It’s halftime in the college basketball regular season. So what suppositions have changed from when it all began on Nov. 6? We have here various preseason polls. Let’s take a look.
Kansas is No. 1 . . .
Nope. It’s been an adventure, with five of the 12 wins by five or fewer points or in overtime, not to mention the recent 17-point pounding at Iowa State. Now the Jayhawks have to make do without the irreplaceable post presence of gone-for-the-season Udoka Azubuike. There are still lots of weapons — the leading scorer the past six games has been six different players — and Kansas will likely be fine in the end. But a 15th consecutive Big 12 title seems like no gimmee.
Kentucky’s reloading is a given, and the Wildcats are No. 2 . . .
It wouldn’t be that simple. The season was two hours old and they had already been blown away by 34 points by Duke. Kentucky is a work in progress — who’s the point guard, will the defense find its teeth? — and the loss at Alabama this week suggested that more work is required.
Take the 3-point line. It’s more unfriendly to the Wildcats than a Louisville booster club. They started this week 301st in the nation in scoring ‘em, and 331st in the nation in defending ‘em. But hey, they did beat North Dakota. Why is that important? Kentucky now owns victories against teams from all 50 states.
Villanova lost four NBA draft picks, but the Wildcats are still a top 10 team because, well, they’re Villanova . . .
Not so fast. Jay Wright warned there might be ugly nights early. There were. Furman, Penn, the thrashing at home by Michigan. The Wildcats averaged four losses a season over the past five years, but had that many by Dec. 15 and vanished from the rankings. But as the win over St. John’s Tuesday showed, they’ll be back very soon. And they’re the early leaders in the Big East. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Oregon is No. 14 and the trendy pick to win the Pac-12 . . .
That was before the Ducks started losing bodies. They were down to eight scholarship players the other night and freshman Bol Bol — with his 21 points a game — is now gone for the season. Oregon is 9-5, and nothing will be easy. Then again, nothing comes easy to anybody in the Pac-12 these days. But someone will win the league. Someone has to.
UCLA is a top 25 team, so Steve Alford should be fine . . .
Oh, dear. What would John Wooden have said, watching Belmont and Liberty bully the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion? Alford made the wrong kind of history, becoming the first UCLA basketball coach to ever be fired in-season. Assistant Murry Bartow stepped in and the Bruins went from scoring 58 points against Liberty to putting up 92 and 98 against Stanford and California. That makes UCLA intriguing to watch in the second half, for a 9-6 team.
West Virginia lost some key players but will be up to its pressure defensive ways and is No. 13 . . .
Never mind. The Mountaineers have gone from No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin last season to No. 314, and from 13th in steals to 277th. Not only that, all-time shot blocker Sagaba Konate has been out with a knee injury. Hence, an 8-6 record and 0-2 start in the Big 12. “We can’t sit here and cry `woe is me,’ because he isn’t here,” Huggins said. “We got to find a way to win.”
West Virginia falls at Texas, 61-54. pic.twitter.com/51lyKAAzVN— WVU Men's Basketball (@WVUhoops) January 6, 2019
Kansas State is No. 12, and the main threat to Kansas in the Big 12 . . .
Then Dean Wade went down and a 6-0 record suddenly turned into 10-4. The Wildcats have broken 60 only twice in the past seven games.
Michigan will be good again, and is a solid No. 19.
The Wolverines are a whole lot better than good, especially on the defensive end, and now but a Duke loss away from probably being No. 1. Big Ten world, meet Ignas Brazdeikis.
Texas Tech is hardly a blip on anyone’s radar, with not one vote in the coaches’ pre-season top 25 and only six — good for 44th place — in the Associated Press . . .
That was before anyone tried to actually score against the Red Raiders defense. Now they’re 14-1 and No. 8, while allowing a 33.3 shooting percentage. Waaayyy better than anyone else. Look out, Kansas.
Houston? Who’s noticing Houston? The Cougars do not have a single vote in any poll . . .
Maybe nobody voted for them, but nobody has beaten them yet, either.
Buffalo should be a nice team, but not enough to be ranked . . .
After a 14-1 start that included wins at Syracuse and West Virginia, just try to keep the Bulls out of the top-25. They’ve been there nine consecutive weeks — the longest streak for a Mid-American Conference team since the 1961-62 season. Nooobody will want to play these guys in March.
The magic-makers from the NCAA tournament — Loyola Chicago and UMBC — have enough back for more glory. Loyola, with its Final Four memories, is on the cusp of the top 25, and Sister Jean is still in the house. UMBC knows from its Virginia conquest that anything is possible . . .
Fairy tale sequels can be a little bumpy. Both teams are 9-7, but showing recent signs of finding their A games. Loyola needs to rediscover its knack for survival that carried it through March. The Ramblers are 0-3 in games decided by six points or under.
By general consensus, the top candidates for player of the year are Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Duke’s RJ Barrett, Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Kansas’ Dedric Lawson and North Carolina’s Luke Maye . . .
Most people hadn’t seen Zion Williamson dunk yet. He wasn’t listed on the first unit of virtually any pre-season All-American team, nor the top 15 players on ESPN, nor the top 14 vote getters for AP. He is now. At the halfway pole, he is the face of the season, and so is his team. But things can change. They always do.