A month and a half has passed and although the casual college basketball fan has only peeked over to take minimal note at the best teams and players in the country that typically consist of the sport’s blue-bloods such as Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, etc. The most recent AP poll released earlier this week has 5 of the top 10 teams ranked with a defeat in the loss column. Meanwhile, others with undefeated records must continue to make their case with work still left to do; most notably SMU who has recently been penalized with NCAA infractions over the off-season. Here is whom holds the top 5 spots in this week’s power rankings:
- Michigan State Spartans
Tate’s Take: Leading candidate for national player of the year Denzel Valentine, a senior who has recorded 2 triple-doubles (5 double-doubles) in a total of 11 games and leads Sparty with 11 wins. ‘Zel’ is clearly the heart & soul of Izzo’s team and that’s no secret but most impressively, the scheme in East Lansing has transitioned into a very unusual and uncharacteristic-like success story, different than what we are used to seeing from the ‘typical MSU’. Rebounding and hard-nosed defense has always been the go-to for the Spartans to win their games season in and out but as that continues within the system, one change that could be tough to prepare for defensively is combining that with the high volume shooting from it’s guard-heavy roster. ‘Going small’ in an attempt to outscore opponents on ‘O’ and continue to sustain the mentality of defending (or checking, as Izzo likes to call it) can, will and has been the newly added recipe for success, providing more of a balanced attack. The days of winning games 47-43 are long gone (unless playing Wisconsin of course). Perhaps former Spartan Draymond Green has helped assist Izzo with implimenting a new game-plan by essentially starting a ‘smaller’ roster and taking the title of high volume shooting to another level as shown helpful when Golden State won the NBA championship last season? What’s ahead? I’m honestly quite unsure as to why State is traveling to play JJ Berea’s Northeastern on the road but that shouldn’t (keyword: SHOULDN’T) present much challenge for the nation’s #1 team.
- Kansas Jayhawks
Tate’s Take: With only 1 single loss so far this season (#1 MSU), KU looks poised yet again to return to Big 12 conference play and defend their crown while entering as reigning champs for the past 11 consecutive seasons. That feat cannot be easy as they are well aware that the target is on their backs yet again but somehow are always able to prevail victorious. That won’t be nearly as easy this year by any stretch of the imagination with an extremely top-heavy Big 12 that only seems to be getting heavier and more consistent with every game with 3 teams ranked in the top 10 (ISU, OU). One may believe that getting senior Perry Ellis more involved with touches and opportunity to score and/or pass as a ‘pretty good’ passer, has the ability to draw double-teams and kick providing an inside/outside threat of Rock Chalk. Five-star freshman Chieck Diallo has finally been ruled eligible and has given Kansas the huge lift that they needed to be a contender nationally for the Final Four in Houston, in which they are well known for making the appearance every 4 years or so. The last time KU reached the national semis was 4 seasons ago in 2012 where they lost to eventual national champ Kentucky. Before that, 2008 during the miracle season when they defeated Calipari’s Memphis team accompanied by #1 NBA Draft pick Derrick Rose and cut down the nets. You do the math. A ‘tougher than you may think’ Montana Grizzlies club is up next and could be scary early as KU is usually good for especially considering their size and hung tight all the way to the very last buzzer with West Coast power Gonzaga last week (61-58) at The Kennel and a ‘pretty damn good’ Boise State squad that will return to the NCAA tournament this season (74-72). Problem is, this isn’t Spokane, Washington nor is it Taco Bell Arena in Idaho… it’s Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. Need I say more?
- Oklahoma Sooners
Tate’s Take: Keep a close eye on this weekend’s upcoming match-up with Creighton, who last season defeated Boomer Sooner in Nebraska so it’s fair to say that OU has revenge on their minds when they welcome the Blue Jays into Norman on Saturday. Senior, Buddy Hield will demand much of the national recognition but the true diamond in the rough and unsung hero is Ryan Spangler who has picked up where he left off a season ago as fierce rebounder and fearless competitor but most impressively, Spangler has extended the range of his outside shooting abilities and turned into a more prolific scorer which has led to taking more of a optional scoring role. In case you’re wondering and haven’t seen much of OU this season, a win over Memphis to begin the season where they scored 80+ points didn’t exactly catapult them to such high ranking. What did was a near 20-point rout on their home floor vs. last year’s nat’l c’ship game runner-up Wisconsin, who everyone agrees clearly isn’t exactly the Wisky we saw back in April but is still a solid W and will likely show to be bigger than imaginable when March ’16 rolls around because let’s face it… they’re still Wisconsin! Lastly, the icing on the cake may have very well been their date with top-ranked Villanova, resulting in a 23-point victory for Lon Kruger on a neutral site in Hawaii while celebrating the rememberance of Pearl Harbor.
- Maryland Terrapins
Tate’s Take: How dare I start anywhere else other than with the #1 point guard in the country and he needs no introduction: Melo Trimble. A Trey Burke-type who will stick daggers into defenses, whomever they may be, torching them with big shot after big shot and is tough and relentless as they come. Jake Layman, who returned to College Park for his final season to win a title has shown recent improvement after some early lackluster scoring struggles shooting the peel. Posting double figures in scoring the past 4 games has been the plus that MD has been yearning for from JL in comparison to the single double digit scoring game in his first 6 contests. Let the loss to UNC in Chapel Hill serve as a lesson learned to coach Turgeon and Co. Cekovsky, Dodd and Nickens will continue proving to be some of the best complimentary players that can be found around and won’t just sit back & watch Melo work his magic. The Terps like to get physical, down and dirty with the best of them and will be extremely competitive on every night out. Don’t expect these things to change anytime soon. ACC transfers Carter Jr. (GT) and Sulaimon (Duke) have stepped right in and added even more toughness to an already gritty team on both sides on the ball… not to mention the experience that they bring to the table. Diamond Stone has his rough edges like an other frosh in their first 10 games (LSU’s Ben Simmons included), but has an unteachable upside that many won’t take notice of until we get into the meat and potatoes of college basketball. The rivalry with Georgetown has been renewed and that win early in the season could pay dividends later as the other vs. Rhode Island will likely join that category (believe it or not). The 10-point win vs. UConn displayed many athletes that could very well be playing on the next level but only time will tell how much scheduling the Huskies will effect their resume for future seeding.
- Kentucky Wildcats
Tate’s Take: Kentucky is still Kentucky but don’t expect to see Kentucky look like Kentucky. That statement may seem a bit confusing but ask those in Lexington exactly what that means and they may be able to explain it a little better. Entering the season we knew that Big Blue Nation would be atop the nation in recruiting (as usual) and will contain exceptional talent but also adding that they would they struggle to land as many 5-star athletes as previous years from a depth standpoint. It doesn’t take an Ivy League grad to know UK wouldn’t be the exact same as a year ago where they set an NCAA record of 38-1 but that they’d still be better than most average teams. I’m afraid that Skal Labissiere needs a bit more weight and polishing to coach Cal’s liking and has shown signs of raw material. Standing nearly 7 feet tall, his ability to block shots has taken effect early as expected but averaging barely over 3 rebounds per game simply won’t cut it. Forward Alex Poythress has shown flashes (and flashes only) of his freshman season prior to his 2 season ending injuries but who knows what he’ll be able to give and for how long. Tyler Ulis has taken over the Cats’ leadership role as a vocalist while Jamal Murray has become the silent scoring killer that everyone thought could and would likely happen. Marcus Lee has the ability to do so many things and may be the most versatile player on the roster but it’s not often that Cal gives him the opportunity to showcase his other abilities besides being the ‘clean up man’. Lee and Briscoe could be the x-factors here moving forward but as usual free throws has been a major concern for Isaiah (38%)… sounds about right for the average Calipari team but Briscoe will likely explode very soon and emerge to look like a sure lock for the NBA draft at some point. Not many can defend on the perimeter as he can. The loss to UCLA @ renovated Pauley Pavillion could be worse than it seemed to a couple weeks ago. Yes, they’re UCLA. We all understand that. Yes, they made a deep run into the tourney in March (very unexpected). Yes, they took advantage of a season in which Kentucky took some chemistry hits early in the season when Cal was still putting together the pieces to his puzzle but make no mistake about it, UCLA isn’t the same as we had been accustomed to seeing either. Simply, UCLA out-hustled and outplayed UK… wanting it more while unable to yield Bryce Alford. Needless to say, beating Duke was huge and with Ohio State up next, life should be a breeze but not before they welcome in-state rival Louisville to Rupp Arena although the meeting this season won’t have nearly as much spunk added but still expected to be worth watching… especially in the Blue Grass State.