College basketball’s bubble is like a stick of bubble gum itself. Right now the flavor of every team is bursting with freshness. The out-of-conference match-ups allow us to get a true taste for each team. Two months from now we will be chewing on that same piece, working it over trying to find something new about the teams. There will be injuries, mental fatigue and, by the way, these kids actually have school to attend.
The first team that strikes me with that type of early season clarity is Clemson. Sure, they’re a young bunch that will lose games to the Gardner Webb’s of the world, but could be dangerous as they mature later this season. The athleticism is what passes the eye test. I find it ironic that AP voters kept LSU and Arkansas from the top 25, in part, because they lost to Clemson. However, Clemson is young, extremely athletic, and the type of team that steals a seed in early March because it reaches the ACC Championship game. We’ve seen that script play out before in the past. The program has a lot of momentum. They’ll build a new arena next year. Coach Brad Brownell signed a six-year extension in May. Yes, they lost dynamic scorer K.J. McDaniels to the Philadelphia 76ers. However, they add 6’8” freshman Donte Grantham (video embedded below). They also retained a senior point guard in Rod Hall who led them to the final four of last year’s NIT.
Congratulations to Northern Iowa for entering the AP Top 25. The two players I like on this team are seniors Seth Tuttle and Marvin Singleton. Both have size and are tough under the basket. In Northern Iowa’s impressive win at Stephen F. Austin, Jeff Van Gundy called Tuttle a “draft-able as a big man.” But, to better understand what’s going on with this team, I go directly to the source. Here is highlights posted by the UNI Men’s Basketball team’s YouTube channel of its third win of the season (the Panthers are now 8-0).
And one of my 5 preseason underdog teams, St. John’s, continues to roll. The Johnnies one upstate in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. That’s an impressive win any year. But my one concern would be the amount of minutes played by the same core group of 5 guys. Steve Lavin has the exact opposite of John Calipari’s “platoon” system. Lavin’s combination of Obekpa, Green IV, Harrison, Pointer and Jordan are on the floor together for a majority of these games. For example, during the Minnesota game, the unit logged 176 total minutes. Against Syracuse they played 178 combined.
Speaking of Minnesota, watch out now for Mo Walker. On the heels of learning that fellow Gophers big Josh Martin is leaving immediately, Walker put up a career high 22 points on 9-11 shooting. Walker has reportedly lost 70 pounds since Richard Pitino took over at Minnesota. With Martin leaving and Daquein McNeil suspended on charged he assaulted his girlfriend, the Gophers are in need of someone stepping up.
Across the Big 10 landscape, a pair of twin towers will challenge the size of the Twin Cities. Purdue’s freshman Tyler Haas is bringing some infectious energy to the Boilermakers. Last season, Purdue center A.J. Hammonds looked sleepy, despite being a sure-fire NBA prospect. Now word is that he and Haas have made a solid friendship through battling each other at practice. It is evident in watching the games, that the chemistry between these two is strong. When one scores before a time out, the other jumps off the bench to mug his teammate. In their dominant performance against N.C. State, Haas and Hammonds took turns jumping on each others back before shaking hands with the Wolfpack. Don’t ask me how the Boilermakers lost to the North Florida Osprey’s, I didn’t see the game.
The teams I believe do not belong in the AP Top 25 are as follows: Notre Dame, Washington, Miami and Maryland. I’d replace them with LSU, Purdue, Green Bay and Arkansas. Baylor is a tempting pick, especially because the Bears are 7-1 despite losing Kenny Chery to injury the last four games. However, I give Arkansas the slight edge because of my previous argument about Clemson. Texas also had an impressive showing this week in Kentucky without one of their best guards, Isaiah Taylor. In closing, I recommend watching these out-of-conference games while you can, fellow hoops fans. Make a judgement on these teams now before the grind of conference play lands your opinion squarely on the fence.