BY MATT DE SARLE
In case you’ve been in a cave, or dedicated your winter viewing to NFL football, you may have missed some major developments in college basketball. Let’s get you caught up!
Runaway Trains Baylor and Gonzaga Basketball on Collision Course
The first thing you need to know about the first 3 months of this college basketball season is the dominance of Baylor and Gonzaga. As always, Gonzaga has tested itself out of conference. And as of right now, they’re undefeated. They lost Filip Petrušev from last season but replaced his talent with Jalen Suggs. Suggs played high level football in high school and is giving the Bulldogs an intimidation element at guard they’ve rarely had. Speaking of intimidating guards, Baylor has also been unstoppable. With the addition of junior college transfer Adam Flagler, they now have 4 guards who can go for 15-20 points any night. And, the Baylor Bears still have the muscle down low that sometimes resembles its football team. To stick with the football analogies, Baylor and Gonzaga are seemingly runaway trains set for a Super Bowl collision in early April. In fact, they were supposed to play in December, but COVID-19 canceled that. The status of the game has ironically remained “postponed,” as it’s the odds-on favorite to happen as a National Championship.
Big 10 Can Send 10 Final Four Worthy Teams to the Tournament
After the dominance of Baylor and Gonzaga, the national landscape is relatively wide open. The SEC has a few top 20 teams (Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri) and the Big East returns a veteran Villanova and Creighton team. However, the Big 10 is really crazy talented. Every team in the Big 10 has a big man who can take over a game. The NCAA recently announced its final 13 finalists for the best center in the game. That’s the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award. Three of those finalists are from the Big 10. The frontrunner for player of the year is also from the Big 10: Luka Garza. Baylor and Gonzaga might get the top two seeds, but Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan might snatch up the next 2 and 3 seeds. Michigan was undefeated for the first two months of the season. Ohio State returned a great core and is having some great talent come off the bench. Illinois might have the most dangerous 1-2 punch in Ayo Disunmo and Kofi Cockburn. Meantime, teams like Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Purdue will all only just squeeze into the tournament in the 6-10 seed range because of how difficult it is to get wins in the conference. Read other Big 10 roster rotation movements of note here.
Mid-majors and other non-Power 5 Programs to Watch in College Hoops
If you include the Big East, college basketball really has six power conferences. As usual, there are multiple teams outside of the major conferences who can disrupt March Madness. This year there’s Houston as a perennial top 10 team. They look like a lock to win the American Conference. You also have Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference. They were recently ranked in the top 25 with their undefeated record before losing to Valpairaso. Other mid-major teams putting together tournament-worthy resumes include Western Kentucky, Belmont, and Winthrop, to name a few. The Mountain West has 4 or 5 teams that could make the tournament. They’d all be dangerous. Right now San Diego State, Boise State, and Colorado State are flirting with an 8 or 9 seed. You also have a very veteran bunch in Utah State with a legit 7 footer with skill in Neemias Queta. An interesting trend to watch is how many of these smaller conferences are managing the COVID-19 risk by playing back-to-back games. Or, one team will visit an opponent’s city and even play back-to-back days. That’s the story in Conference USA where North Texas, for example, just split a Friday-Saturday pairing with LA Tech. What’s interesting about this dynamic is that it mimics the NCAA Tournament.
How College Basketball Postseason Looks During COVID-19
The NCAA has decided to host its entire March Madness event in the Indianapolis area. The thought is that these smaller bubbles of players, staff, and supporters will mitigate the risk while traveling in smaller circles. The games will be held in some of the area’s iconic basketball venues (ex. Assembly Hall and Hinkle Fieldhouse). When it comes to Conference Championships, each conference is navigating the travel and fan participation in its own unique way. Here is a weblink where we are tracking all of the Championship Week updates.
College Basketball Traditions Continue Despite COVID-19
Even though fans can’t be in attendance in most cases, college basketball is still doing a great job at continuing many of its tradition. One recent tradition that continues is the college game’s presence of second generation talent. Here’s a full list of this year’s sons of NBA players in college basketball. Thank you for reading!