We're on the cusp of college basketball taking over the national landscape. The NBA hasn't started yet and is corrupt with blocking of trades, the NFL playoff races are going to prove to be anti-climactic, and college football is on a two-week hiatus until the bowl games start.
College basketball has already provided us with plenty of intrigue, upsets and great games this year. The teams have been rated based on their first few games, but which teams are currently rated too highly, and which are rated too low?
Which teams can you buy into now and expect to see play deep into March? Which teams are ranked and won't do much in March? Read on.
Stanford hasn't hit anyone's radar yet this year, but it could be the best team in the Pac-12 (not that that says much).
Here is what says much: Stanford has already notched quality wins against N.C. State and Oklahoma State, and lost to Syracuse by a slim six-point margin.
The Cardinal have a great balance of talented freshmen and experienced upper classmen. Josh Owens, a 6'8" forward, is second in the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game.
Aaron Bright, a 5'11" sophomore guard, leads the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game, while 6'1" freshman guard Chasson Randle is third in scoring at 11.2 ppg.
The numbers and statistics may not be overly gaudy, but that isn't Stanford's goal. The Cardinal are going to play a slow, methodical game, and they are tenacious on the defensive end. They lock down on defense and allow assists on field goals on only 40 percent of shots, 11th best in the nation.
The Pac-12 is going to be the battle of the bay, Cal and Stanford. I'll take the Cardinal.
This may be surprising to some, but after adjusting for how fast teams play, Pitt actually hosts the second-ranked offense in the nation and 137th in defense. I would guess that many would think those two rankings should be flipped, as Pitt has taken on the identity of the Steelers and the city itself, as a tough-nosed, grind-it-out, blue-collar, physical team (why this occurs I don't know, but is a story for another day).
Asthon Gibbs leads Pitt's high-powered offense (see, doesn't it sound weird to say?) with 18.9 points per game. Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson add 14.1 and 13.9 per game.
Why so low on the Panthers if the offense is so great? Because of the defense.
Opponents are shooting 53.5 percent from the field against Pitt, that's 310th in the nation. It isn't just good luck either, as the Panthers are 329th in turnovers forced. Simply put, they don't guard anyone.
We've seen the result this can have already. They beat Rider 86-78, which was Rider's highest scoring output of the season. They lost to Long Beach State in a high-scoring game, 86-76. They were able to beat Robert Morris by 10, LaSalle by four and Tennessee by five. A win is a win, but these are teams you should be blowing out if you are truly the 15th best team in the nation.
The Cavs have already compiled a nice portfolio with wins over Michigan, George Mason, Drexel and Drake. Through the first month the Cavs have established themselves as the third best team in the ACC.
They're led by Mike Scott, a 6'8" senior who averages 15.3 ppg and 9.1 rebounds per game. Joe Harris adds 12.4 points per game and shoots 90 percent from the free throw line!
Virginia is incredibly long, leading them to be a very good defensive team. The Cavs play very slow and rank in the top 80 in both steals and blocks per possession. They rank No. 1 in the nation in offensive rebounds allowed.
This is the style Tony Bennett wants to run under. They play slow but get to the free throw line. They are making 54 percent of their shots from the field and have a free-throw-attempted/field-goal-attempted ratio of 52.4, 11th best in the nation. This is a dangerous team.
People are going to be quick to state that this is the year it finally comes together for the Bulldogs. After all, they've beaten Texas A&M, Arizona and West Virginia already, and are No. 17 in the polls with a 8-1 ranking! Doing so would be ignoring their loss to Akron, and would also be ignoring some major deficiencies they have.
First, the good. Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie are what make the Bulldogs go, not Renardo Sidney. Bost and Moultrie each average 17 points per game, while Moultrie brings down 11 rebounds per game. Bost is a stat-sheet stuffer, averaging over four rebounds and four assists per game. Bost is one of the most un-heralded players in the nation.
Now for the bad. The Bulldogs aren't particularly deep. Sidney is still only averaging 22 minutes per game, forcing extra pressure on Bost, Moultrie, Rodney Hood and Brian Bryant. All four of those men average over 30 minutes per game. I'm skeptical about whether they can keep that up.
The Bulldogs don't get to the free throw line very often, and when they do, they are shooting only 68.3 percent.
Overall, MSU is a fair, 19-win team. They should be on the right side of the bubble come March. They just aren't a top-15 team quite yet.
If any of their starters were to miss an extended period of time, they would be especially hurt, given their lack of depth. Or, if Moultrie and Bost struggle, they will be in trouble. The two combined to go 4-for-22 against Akron in the team's only loss.
Draymond Green is averaging a double double
Michigan State is 7-2 with a five-point loss to Duke and 12-point loss to UNC. If any other university does that, it gets a medal of honor. When MSU does it, it's going through a "down year."
MSU is going to do continue to do what it's done best in the past: play great defense, rebound, play physical and share the basketball.
The Spartans may lack the depth that they have in years past, but are strong at the top with Draymond Green, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood. Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne are two young players who have already shown improvement under Coach Izzo.
As always, the Spartans are near the top in rebounding and assists. They rank second in the nation in rebounds per game and 16th in the nation in assists per game. They will continue to improve under the tutelage of Izzo. They're young, but they'll be a factor come March.
Texas A&M is 7-1 but has played exactly one team of any remote-quality, Mississippi State. The Aggies lost, 69-60.
The Aggies are struggling offensively, averaging only 64 points per game. Granted, it isn't as bad as it seems, as the Aggies play a slow tempo game, but, I'm concerned about their ability to score when it comes to playing Baylor, Kansas or Mizzou, among other Big 12 teams.
Ray Turner, Elston Turner and David Loubeau are a nice triumvirate, averaging a combined 37 points per game. After that, however, there isn't much. No other Aggie averages more than six points per game, although four average between five and six per game.
Who will be the one player to step up and help out? It remains to be seen. If the Aggies can get more consistent scoring across the board, then they can be dangerous. Until then, don't expect anything big from Texas A&M.
The secret is out on Belmont. They were considered a potential Cinderella last year after finishing 30-5, but a loss to Wisconsin in the first round quashed those hopes. If people weren't aware of their presence last season then they certainly were put on notice following Belmont's opening loss to Duke by one point.
That's the thing. Just because people are aware of Belmont doesn't make them any less of a quality team.
The Bruins play at a fast tempo and are 11th in the nation in scoring at 84 points per game. They shoot 47.4 percent from the field and turn it over on just 15.5 percent of their possessions, 11th best in the nation.
Wisconsin was a bad matchup for Belmont last year because Wisconsin plays so slow and methodical, and the Badgers were able to impose their pace. When Belmont slowed down, they struggled. They are better suited playing an up-tempo game and could be trouble to any team that wants to get into a shootout with them.
Vanderbilt has been hurt by the loss of Festus Ezeli, who returned just in time for Vanderbilt to hold off a Davidson charge a few nights ago. Even with his return, I don't see the Commodores going far in March.
The Commodores have looked bland at best this season, losing to Cleveland State and blowing games against Xavier and Louisville. They were able to hold off Davidson and Oregon State; otherwise more people would be pushing the panic button as of now.
They have an experienced, solid starting five with Ezeli back. John Jenkins is averaging 21.3 points per game, while Jeffery Taylor is adding 16.6 per game.
After that, however, the Commodores drop off. They aren't nearly as deep as many other teams ranked in similar places than them. This weakness exposed itself when Ezeli was out. Odds are that they will need help from their bench again at some point this season...who will step up?
Creighton is the only ranked team in the Missouri Valley as of now, but it is my opinion that Wichita State will ultimately be better.
The Shockers lost a close game to Alabama and fell to Temple in overtime, but rebounded nicely to beat UNLV and Tulsa.
They are senior-laden and deep. They don't have a single superstar, but rather they have six players averaging over 9.4 points per game. They have nine players average over 10 minutes per game.
Toure' Murry barely leads the team with 13.8 points per game, but the contributions come from everywhere. They shoot the ball well at 46.1 percent on the season.
Overall, with five seniors and two juniors making the major contributions, they are the most experienced team in the nation. This is a team that won the NIT last year, and can be a major threat to a top seed this year.
The Illini are 9-0 for the first time in six seasons and are ranked nationally as a result. Odds are they are not going to stay there.
They played a perfect game against Gonzaga and should be applauded for it. They then turned around and put up a stinker against St. Bonaventure. The Illini were out-hustled and out-physicaled and trailed most of the game. Luckily, they were able to squeak out a five-point win.
Sam Maniscalco gives the Illini an extra boost of energy. The graduate transfer from Bradley isn't the biggest or most physically gifted player, but he provides a scrappiness to Illinois that they have lacked in the past.
Ultimately, I'm concerned about their perimeter shooting. Not so much that it isn't good, but that they shoot way too many three pointers. In their 48-43 win against the Bonnies, Illinois attempted 26 three-pointers and 21 two-pointers. It makes even less sense when you consider that they shot 38 percent from two and 27 percent from three.
They have size now with Tyler Griffey and Meyers Leonard. Their focus should be on feeding these players and driving to the basket.