iowa State to get a better feel for this team.
25. Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns looked shaky in their shorthanded victory over Incarnate Word on opening night, and have gone just 2-2, with two recent losses to Northwestern and Colorado, since. The young Texas rotation is looking like I expected early this season; they have all the talent, but relatively little experience to draw upon against high-major opponents.
Sophomore Tevin Mack is tops in scoring for coach Shaka Smart’s team. He is averaging 13.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in just over 25 minutes per game. Classmate Kerwin Roach Jr. is next at 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. Freshman Andrew Jones might be the surprise of the six double-figure scorers at 10.4 points, along with 4.6 boards and two assists an evening. However, this Texas team hasn’t faced tough challenges yet and are shooting just 29 percent from deep.
24. Florida State Seminoles
Florida State is a serious dark horse in the ACC this year. The 4-0 Noles don’t have a truly impressive win other than over Big South favorite Winthrop, but that should diminish what this team is doing early. Watch their next two games against Temple and Minnesota to see if they are the real deal.
The duo of Dwayne Bacon (17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (9.5 points, 5.5 assists) are as lethal of a duo as the ACC might try to contain this season.
10 FSU players are averaging at least six points an evening right now, but Jonathan Isaac has been the early stud. The 6’10” freshman is contributing 9.8 points and 5.8 boards per game, and is hitting 47 percent of his threes. Keep an eye on this balanced Seminole attack.
23. Butler Bulldogs
Butler is a beneficiary of Texas losing. The Bulldogs are 4-0 heading into match-ups with Vanderbilt and Utah. The Bulldogs keep chugging along as one of the steadiest programs in college basketball.
Junior Kelan Martin has been the star early with 16.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The team is also getting key contributions from freshman Kamar Baldwin and transfers Tyler Lewis (NC State) and Avery Woodson (Memphis). Butler is currently a top 25 team in both adjusted offense and defense, so it would appear that the young team is gelling right now.
22. Rhode Island Rams
Despite a narrow loss to championship contender Duke, Rhode Island has looked tremendous at 4-1 thus far. They’ve gutted out a near-upset against Brown and took down a talented Cincinnati squad for their early signature victory. This team is for real. Their next big game is Ohio Valley titan Belmont.
E.C. Matthews has returned from knee injury with a vengeance. The junior guard is torching opponents with 17.4 points on 55 percent shooting (48 percent from downtown), while grabbing four rebounds a night as well. Fellow perimeter scorers Jared Terrell, Kuran Iverson and Jarvis Garrett are propelling Rhode Island to new heights. Don’t sleep on the Rams come March; they are easily talented enough to make a Sweet 16 appearance.
21. Baylor Bears
Baylor has looked superb thus far this season while trying to replace three starters. They dominated an Oregon squad that was missing its best player, but still had enough in the tank to overcome a very good Florida Gulf Coast squad. VCU and Xavier are still up for non-conference tests.
Miami transfer Manu Lecomte has looked as good as advertised. The diminutive point is averaging 16.7 points, 7.0 assists and 2.3 steals an evening. He leads the team in those three categories.
But the real surprise has been redshirt JUCO acquisition Jo Lual-Acuil. The 7-footer has dominated in the post, averaging 10.7 points, 10.0 boards and 5.3 blocks per game.
Baylor has shocked a lot of people to this point with strong play through three wins. Don’t be surprised if they rise in the standings.
20. Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State doesn’t move up a great deal after easily defeating Mount St Mary’s and The Citadel. They still did plenty to avoid losing though and should feel confident heading into a stout tournament this coming week in Orlando. Miami and Gonzaga are just two possible opponents the Cyclones could face.
All-American point guard Monte Morris has paced the Cyclones with 18.6 points, five rebounds and eight assists an evening. The Cyclones have two other double-figure scorers in Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long. The two senior guards are chipping 15 and 17.3 points respectively.
The Cyclones defending better that last season thus far and are getting far more bench play. However, stiffer competition looms for the Big 12 squad in Ames.
19. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia is similar to Iowa State; they have knocked off the teams they should to this point, but have faced weak competition that includes Mount St Mary’s. WVU does have an enticing matchup with Virginia to look forward to in early December. That will give us fans a true look at what each squad brings to the table.
Stretch forward Nathan Adrian has paced Press Virginia to this point. The junior has a stat-stuffing line of 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He is also hitting 42 percent of his threes through the early going.
Five Mountaineers are averaging double-figures, but none more surprising than redshirt freshman Lamont West. West is putting up 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in just under 14 minutes a game. Bob Huggins’ squad again looks like one of the stronger contenders in the Big 12.
18. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue looked extremely promising in their second game, a close loss to defending champion Villanova. They obviously didn’t win that game, but the Boilermakers are dominating opponents with their inside talent. This is a team capable of contender status in the Big Ten Conference this season.
The big man trio of Vincent Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas has crushed opponents early this year. They are combining for 51 points and 22 rebounds an evening. Haas has also swatted nearly two shots a game while torching the net with 73 percent shooting.
Freshman Carsen Edwards, returning shooting Dakota Mathias and Michigan transfer Spike Albrecht are doing an admirable job filling in around the perimeter and distributing the ball. These Boilermakers are looking strong as they prep for a showdown with Louisville at the end of November.
17. Creighton Bluejays
Greg McDermott’s team has put together the type of group that can legitimately challenge Villanova in the Big East. The Bluejays have great wins over then number nine ranked Wisconsin, ACC sleeper NC State and SEC upstarts Ole Miss. They have minor tests at Nebraska and at Arizona State before their rugged conference schedule kicks in.
Former Kansas State Wildcat Marcus Foster is crushing it thus far in Omaha. The junior is scoring 18.0 points a night along with 2.2 assists. He is also hitting threes at an astounding 51 percent! That sort of shooting ability could win him some big awards by the season’s end if he keeps it up.
Senior guard Maurice Watson Jr. is nearly putting up a double-double (12.6 points, 9.2 assists), but redshirt freshman Justin Patton is an incredibly efficient addition. His 10.6 points, 5.0 rebounds line is nice, but his 72 percent shooting rate has people talking early on.
16. UCLA Bruins
UCLA and Steve Alford have lived up to the early hype. The Bruins are 4-0 over four in-state mid-majors. Their first real test is at Kentucky on December 3. That will likely be our first real look at this team’s ceiling.
The competition hasn’t been stellar, but the freshman talent sure has. Forward T.J. Leaf and point guard Lonzo Ball are both averaging double-doubles or close to them. Leaf averages 20.3 points and 10 boards, while Ball is up to 16.3 points and 9.0 assists per game.
Bryce Alford is still stellar at 18.8 points per game (58 percent from three), along with the rest of the offensive power. They just need to play better competition before they are true Pac-12 contenders.
15. Syracuse Orange
Few teams are benefiting as much from transfers as the Orange are. Andrew White (Nebraska) and John Gillon (Colorado State) are two of their top scorers so far. Their first big challenge comes next week when they travel to Madison to face off with top 25 Wisconsin.
As I said, White and Gillon are two of team’s top scoring options as graduate transfers. The duo is combining for almost 30 points an evening so far. Tyler Roberson is the third double-figure scorer at 12.0 points. He is also tied for third in rebounds with 4.7.
Stretch forward Tyler Lydon is putting up 8.3 points, 6.3 boards and 2.3 blocks per game. This Syracuse squad looks aggressive and is ready for a run at the ACC crown.
14. Saint Mary’s Gaels
The nation’s most efficient squad last season is still playing great offense so far this year. The Gaels are tied for 13th in team shooting percentage during their 4-0 start. The team has a game coming against solid mid-major UAB. That is their biggest test before opening WCC play.
Jock Landale is one of the most improved players this season and leads the Saint Mary’s attack. The 6’11” junior is on a tear, putting up 21.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He is also one of the nation’s best shooters at 75 percent.
Two other Gaels are averaging double-figures. This team has no real holes and has a real chance to win the WCC regular season and tournament titles. I love Saint Mary’s potential.
13. Oregon Ducks
Oregon has stumbled a bit to 3-2 through the first part of the year. My personal pick to win it all got beat down at Baylor and were downed by Georgetown in Maui. Star Dillon Brooks missed the first three games, so this team needs a couple more games to really hit their stride.
Chris Boucher has been the man in Eugene so far. He has a stat line of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. While Brooks reintegrates with the team, Boucher is everything the Ducks need anchoring both ends of the floor.
Junior forward Jordan Bell and guards Payton Pritchard and Tyler Dorsey round out the majority of Oregon’s offensive attack. I still love this team to win it all, but they need to recover from their early doldrums to make me confident in my pick again.
12. Xavier Musketeers
The 5-0 Musketeers are another Big East power team looking to dominate this season. Chris Mack’s school has had several close wins, including an OT thriller against Mizzou, but they have handled the adversity. They hit the road in early December to visit Baylor and Colorado in what should fantastic games.
Trevon Bluiett has been a star since deciding not to go pro. The junior swingman is averaging 18.6 points, six rebounds and 2.2 assists in 35 minutes of work. His leadership on and off the court has him in line for Big East POY right now.
J.P Macura and Edmond Sumner have also been terrific as scorers and distributors; they are both dishing out 3.6 assists a night. I will also give special mention to Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston, who is leading the team in rebounding and is tied for the lead in blocks.
11. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin looks like one of the most complete teams in the country right now. They took an early loss to Creighton, but the Badgers still sit at 4-1 going into what should be a thrilling game against North Carolina.
The balanced Badgers have senior Bronson Koenig leading the way. He is putting up 17.6 points and 3.2 rebounds early on. He is scoring more, but shooting worse; Koenig hit 39 percent from deep last year and just 28 percent to this point.
Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes are the other two double-figure scorers in Madison. This team is doing its best to grind teams out with top 15 ratings on both ends and one of the most patient attacks in college hoops.
10. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals have had an easy time getting to 3-0. They haven’t had a win by less than 30 points. But that could change against 2-0 Old Dominion on November 23.
Jaylen Johnson has been the show so far for Louisville. The junior from Ypsilanti, MI has contributed 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He is a stunningly efficient, shooting 70 percent from the field.
Three other Cards are averaging double-figures, Deng Adel, Donovan Mitchell and freshman star V.J. King. This team is crushing opponents early with the 2nd best adjusted defense. They need to play better teams, but they are easily a top four or five ACC program.
9. Arizona Wildcats
This Arizona team is looking dangerous out of the Pac-12 despite some early injury set backs. Freshman Ray Smith left the team after suffering his third ACL tear in three years. They have also not had the services of expected scoring leader Allonzo Trier, who is dealing with eligibility concerns.
- 11/23 – NCAA Basketball: Busting Brackets’ opening top 25
- 11/23 – Mississippi State Basketball: Bulldogs lose leading scorer for season
- 11/22 – Kentucky Basketball: Five reasons why the Wildcats will win the chip
- 11/22 – BYU Basketball: Lone Peak trio looks to put Cougars back in national spotlight
- 11/22 – Pac-12 Basketball: Top five freshman to watch for rest of season
The Wildcats are still 4-0, however, and are just 10 days away from a showdown with Gonzaga in Tuscon.
Sean Miller hasn’t really needed the missing players so far with three stud freshman taking control. Lauri Markkanen is putting up 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins are adding 12.0 and 11.3 points, respectively.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright is the leader upperclassmen with 10.3 points and 5.8 assists. Arizona is capable of running through the Pac-12, but it will be interesting to see how things unfold in conference play.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Was there really any doubt Gonzaga would be so good again despite losing two interior stars to the NBA? The early competition has just San Diego State as true test, but the Bulldogs crushed the Aztecs en route to a 3-0 start. They host Arizona on December 3 and in-state Washington on the 7th.
Przemek Karnowski has rebounded nicely from a back injury that limited him to just five games last year. The 7’1″ Poland native leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 14.7 and 7.0. He is also the leading shot blocker with four blocks per game so far.
Freshman Zach Collins is putting up 14.0 and 6.0, but transfers are again a big story in Spokane. Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Jordan Mathews (Cal) and Johnathan Williams (Missouri) are all scoring in double-figures. This might be Mark Few’s most balanced team in years; watch out.
7. Virginia Cavaliers
Austin Nichols’ dismissal from this team could hurt down the road, but for now the Cavaliers are still a quality contender in a packed ACC race. The Cavs are 4-0 after crushing Grambling State, but have three interesting home games against Iowa, Ohio State and West Virginia over the next 10 days.
Marial Shayok has come out of nowhere to lead Tony Bennett’s crew. He is putting up 12.5 points through four games after averaging just 4.3 last season. Freshman Kyle Guy is next at 11.0 points and promising junior Darius Thompson is at 9.8 points after that.
Senior leader London Perrantes isn’t dominating the scoring column at eight points a night, but his steady distribution (4.3 assists) is steering the ship in Norfolk. Virginia will be fine without Nichols in the long run.
6. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana scored their first signature win on opening night against Kansas. They then rolled through UMass-Lowell and Liberty before a stunning upset at Fort Wayne. The loss definitely hurts, but Indiana is still one of the best teams in the nation. The 3-1 Hoosiers have their next big battle in Bloomington against powerhouse North Carolina.
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James Blackmon Jr. looks recovered from a mid-season knee injury as he leads the Hoosiers in scoring. The junior is torching the twine at 20.5 points on 53 percent shooting (47 percent from three) while also grabbing seven boards and dishing out just over two assists an evening.
Thomas Bryant anchors the middle at 13.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while OG Anunoby is turning into a defensive terror. Anunoby is filling the stat sheet with 9.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.
The lack of a consistent floor general might have been exposed against Fort Wayne. However, this team will compete for a Big Ten title yet again.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
I know Kansas lost to Indiana, but their fortitude in taking down the shorthanded Blue Devils has me higher on the Jayhawks for now. Few teams have had a harder first couple games than KU, but they still sit at 4-1 after wins over Duke and then mid-major powers Siena and UAB.
Frank Mason III is an early favorite for National POY with his initial numbers. The senior is contributing 21.6 points on 51 percent shooting along with 4.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals.
Freshman Josh Jackson has also been nearly as good as advertised with 14.4 points (56 percent), 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. My only problem is a lack of a consistent, proven front court guy. Carlton Bragg Jr. is scoring almost nine points a night on 59 percent shooting, but had just three points in their most recent victory over Georgia. The Big 12 has competitors, but the conference crown is still KU’s to lose.
4. Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils started out as everyone’s early title favorite, but injuries caused this team to lose a heartbreaker to Kansas and dropped them a tad in our top 25. Coach K’s team is still 4-1 after a nice victory over Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island though.
Five players are scoring in double-digits with Luke Kennard leading the way. The sophomore has averaged 18.2 points on 55 percent shooting (52 percent from three), along with six rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Freshman Frank Jackson is second on the team, with 15.6 points, and polarizing Grayson Allen is third at 15.0. The team’s real glue has come from senior Amile Jefferson, who is putting up a double-double at 13.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Duke will be unbelievably scary when they get Marques Bolden, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles healthy.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina looks as strong as any team in the nation this year. They have rolled to a 6-0 start while winning by an average of 31 points an evening. They have match-ups against Big Ten contenders Wisconsin on November 23 and at Indiana on November 30.
Juniors Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson have been the big one-two punch so far. They are combining for 32 points, nine rebounds and almost eight assists per game. The front court trio of Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley are all averaging double-figures as well and each have snagged over five boards per game thus far. There isn’t much of a hole anywhere on this team right now to believe they can’t make a major run in March.
2. Villanova Wildcats
The defending national title team has come out ready to protect their crown. The Wildcats are 5-0 with tough wins over Purdue, Western Michigan and Central Florida. Their biggest remaining non-conference test is on December 10 at home against ACC dark horse Notre Dame.
Josh Hart has been the star of the show, as he is averaging 19.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He is shooting 57 percent from the field, including 42 percent from deep.
Teams just can’t stop him right now; they can only hope to contain him. Fellow returnees Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins and Mikal Bridges are also doing solid work through the first couple of weeks.
Fordham transfer Eric Paschall has added a gritty punch as a stretch four. He is averaging 8.8 points on 44 percent shooting. Don’t be surprised if Jay Wright leads Villanova to another Big East title and a deep run into March Madness again.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky tops our first top 25 of the year. The Wildcats have looked staggeringly good through four victories. Their signature win to this point was a 69-48 drubbing of Michigan State. John Calipari’s freshmen continue to produce as three first year players are amongst the team’s top five scorers.
However, it is sophomore Isaiah Briscoe headlining the roster with his stat line of 19.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting an excellent 55 percent from the field.
Point guard De’Aaron Fox is in the top 20 nationally for assists per game and Malik Monk is sniping threes at a 43 percent rate. Kentucky should roll through the rest of its nonconference schedule, but watch December 3rd. UCLA visits Rupp Arena in what could be a battle of top 10 teams by then.