LAS VEGAS — It’s two months into the college basketball season and if you haven’t been watching, you’ve missed absolutely nothing. A PSA to casual basketball fans: Don’t turn on your TV until March.
Here’s the short recap.
The best player in the country and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick, James Wiseman, left Memphis after only playing three games. Early in the season, the NCAA suspended Wiseman for 12 games and fined him $11,500 for a recruiting violation. Wiseman announced on Dec. 19 that he has hired an agent and is focused on preparing for the draft.
Frustration over the ugliness reached a boiling point for one angry fan in Las Vegas while he was watching his North Carolina Tar Heels nearly blow a 14-point lead to UCLA early in the second half. “Are you guys 12?! You’re playing like a YMCA team! … God, I can’t watch this team anymore.” Every college basketball fan has screamed some iteration of the same thing at their team this season.
UNC held on to win 74-64 but it wasn’t pretty. Head coach Roy Williams called two quick timeouts early in the second half and had some harsh words for his players. “I asked them if they wanted me to go get their mama. I mean, come on guys, Jesus Christ, it's a basketball game, compete your butt off and play.”
The same dreary malaise has permeated throughout college basketball — especially at the top. No No. 1 team has been able to hold on to the No. 1 spot for longer than two weeks. Louisville had the longest run before losing to Texas Tech. There have been five No. 1 teams in seven weeks of basketball.
Kentucky lost to Evansville in early November, 67-64, giving up their No. 1 spot. The Wildcats reportedly paid $90,000 to the program for what they thought would be an easy win.
Duke was No. 1 until it lost to Stephen F. Austin at home, 85-83, ending a 150-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. “We can’t give up 64 points in the paint. It’s just a recipe to lose. They were just tougher than we were,” Mike Krzyzewski said after the stunning loss.
Kansas’ reign at No. 1 was short-lived after it lost to Villanova, 56-55, on Saturday. Gonzaga will take over the top spot this week but the way the season is going, an upset to Detroit on Dec. 30 could happen.
North Carolina is having its worst season in 20 years. The Tar Heels lost their star freshman point guard Cole Anthony to a knee injury after only nine games. Anthony will most likely sit out the rest of the season. Roy Williams is off to his worst start ever as head coach, sitting at 7-6 going into the Christmas break. North Carolina hasn’t been this bad since 2001 when it finished 8-20 for the season. “This is the most frustrated I’ve ever been,” Williams said. “I’ve been very lucky coaching-wise, but this is the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I don’t think we’re playing basketball the way that I want us to play and that is probably the most frustrating.”
No. 6 Kentucky lost to unranked Utah 69-66 earlier this week and went 2-of-17 (11.8 percent!) from 3-point range. “How in the world were we even in the game? I have no idea,” Calipari said after the game. ”I believe we have good shooters, we’re just maybe timid right now.” Kentucky’s currently ranked 332 out of the 353 Division I teams for 3-point shooting percentage shooting 27.5 percent collectively as a team.
Michigan went from unranked to No. 4 in the country after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament at the beginning of November. Head coach Juwan Howard’s celebration dance after the win was the only memorable moment of the entire tournament. Their reign within the top five didn’t last long, as the Wolverines lost four days later to Louisville, 58-43, and have gone 2-3 the following five games. They’re now ranked No. 14.
UCLA’s roster is cluttered with former five-stars and highly rated high school recruits but can’t make anything translate on the court. Shareef O’Neal, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Jules Bernard and a few others were all top-100 players before they joined the Bruins. The Bruins’ only Power Five non-conference win was Alabama, and some of their other victories include Gardner-Webb and Elon. UCLA is 7-5 heading into conference play and are a bottom-tier team in a weak Pac-12 conference.
In one of the strangest games this season, St. Mary’s destroyed Arizona State 96-56 on Wednesday. Only three ASU players scored in that game, with junior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. coming off the bench dropping 43 points. That’s right, Verge had 43 and only two other ASU players made up the remaining 13 points.
The leaderboard for points, rebounds, assists and blocks is cluttered with mid-major players. Markus Howard from Marquette is leading the nation in scoring with 25.9 points per game. Quinnipiac power forward Kevin Marfo is leading in rebounds, grabbing 13.4 boards per game. Samford senior guard Josh Sharkey is dishing out 9.7 assists per game and rim protector Kylor Kelley from Oregon State is currently averaging 4.6 blocks per game. Howard made headlines when he dropped 51 points on USC late November but the rest of the players on top of the leaderboard are unfamiliar names in the college basketball world.
Three things have created the perfect storm for this college basketball season. The freshmen one-and-done class is not as talented or deep as years past. Two out of the top five players, James Wiseman and Cole Anthony, are sitting out and the No. 6-ranked player R.J. Hampton is playing over in Australia. There were a staggering 175 college players that declared for the draft last year with only 60 available draft spots. That leaves a lot of college talent playing in the G League. We were all spoiled last year with never-ending Zion Williamson highlights and fans had lofty expectations coming into this season.
No one knows who will be No. 1 come March. The silver lining is the NCAA tournament will be wide open and it promises to bring big upsets and close games all month long. No bracket will be safe and we could see teams make Final Four runs that have never been there before.
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