In last week’s column I told you how much fun this crazy rollercoaster season of college basketball is. I also said it would be extremely difficult for the selection committee this year. We are just about at the two thirds marker for this season, so I thought I would give you my two cents on each conference.
I will give you my Two Cent locks, probables, and possibles. In addition I’ll let you know who is surprising, as well as who is disappointing. Lastly, I will list players you want to keep an eye on, and I will call them eye catchers.
- Locks: Florida State, Louisville, Duke
- Probables: None
- Possibles: Virginia, NC State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, North Carolina
- Surprising: Virginia Tech
- Disappointing: North Carolina
- Eye Catchers: Trent Forrest(FSU), David Johnson(Louisville), Cassius Stanley(Duke), Vernon Carey(Duke), Elijah Hughes(Syracuse)
The ACC is down, particularly at the top. The three locks have all had moments of looking really good. The rest of the conference is a jumble.
Syracuse is the most improved team in the conference. They looked absolutely awful in December, but have really made a push the last month. Virginia Tech lost a lot of talent plus a head coach, yet the Hokies are still in the hunt. On the other end of the spectrum, this is the worst North Carolina team in quite some time. Getting stud freshman Cole Anthony back will give them their last gasp.
Of the seven possibles, I think three will get in. If I had to guess right now, I’d take Virginia, NC State, and Syracuse.
- Locks: Villanova, Seton Hall, Butler
- Probable: Creighton, Marquette
- Possible: Xavier, Georgetown, St. John’s, DePaul
- Surprising: Creighton
- Disappointing: DePaul
- Eye Catchers: Myles Powell(Seton Hall), Markus Howard(Marquette), Saddiq Bey(Villanova), Kamar Baldwin(Butler), Ty-Shon Alexander(Creighton)
For once, Villanova isn’t the clear cut favorite. I’m a big Seton Hall believer. Myles Powell is the best player in the league, and Kevin Willard is an under appreciated coach.
Creighton has played above expectations to this point. The Blue Jays seemed targeted for more of a rebuilding year. DePaul, once again, is disappointing. After a really solid non conference season, the Blue Demons have reverted back to their old selves in conference.
There is a ton of balance in the league, and that may come back to cost those possible teams a bid. Look for Xavier and probably one more of the other teams to make the field.
- Locks: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia
- Probable: Texas Tech
- Possible: TCU, Oklahoma, Texas
- Surprising: Baylor
- Disappointing: Texas
- Eye Catchers: Jared Butler(Baylor), MaCio Teague(Baylor), DeVon Dotson(Kansas), Derrick Culver(WVU), Kristian Doolittle(Oklahoma)
Baylor is very good, both skilled and athletic.They are storming through this surprising season with a roster that had a lot of question marks to start.
Kansas is a mess off the court, but Bill Self is one of the best between the lines. Bob Huggins doesn’t get nearly enough credit as a head coach. He has his Mountaineers playing great defense.
Of the possibles I think two make it, and if one of them isn’t Texas look for the Longhorns to fire Shaka Smart. It seems every year during Smart’s tenure the Longhorns are disappointing.
- Locks: Michigan State, Maryland
- Probables: Illinois, Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State
- Possible: Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue
- Surprising: Rutgers
- Disappointing: Ohio State
- Eye Catchers: Cassius Winston(Michigan St), Luka Garza(Iowa), Jalen Smith(Maryland), Ayo Dosunmu(Illinois), Kofi Cockburn(Illinois), Lamar Stevens(PSU)
The Big Ten is the best conference top to bottom, and it’s also the wackiest conference. Other than Northwestern and Nebraska, every team has a chance to make the tournament. This will be the conference that may challenge ten bids.
Rutgers has been a doormat for some time, but this year they are the surprise of the conference. The RAC has become a real home court advantage. Ohio State is streaking the wrong way, and may put itself in peril of missing the tournament.
Of the possible tournament teams, I think Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan are in the most danger. I think this is an eight bid league at a minimum.
- Locks: Kentucky, LSU, Auburn
- Probable: Arkansas
- Possible: Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi State
- Surprising: Auburn
- Disappointing: Georgia
- Eye Catchers: Skylar Mays(LSU), Javonte Smart(LSU), Ashton Hagans(Kentucky), Kerry Blackshear(Florida), John Petty(Alabama), Mason Jones(Arkansas), Isaiah Joe(Arkansas)
The SEC is top heavy. Kentucky may not have as much talent this year, but they are still Kentucky. LSU and Auburn would have to completely collapse to not make the tournament.
Auburn lost quite a bit from their Final Four team last year. Bruce Pearl still has the Tigers making noise, and surprisingly they are sitting near the top of the standings. With stud Anthony Edwards on Georgia’s roster, it was fair to expect more from Tom Crean’s club.
Of the four teams listed as possibles, I like Florida and Tennessee getting to the tournament.
- Locks: Oregon, Arizona
- Probables: Stanford, Colorado, USC
- Possibles: Utah, Washington, Arizona State
- Surprising: Stanford
- Disappointing: Oregon State
- Eye Catchers: Onyeka Okongwu(USC), Payton Pritchard(Oregon), Oscar da Silva(Stanford), Tyler Bey(Colorado), Zeke Nnaji(Arizona), Remy Martin(Arizona State), Isaiah Stewart(Washington), Timmy Allen(Utah)
The West is for real this year, and the PAC 12 exemplifies that fact.
Oregon and Arizona come as no surprise, but Stanford rising up to lead the league is a bit shocking. Andy Enfield can recruit, and finally his team at USC is more than freshman phenom Onyeka Okongwu.
The most disappointing team is Oregon State, who has a veteran roster that looked prime to make this their year. Losers of six out of their last eight, the Beavers better build a dam immediately to stop the losses. Of the possibles, Washington has the best wins, but finds itself at the bottom of the PAC 12 standings.
- Locks: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Dayton
- Probable: Wichita State, Houston, St. Mary’s, Memphis
- Possible: BYU, VCU, East Tennessee State, Northern Iowa, Rhode Island, Utah State, SMU
- Surprising: San Diego State
- Disappointing: Utah State
- Eye Catchers: Filip Petrusev(Gonzaga), Anthony Lamb(Vermont), Kendrick Davis(SMU), Obi Toppin(Dayton), Nate Hinton(Houston), Eddie Stansbury(Hawaii), AJ Green(No Iowa), Malachi Flynn(San Diego St), Sam Merrill(Utah St), Jordan Ford(St. Mary’s)
In this season of parity, a team from the “everyone else” category could win it all. These teams are the ones that will vie for at large bids, but of course there are the automatic qualifiers, as well, who win their conference.
Gonzaga is back again, and San Diego State has come out of nowhere to go undefeated to this point. Obi Toppin and his Dayton Flyers will be another team to keep an eye on. Who, and how many, teams from this list the committee awards bids to will be one of their toughest tasks.
There is a little over a month until March. More than any other year I can remember, these lists will be extremely fluid. Every game seems up for grabs, and many are coming down to the last possession.
This is my analysis to this point, and where I think teams are positioned. College basketball is a mad, mad world this year so take it with a grain of salt.
I know, I know…you already knew that.
Two Cent Takes
~Throwback uniforms have run amok in recent years, but Louisville should please feel free to give us more of these 1975 versions.
~Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was less than impressed with Saturday night’s officiating in Tallahassee where his team lost by a point to Florida State.
Brey has a point in that officiating is, well, let’s just say inconsistent. However, maybe he should go back and tell his AD to get the football team IN the ACC conference instead of them still being elitist. By the way, Mike, you should probably get your checkbook handy.
~Mark this week down. The top ten went unscathed.
- Overrated: Rutgers– The Scarlet Knights are a great story and nobody has fun going in to the RAC to play. They are going to make the tournament, but I don’t think they are a top 25 team just yet.
- Underrated: USC– The Trojans aren’t ranked, and after watching them go toe to toe with Oregon before losing in double overtime in Eugene, OR, I think they are being under appreciated. This is a very talented team. My doubts about them come because of head coach Andy Enfield.
- Sleeper: Arkansas– I hesitate to list the Razorbacks as a sleeper because they have a lot of talent. New coach Eric Mussleman brought in a new system and a new style so that takes some adjusting. 15-4 tells me they are adjusting and could do some damage in the last third of the season.
~USC has a new defensive coordinator in Todd Orlando. To show how far the mighty Trojans have fallen, they had to hire a castoff who got fired this past season at Texas.
Orlando prides his approach on practicing hard. His quote when hired was, “You can’t practice soft and play hard.” Maybe someone should have informed him Clay Helton doesn’t tackle in practice.
~All quiet on the Penn State football hazing scandal. Whether there is anything to this story or not, it certainly came at the best time. College football is off the map for a while. The only troubling thing if you are a Penn State fan is that these things never go away, they just go behind closed doors.
~Tiger Woods had a good week, but didn’t win. He did do this, however.
If I’m playing with my friends….this is going down on the card as a 2!!!
— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) January 27, 2020
As I said in the tweet, on a Tuesday afternoon with friends, and the ball hits the bottom of the cup…good!
~Players are coming out, in some cases angrily, with thoughts on the cheating scandal. Atlanta Braves Freddie Freeman had some interesting thoughts.
Freddie Freeman gets emotional talking about his former teammate Kris Medlen and the Astros cheating scandal.
Medlen, who battled injuries throughout his career, retired after giving up 7 runs agains the Astros in 2018 in his first start back in two yearspic.twitter.com/fkdNTx3beE
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) January 26, 2020
Pirates players, including Josh Bell, suggested at Piratefest they would much rather see players use steroids than know what pitch is coming.
~Speaking of the Pirates, their projected payroll for 2020 is under $60 million, and that’s before they trade Starling Marte. That will be almost $40 million less than the next lowest payroll in their division. New GM Ben Cherington said he just wants to get the team better. Hopefully Ben has a really good magic wand.
~I will always hate the two week lay off until the Super Bowl when the Steelers aren’t involved.
~Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL. He has a lot of weapons. The Chiefs defense has slowly, but surely, gotten better. The 49ers have a potent front four. They have better skill players than most acknowledge. They have an average quarterback. Give me the team with the best quarterback.
- Chiefs 31 49ers 21
A Penny For My Final Thought…
Kobe Bryant’s tragic death brought a lot of thoughts to my head.
When our idols die it hits hard. I lost my love for the NBA by the time Kobe came into the league. I’m just a casual fan now. However, I can certainly understand the reaction of people who wore his jerseys, got tattoos of him, and sat at the edge of their seats watching his every move. To those people he felt like a part of their lives.
People in Los Angeles are being hit harder yet by this tragedy. Kobe was not just a player in their city, but a valued member of the community. He just happened to be one of the famous ones. The best of what Kobe was going to do for LA was no doubt yet to come.
It is one of the best things about Kobe’s story. Years ago Kobe made a mistake, and because of his stardom everyone found out. It nearly destroyed his marriage, and could have really damaged his career. Fortunately our society allows people second chances. Oh, some won’t give that second chance, but many do. Kobe took advantage and, by all accounts, became a better person, a great dad, and a better citizen.
The NBA is a superstar driven league, more so than other leagues. Kobe is right near the top of that list of superstars. On the court he was most definitely a transcendent player. Ironically LeBron James passed him on the all time scoring list just Saturday night. Kobe’s last tweet was to congratulate James on the accomplishment. He was not just a great player, but a winner. Every story suggests he outworked everyone, too.
It certainly should not be forgotten that up to eight other people lost their lives on that helicopter as well, including Kobe’s 13 year old daughter Gianna. Those other people were someone’s idol, too. Their loss, including his daughters, is equally devastating to those families. Their families’ loss shouldn’t be overshadowed.
We yearn for enjoyment in our lives. For most that involves some amount of sports, TV, movies, and music. We latch on to our favorites in those areas. We watch them once a week, go to their movies as soon as they come out, play their music constantly, or watch them play for our favorite teams.
These idols aren’t part of our family, but they are a part of us. It hits home when they are taken from us. I had that feeling two weeks ago when Rush drummer Neal Peart died. All of my drum line friends from high school and I loved to watch/listen to Peart play. He was the ultimate drummer, and we were his biggest fans.
Though I wasn’t a Kobe fan, I fully understand the feelings his fans are going through. He was a big part of their life. I get it. Every fanatic should get it.
Unfortunately you don’t always get to write your own ending.
Just my two cents…
Tim Clark is a columnist and editor for PennSports.LIVE, and a wonderful writer of words. He is a lifelong sports fanatic with an eclectic mix of favorite teams including USC Trojans football, Louisville Cardinals basketball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins in pro sports.