Welcome to Five College Basketball Questions You Need Answered. Any retransmission of this column without the express written consent of the author is prohibited and punishable by a month-long vacation with Jim Boeheim (more on that later).
No.1 – Who is No.1?
This college basketball season might not be like last year when the Final Four featured three teams from the 2014-15 preseason top 25 (Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke). There probably isn’t a super team. It could be more like 2013-14 when only one member of the preseason Top 25 reached the Final Four (Kentucky) and the eventual champion was a surprise: Connecticut.
Based on what we know so far: these teams can make a good case for No.1:
Michigan State (9-0): Could this be the team that finally delivers Tom Izzo his second national championship? The Spartans have impressive quality victories over Kansas, Providence and Louisville. They also have a national player of the year candidate in Denzel Valentine. Plus, they sit atop the Associated Press rankings, so they are certainly worthy of consideration for the rest of us.
North Carolina (7-1): You have to re-evaluate the Tar Heels now that Marcus Paige is back. In his return, he led an 89-81 home victory over No. 2 Maryland. In his second game, North Carolina crushed previously unbeaten Davidson 98-65. Perhaps the loss at Northern Iowa was an aberration.
Oklahoma (6-0): Ken Pomeroy loves Oklahoma who is ranked No.1 in the Pomeroy Ratings. The Sooners own victories over Wisconsin (65-48) and previously unbeaten Villanova (78-55). They are No.1 in Pomeroy’s defensive ratings and have held opponents under 65 points four times. Look at what Oklahoma did against Villanova on Monday night, holding the Wildcats to a season low in points on 31.7 percent shooting.
Kentucky (7-1): One bad game against a major-conference opponent on the road shouldn’t be too alarming. Sure the Wildcats looked vulnerable against UCLA’s size but there is still time to grow. With a healthy Tyler Ulis, the backcourt should carry Kentucky until the frontline stabilizes.
No.2 – What coach is feeling the heat?
LSU’s Johnny Jones brought in a stellar recruiting class, featuring the No.1 player in Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney. This talent infusion was supposed to make the Tigers a national power.
But you don’t just assemble ingredients, stick it into a microwave and call it a gourmet meal. Is the top chef the problem? Last week’s loss at Charleston (egads) had the national media howling.
Simmons, the second-coming of LeBron James (or Lamar Odom), stuffs the stat sheet. He’s averaging 19.9 points, 14.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.6 blocks. In last week’s victory over North Florida, Simmons collected 43 points 14 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and five steals. It was the highest scoring game by an LSU player since Shaquille O’Neal’s 43 points vs. Northern Arizona in December 1991.
LSU should be better. If the Tigers fail to make the NCAA tournament or get bounced out in the initial round, Jones may pay the price.
Jones wouldn’t be the first LSU coach to underachieve. Dale Brown’s 1989-90 squad featured Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Jackson and was preseason No.2. It beat eventual national champion UNLV in the regular-season but lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Jones has been coaching for 16 years – four at LSU. He has as many NCAA tournament victories as you.
No.3 – How will Jim Boeheim spend his time off?
Jim Boeheim is going to have a lot of time on his hands. The Syracuse coach lost his appeal and has begun serving a nine-game suspension for NCAA infractions. He won’t return until the Orange’s Jan. 9 home game against North Carolina. After extensive interviews and research, we’ve discovered Boeheim’s plans.
- Join an off Broadway play based on Christmas Vacation where Cousin Eddie – portrayed by Fab Melo – kidnaps NCAA president Mark Emmert. Cue “H”allelujah! Holy ****! Where’s the Tylenol?”
- Form his own Rob Gronkowski-style party boat along with Jim Calhoun and John Thompson. Who wouldn’t want to kick it (really) old school with some Big East OGs?
- Embark on a quest to find the secure location that houses the Ark of the Convenant, the Joe Paterno statue and infamous former Louisville staffer Andre McGee.
- Hack into every radio station in America to permanently delete the most overplayed song of 2015: Maroon 5’s “Sugar.”
No.4 – Is there a can’t-miss game this week?
West Virginia (7-0) vs. Virginia (7-1) on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic: West Virginia has enjoyed beating overmatched opponents with one of the worst schedules in the nation. Its most impressive opponent: San Diego State (5-4). Will Virginia have back London Perrantes who has missed the past two games due to an appendectomy?
No.5 – Who has the dunk of the year so far: Texas’ Kerwin Roach or UCLA’s Prince Ali?
Ali might get more love because of the quality of opponent (Kentucky). However, Roach’s was more graceful against UT Arlington. He didn’t fall (Yes, I know Ali was fouled). Slight edge: Roach.