In the last week of October, we previewed six teams for the then upcoming season: North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Memphis. Now, a month into the season, I would like to hand out grades for the six teams. Each had different expectations before the season and they will be graded based upon those expectations.
North Carolina 7-1
Analysis: The Tar Heels entered the season with high expectations from the voters. However, the fans seemed to have much more realistic prospects concerning the young Heels. When watching Roy Williams’ team, it’s obvious to even a novice basketball fan that they are full of raw talent which makes them a dangerous team. Larry Drew II has stepped his game up and filled in for the departed Ty Lawson in a way some may not have expected.
Where the Heels have struggled the most this season is the turnover department where they average 17.3 per game. As also expected with young teams, Carolina has shown signs of not being completely able to put a game away. In the end, Coach Williams will mold the team into a dangerous group by late February.
Analysis: The preseason championship favorites have not disappointed early in the season, but they haven’t been the dominant team some may have expected. Their five games against inferior competition have been complete blow outs, but they did struggle against Memphis in St. Louis. To be fair, most teams usually don’t face such competition in the second game of the season.
The Jayhawks have seemed to struggle when All-American candidate Sherron Collins has been off the court. Tyshawn Taylor hasn’t been as consistent this season as Bill Self may like, but Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich have been very stable down low. As with North Carolina, the Jayhawks have way too much talent to disappoint.
Analysis: The Orange are undefeated behind the steady zone defense of Jim Boeheim despite the departures of Johnny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris. After losing their exhibition to Lemoyne, very few people would’ve believed the Orange had it in them to beat both California and North Carolina in route to the 2K Sports Classic Championship.
Can Syracuse keep up the early season momentum? It remains to be seen, but the next test is looming December 10th against another up-start group in the Florida Gators. With the zone defense and steady play from their experienced leadership, I’m betting on Boeheim’s boys to continue the good season.
Analysis: It’s very apparent John Calipari’s Wildcats are absolutely loaded with talent, but the mixture of holdovers and freshmen has yet to gel. Out of the seven games, only one was against a team from a big-six conference: Stanford, in which the ‘Cats won 73-65.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Kentucky’s “struggles,” has been the defense. Calipari has always trademarked his teams with strong defenses. Since the Sam Houston State game in which Kentucky gave up 92 points in Rupp Arena, they’ve only given up 63, 49, 65, and 57. So, it appears the talent-laden Wildcats are learning to use their skill and athleticism to create havoc defensively. We should learn a lot about their progression in the next two games when they play host to two top fifteen teams: North Carolina and Connecticut.
Analysis: As the Sensei pointed out in his season preview of the Badgers, Bo Ryan’s boys never seem to be the early season trendy pick, yet they always find away to finish in the top three of the Big 10. Their lone loss came to Gonzaga in Hawaii which isn’t a bad loss at all. They now boast two wins over talented ACC squads in Maryland and Duke (the latter which helped the conference win its first ever ACC/Big 10 challenge).
Statistically, the Badgers are strong defensively as they usually are. One obvious weakness so far this season has been the three-point shooting where they are a hair above 29%. Expect Wisconsin to continue its solid play throughout the season and be a tough out in March.
Analysis: No one anticipated the Tigers to be major contenders this season with the departure of John Calipari and leading scorer Tyreke Evans, but maybe they’re better than originally expected. The Tigers gave the number one Jayhawks everything they wanted in St. Louis before eventually falling by two points. Duke transfer Elliot Williams and JUCO signee Will Coleman have provided solid play for first year head coach Josh Pastner.
Two concerns stick out to me. The first is Wesley Witherspoon. He was basically non-existent in the Kansas game and he’s too talented to disappear at big times. The Tigers need the versatility he provides. The second is how much do we take from the Kansas game? Are the Tigers legitimate or did Kansas have a night off? I think it’s a mixture of both, but until Memphis beats a quality opponent (and they have plenty of chances with Tennessee, Syracuse, and Gonzaga left on the schedule), they’ll have to settle for being a fringe top 25 team.
Overall, the college basketball season has been pretty good so far. It’s had March-like upsets and quality play which can be uncharacteristic of early season basketball. We should all continue to look forward to the remaining non-conference games before the rivalries start in January and February.