Though different sports and levels, the end of the Super Bowl has long signified the unofficial start of college basketball season. While the season has been raging for months, this is the point in the year where people really start to pay attention. After all, we are just three weeks away from selection Sunday. So, what have you missed this Men’s College Basketball season so far?
Here are three key things:
Yes, the coronavirus is alive and well and playing a significant role in this season — two crucial things to note. First, the NCAA Tournament will be played entirely in the state of Indiana. A vast majority of the tournament will take place in Indianapolis, a hub for basketball in the Midwest. Much like we saw last year with the NBA in Orlando, the NCAA plans to create a bubble with courts located in Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Colts), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the Pacers), Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena on the campus of Purdue and Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. All teams will practice on courts in the Indiana Convention Center. The second COVID-related change comes in terms of seeding. Location preference is no longer a factor, given that all games will be played in the same state. Due to the Ivy League canceling their season, one more at-large place is up for grabs, along with 31 automatic qualifiers. The presence of fans is still up in the air.
Changing of the Guard?
When one thinks of the best college basketball teams, they almost immediately say Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky. This year it is unlikely that any of these teams will make the tournament. Duke has had a tumultuous year, and now their star Freshman Jalen Johnson has left the team and declared for the NBA Draft. Duke is 8-8, and with looming matchups against ranked and Indianapolis-bound opponents, things are looking bleak for the Blue Devils. For their bitter rival UNC, the problem has been on the offensive side of the ball all year. They have dominated the glass but struggled night in and night out in scoring the ball. They still have a shot at the big dance but need to perform well down the stretch and make a run in the ACC Tournament. At the very least, however, they beat Duke in Cameron Indoor. For the Wildcats, it just has not come together this season. They are 6-13, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation, and turn the ball over at a staggeringly high rate. It will be a longer than usual offseason for Coach Cal as he hopes to return Kentucky to its winning ways next year in an improved SEC.
So who are the new top teams in the nation?
Gonzaga and Baylor are in a league of their own right now. Though the Zags probably have the upper-hand in seeding, don’t be surprised to see these two duking it out for the National Championship. Gonzaga is loaded from top to bottom, with future lottery pick Jalen Suggs leading the charge. Drew Timme is a force in the paint, and the Bulldogs are undefeated on the year with no future losses insight. Baylor has been active for a couple of weeks now due to COVID issues but is set to resume play this weekend. They missed out on some big matchups to gauge their true ability (including a game against Gonzaga in December); however, they face two top-25 teams in West Virginia and Kansas upon their return. Other teams to look out for include Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and the surging Oklahoma Sooners.
Headlines have been flaunting the name Cade Cunningham nearly all year, and rightfully so. The Oklahoma State Freshman guard is carrying his team and looking impressive while doing it. Cunningham can do it all on the offensive end of the floor and is projected to be the top pick come draft night.
The most impressive Freshman, however, has not been Cunningham. Evan Mobley is a Freshman Center at USC and is an absolutely electric player to watch. At 7’0″ with a 7’6″ wingspan, Mobley is a terror on both ends of the court. His ball-handling skills, coupled with a high basketball IQ and soft touch, make him nearly unguardable on offense. Defensively he is a shot-blocking machine and a menace in the paint. Watch out for Mobley in the tournament, and don’t be surprised to see his name called early on draft night.
Luka Garza is a traditional big man who punishes his defenders in the paint. The Iowa Hawkeyes Senior is making noise as a Senior and has to be considered one of the favorites to win the Wooden Award – the award handed out to the nation’s best player. Though you won’t see his name top any draft boards due to his more traditional style of play, Garza is closing out his career strong and has played himself into a second-round draft selection.
This season has indeed been like no other but, fingers crossed, it will end like nearly all other seasons have, and going into March, tons of questions still need answering.