We’re two weeks and change into the college basketball season which means we can officially glean some information from the results and data we’ve thus far seen and accumulated. Whether or not all of it is sticky and prescriptive is probably (definitely!) still to be determined, but opinions are nonetheless being shaped on what we know so far and what we think we know so far. So why not put pen to paper and dole out some small-sample overreactions? (So we can, inevitably, look back on this in a few months and see just how right we were.)
Most teams have played four, maybe five games, so a lot of these are subject to change, of course. And teams can and often do change and evolve throughout the season as injured players return, new teams familiarize themselves and young players develop. But . . . sometimes early-season results are more predictive than we lend credence to. And if they are. . . well, that’s going to be a problem for a few teams (and a boon for a few others.)
Let’s jump right in and start with some lows. You can’t spell most of the word “low” without “Louisville,” so the Cardinals are up first.
Lousy Louisville is the worst team in the ACC
It’s been so bad for Louisville this season that I think, so long as we’re doing early-season overreactions, one could reasonably just cut off “in the ACC” from that prediction and roll with Louisville is the worst team. Kenny Payne’s tenure with the Cardinals is off to a miserable start. Missing out on five-star recruit DJ Wagner was just a taste of how things have been on the court. With a 80-54 blowout loss to No. 9 Arkansas in the Maui Invitational on Monday the Cardinals fell to 0-4 on the season, their worst start in more than eight decades (!!).
On Tuesday it got worse. Louisville had its lowest offensive output in 74 years in a 70-38 loss to No. 21 Texas Tech.
There are myriad reasons why the Cardinals are not a good basketball team right now, but No. 1 on the list right now is its inability to take care of the ball. Louisville ranked dead last among all major conference programs in assist-to-turnover ratio now with 72 turnovers and 31 assists on the season after a stunning 22 turnovers and four assists against Arkansas.
And what’s next for the 0-5 Cardinals? The schedule does them no favors. Louisville plays in the seventh-place game of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday against Cincinnati then embarks on this challenging schedule:
Nov. 29 No. 23 Maryland
Dec. 4 Miami
Dec. 10 at Florida State
Dec. 14 Western Kentucky
Dec. 17 Florida A&M
Dec. 20 Lipscomb
Dec. 22 at NC State
Dec. 31 at No. 15 Kentucky
Louisville started 1940-41 with 11 straight losses and has the distinct possibility of being 0-10 this season heading into its home game vs. the Rattlers. But Payne’s debut season is off to a Payne-ful start the Cardinals.
Villanova not the same without Jay Wright
Put this in the category of well, yeah, duh, but Villanova, as it turns out, doesn’t quite have the same hum it did under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright that it does so far under his replacement, Kyle Neptune. The Wildcats are 2-2 on the season with losses to Temple and No. 12 Michigan State. Their style remains the same – slow as ever with a plodding pace to grind teams down – but their results are so far mixed.
Not having five-star freshman Cam Whitmore and veteran star Justin Moore, both of whom are coming off injuries, is significant and part of the context to why it has started slow. But Nova looks like a tier below No. 10 Creighton and No. 20 UConn in the early going. We’ll see if things change as conference play nears but it might just be a down year as the Wildcats scrap in a new era but this year might bring with it some growing pains the program hasn’t had to deal with in recent years.
The Big 12 is big dog (again)
There was reason to be bullish in the preseason about the SEC and Big Ten potentially taking down the mighty Big 12 as the best conference in college hoops. But thus far that optimism has been blunted with a big stick with the Big 12’s best looking already like it might also double as college basketball’s best. Texas is 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 and No. 1 in the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 on the heels of blowing out then-No. 2 Gonzaga. No. 3 Kansas is 4-0 after taking down No. 8 Duke. And both No. 7 Baylor and No. 21 Texas Tech, despite one stumble each, have looked as good or maybe better than advertised.
Meanwhile in the SEC, big dog No. 15 Kentucky has looked rough and No. 22 Tennessee fell flat against hot-and-cold Colorado, and in the Big Ten, No. 11 Indiana, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 16 Illinois, No. 23 Maryland and No. 25 Iowa, have all been impressive so far but no team or teams have quite been as good as the collection the Big 12 has at the top.
Virginia is the class of the ACC
Preseason No. 1 North Carolina has done nothing to technically lose its ranking – it has won each of its four games on the season – but it certainly has done nothing to really validate that ranking, either. Against three teams ranked outside the top 80 at KenPom.com, UNC has a scoring margin that’s 54th nationally with closer-than-it-should’ve-been wins against both UNC Wilmington and Gardner-Webb.
Meanwhile, No. 5 Virginia’s preseason buzz has spilled over into early-season success with one of the most impressive opening two weeks highlighted by wins in Vegas last week over both Baylor and Illinois. With Duke not at full strength yet and UNC wobbling early, the Cavaliers look like contenders once again under Tony Bennett and appear to be the class of the ACC until further notice.
Big Ten exceeding its lofty expectations
There were just three Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 – Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, which was fewer than the Big 12 and SEC – but a whopping six teams from the conference landed inside the AP Top 25’s latest rankings on Monday. That’s more than any other major conference. Its rise has been bolstered by strong early-season showings from Michigan State, Maryland, Purdue and Iowa, all of which were unranked in the preseason but are a combined 15-1 to start the season with wins over Kentucky and Villanova (to Michigan State), Saint Louis and Miami (to Maryland), Marquette (to Purdue) and Seton Hall (to Iowa).