Every year a common theme in College Basketball is that there are a handful of teams at this point in the season that look themselves in the mirror and say “We were supposed to be good, what in the world has happened to us?” In other words, there have been some very disappointing starts for a handful of teams in College basketball this season. Between the combination of a 5th year of eligibility given out to all student athletes, NIL rule changes and more, these contributions have made College Basketball stronger and more experienced than any time since the one and done era began in approximately 2005. Historically, it has been teams with a really good mix of talent and experience that manage to end the season on top. However, this year it is not that simple as there are so many good teams that possess that killer combination.

For example, Memphis was ranked #12 in the Preseason AP Top 25 poll after returning 5 key contributors from last year’s team that won the NIT and adding a pair of 5 star freshmen in Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. However, disappointing would be an understatement for the start of Memphis’ season as they currently sit at 9-5, with some head scratching losses at the hands of Georgia and Murray State. In College Basketball, this year’s product is so good, thanks to the high number of returning talent around the country that you are not going to be successful until you have that proper mix, with your big horses on the exact same page.

A team like Tennessee, who is currently sitting at 10-4 and is in very good position to make the NCAA tournament has still been struggling with these issues. In a similar way, to last year’s Tennessee team that was upset as a #5 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament it sometimes seems like there is too much talent on this Tennessee team. The Vols have so many guys that can make plays, it is clear that not many players have clear established roles and most of the time they look like a group of guys that have absolutely no idea what is happening on the offensive end of the floor. This is an issue we have seen with many teams over the past few seasons with teams like 2020 Oregon and 2021 Memphis. There is only one ball, and too many players are worrying about what they’re going to do once they get their chance, as opposed to worrying about the team. This just shows that roster construction is still as important as ever in today’s game.

Another example of a disappointing team is Michigan who is currently sitting at 7-6 overall. Although Michigan did lose key contributors Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown and Mark Smith from last year’s team that made it all the way to the Elite 8, expectations were still high for Coach Juwan Howard’s group. This is largely due to the fact, that Michigan did return Preseason National Player of the Year Candidate Hunter Dickinson along with a few contributors from last year, plus the #1 ranked recruiting class in all of College Basketball. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they have desperately missed the shooting of guys like Wagner, Brown and Livers. It is apparent, that those guys shooting ability, opened up just enough space for a bigman like Dickinson to work with down low. With 5 star freshman Caleb Houstan and experienced Senior Forward Brandon Johns Jr,  really struggling to score the ball from the perimeter right now, it is appropriate to wonder if Michigan is going to be able to turn this thing around. The Wolverines, previously two scheduled home games against marquee opponents Michigan State and Purdue being postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Michigan program doesn’t make things any easier. This is an unfortunate consequence of the handful of games that were postponed due to COVID-19, as there assuredly will be teams who miss out on NCAA Tournament bids due to a lack of quality marquee wins.

Arkansas, who significantly overachieved last year, making it to the Elite 8 in only Eric Musselman’s second year at the helm, has struggled this season. Just a few months after making the Elite 8, being ranked in the preseason Top 25 and being declared by many as the “savior” of the program, Arkansas is currently 0-3 in the SEC with a nonconference loss to Hoftsra on their resume. 

Even in a year where there is more experience than ever before in the sport of College Basketball, there are teams struggling that were expected to do big things this year. That is how important having an emphasis on proper coaching, roster construction and chemistry is.

Quick Hits in Major Conferences

ACC –   What was hinted at last week has now been made official. After desperately looking for a second best team behind Duke, and it is the Miami Hurricanes. In his 11th year on the job, Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga is now 7-7 all time against Duke and his Hurricanes were able to secure a road win at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the second time in his career. Prior to this marquee victory Miami had been sitting at 4-0 in ACC, but with the conference being down not everyone was sure about just how good this Hurricanes team can be.

With a roster full of shot making guards, Miami has played a primarily small 4 guard lineup and it was unknown if that would be able to work against a team like Duke with an intimidating frontcourt full of future NBA players. However, guards Charlie Moore, Kameron McGusty, Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller were able to make enough plays down the stretch to secure the win. All 4 players are currently in at least their 3rd year of playing College Basketball. Larranaga, should be considered the current favorite for ACC Coach of the Year as he has this Hurricanes team on the fringe of being ranked after 3 consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance.

What makes this Miami story so unique is that many people around the College Basketball landscape had the thought that maybe an older coach like Jim Larranaga who is 72 years old could be a little checked out after the Hurricanes recent struggles and this could be it. However, it turns out that having experienced guards who can make plays still really does matter. With North Carolina going down to Notre Dame this past week and the rest of the ACC continuing to struggle, watch out for Miami to continue to take advantage and win games.

Big East –  Every night, it seems like there is something going on in the Big East Conference. Whether it’s a surprise result, crazy atmosphere, an absolute barn burner between two great teams or stars shining, this conference has had it all this season.

Villanova, who has dominated the league since the Big East’s most recent conference realignment in 2014 has bounced back after going through some struggles before the calendar turned to 2022. After Villanova had suffered their 4th loss of the season to Creighton on December 17th, there were many who counted Villanova out in terms of their ability to get back to the top of the Big East. Since they have won 4 Big East conference games in a row including wins against Xavier, at Seton Hall and Creighton. Villanova not only got revenge on Creighton, for the game earlier in Omaha but Villaova blew the doors off them in blowout fashion.

In addition, Seton Hall and UConn played in one of the best games of the season on Saturday as Kadary Richmond had 27 points off the bench which led the Pirates to an overtime victory. Both teams’ depth was on full display, as the Pirates showed that when they’re healthy with Ike Obiagu in the lineup they still need to be taken seriously, despite taking 2 losses without Ike to open up Big East play.

With both Xavier and Providence also looking like a clear top 20 team, plus Marquette and Creighton overachieving to start off the season this Big East has an argument for the most challenging conference in all of College Basketball. Just one year after only getting 4 teams into the NCAA Tournament, The Big East is the best it’s been since the previously mentioned realignment with as many as 8 teams competing for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Big 10 –  While many people’s lasting image of the 2021 version of the Big Ten was how badly the league underperformed in the NCAA Tournament, this was an elite basketball conference last season. The Big Ten Conference was represented by 8 teams in the NCAA Tournament which was more than any other conference in all of College Basketball. While it was the amount of good teams in the league that were tournament bound last year, this year it is something different that is making the Big Ten such a special league.

The word starpower, isn’t used very often in a sport like College Basketball, as in recent years a lot of the good players will leave after one or two years, so it is harder for the causal fans to develop a deep appreciation and bond for that said player, especially before we get to the month of March. However, in this year’s Big Ten there is no shortage of starpower. Between Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis there are 3 Big Ten Players who are currently in the Top 5 in Points Per Game in all of College Basketball. With these three all averaging at least, 22n points per game the mix for Conference Player of the Year is already highly contested.

That is without mentioning Indiana’s Trayce Jackson Davis who played the best game of his 3 year Indiana career on Thursday Night contributing 27 points and 12 rebounds in the Hooisers win over Ohio State. Or Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, who is a near lock to be an NBA Lottery pick and plays for what most people believe is the best team in the league. Or EJ Liddell, who up until 2 weeks ago was looking like a possible favorite for National Player of the Year in College Basketball.

With the amount of star power in the Big Ten, every contest is a must watch as anyone of these stars is capable of leading their team to victory just like we saw Johnny Davis and Wisconsin do, against Purdue. There hasn’t been a team in College Basketball, so far this season to put together as impressive of a week as the Wisconsin Badgers just did. In the past 8 days, Wisconsin has earned true road wins at Purdue and at Maryland, along with a home victory over Iowa. The Badgers are getting more help along with Davis, as 5th year senior Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn are all molding into their roles very well. With Wisconsin’s rise and the star power of the Big Ten, this league is guaranteed to give us some breathtaking moments as we get close and closer to March.

Big 12 –  This year’s version of the Big 12 Conference, is extremely similar to the great Big 12’s of the past. A loaded conference, filled with tough environments, coaches and it is required that you come ready to play every single night, if you want to end up with a victory. Following Kansas’ surprising loss to a very good, but shorthanded Texas Tech team that was playing without the likes of Terrance Shannon Jr and Kevin McCullar, Baylor now sits alone as the clear team to beat in the conference if they weren’t already. The defending National Champions are the clear best team in College Basketball right now, and have started off Big 12 conference play with a 3-0 record.

With Kansas’ loss, some questions have risen for the Jayhawks including the play of big man David McCormack. Last year, Kansas was at their best when McCormack was really able to get going. However, so far this season, he is only averaging 8.6 points per game, compared to averaging 13 points per game a season ago. Against Texas Tech’s, the lack of McCormack was apparent, as he only played 13 minutes while coming off the bench and Mitch Lightfoot got the call. If Kansas wants to be the team many people expected them to be in the preseason, this is something that needs to be fixed going forward.

Oklahoma State, who is unfortunately ineligible from this year’s tournament, was able to pick up their first marquee victory of the season this past Saturday over a puzzling Texas team. For all of the talent that Chris Beard decided to bring to Austin this year, the Longhorns still haven’t picked up a win over a clear NCAA Tournament team. It’s getting too late into the season to say, “There are so many new players it is going to take some time.” Texas has issues, especially against good teams that need to be sorted out.

Pac 12 –   Aside from the clear top 3 teams in the Pac 12, there isn’t much buzz around the Conference of Champions these days. Usually, one of the benefits in playing in a Power 6 league is that you are going to have the benefit of playing a lot of really good opponents, which in theory should give you more opportunities to add quality wins to your NCAA Tournament resume.

 The reality is, that doesn’t apply in this years Pac 12, as if you can’t take advantage of your opportunities against UCLA, Arizona and USC, than you are most likely going to have a tough time finding your way into the NCAA Tournament based on lack of quality wins by the Pac 12 during the non conference portion of the schedule. In addition, compared to the other Power 6 conferences the Pac 12 has struggled getting as many games in which possibly takes away those chances for marquee wins as well.

The Pac 12 and ACC are similar yet different in the sense that after the Pac 12’s clear top 3 there might not be a team even close to NCAA Tournament contention. While Colorado and Washington State have been playing “ok” of late, the rest of the league has not only been disappointing but just bad. Meanwhile in the ACC, they may not have as many top teams as the Pac 12, but the numbers say there are a handful of good to alright teams that will have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament with a few conference wins here and there. With COVID rules and protocols different all across the country, it is unfortunate that so many teams have struggled to get games in.

However, with UCLA, USC and Arizona all back on the floor and scheduled to face each other in the month of February, we should see some big time basketball in the Pac 12 sooner rather than later.

SEC –  It has been clear for a while now, that the three best teams in a really good SEC Conference are Auburn, LSU and Kentucky. Even though teams like Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas all at one point or another since the season have started have claimed they might be there, the top of the SEC has never been more clear.

Alabama has not been playing very good basketball at all, since they beat Houston on December 11th and have lost games to Memphis, Davidson and Missouri in the process. There is still a good reason to believe a coach like Nate Oats will do just enough to eventually figure it out, but right now Alabama is not playing like a very good basketball team.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Tennessee has too many good players, while Arkansas is just a bad basketball team right now after their loss to Texas A & M, dropped their conference record to 0-3. While these teams have disappointed, Auburn has established themselves as the clear team to beat in the league right now, as they picked up a marquee win over LSU to start conference play. What separates the great teams from good teams, is finding a way after that quality win to regroup, lock in and be ready to play in the next game.

That is exactly what Auburn did as they picked up wins over South Carolina and Florida last week, following the win over LSU. LSU was able to bounce back nicely, using their home court to their advantage in wins over Kentucky and Tennessee. With the way Oscar Tschiebwe and TyTy Washington looked against Georgia, the sky’s the limit for this Kentucky team and there are going to be some wars in this conference on a regular basis, just like we saw in Kentucky LSU on Tuesday night. With middling teams like Ole Miss and Texas & M starting to play a little better, the SEC;s depth will be on full display throughout the season.

Zac’s Elite 8

1) Baylor – While this Baylor team isn’t the same team that went all the way and won a National Championship, there is one distinct trait that both teams have in common. As soon as they are remotely challenged, that’s when we see a different gear go off, and Baylor just explodes.

Many forget Baylor’s biggest challenge in route to last year’s National Championship, was against a shorthanded Villaova team who was missing their best player in Colin Gillespie. Villanova led Baylor by 7 at the half, but the Bears were able to rally and outcore Villanova by 18 points in the second half which led to a comfortable victory.

On Saturday, the same thing happened to Baylor when they were playing on the road against a TCU team that came into the game 10-1 and much better than anyone realizes. TCU led Baylor by 6 points at the half and by as many as 9 points early in the second half. However, as they usually do, Baylor was able to end the game on a long run which gave them a 76-64 hard fought, well earned road victory. That is something that you are never going to apologize for while playing in a league as tough as the Big 12.

Guards James Akinjo and Adam Flagler are really starting to become the dynamic duo for the Bears, as both guards combined for 42 points in the victory. Scott Drew has a bevy of different players he can go to each and every night, including future NBA lottery pick Kendall Brown who had a quiet 9 points and Baylor was still able to find a way and win. Hopefully, Freshman Forward Jeremy Sochan will be good to go after leaving the game against TCU with an ankle injury as his size and length has been imperative to Baylor’s red hot start.

2) Gonzaga – Mark Few’s Bulldogs check in at the #2 spot on the list, following a 10 day absence due to COVID-19 related issues within the program. In their return to action, Gonzaga was able to score a whopping 63 First Half points and 117 total points to earn the blowout victory over Pepperdine.

Even though Gonzaga is playing in the WCC as usual, there are signs that point to this team being in a much better position for their long awaited National Championship than last year’s historically good team that was one win away from getting the job done. Gonzaga already has 2 losses to learn from, which has already taken them off some people’s radar plus this year’s version of the West Coast Conference is the best the league has been in a significant amount of time.

Squaring up, with really good teams such as BYU, San Francisco and St Marys will give Gonzaga a little bit of a bigger challenge throughout conference play and experience playing in close tight knit games against good competition. This was something that Gonzaga, really didn’t do all a season ago, as basically their entire season consisted of blow out victorites until the National Championship game.

Gonzaga will be entering this year’s tournament, more ready to play than ever before. All of the WCC;s top teams like Gonzaga, BYU, St Marys and San Francisco have all returned to action so it will be great to see them compete on the floor soon in what will be one of the better years for the West Coast Conference in a longtime.

3) Arizona – The Wildcats feel like a little bit of a forgotten team, as they haven’t played in a marquee game that everyone was able to sit down and watch since their loss on December 22nd to Tennessee. Arizona has only played in one total game since, and it was this past Monday Night as Arizona earned a comfortable win over Washington.

In the win, Arizona was able to score above 90 points for the 7th time this season. In addition, Arizona shot 55% from the field and 48% from three point range in the victory. While those numbers aren’t going to be put up each and every night, it is a great sign that Arizona was able to do that following a long 11 day COVID break, even against a poor team like Washington. Arizona’s scheduled game for Tuesday January 11th, against Arizona State was even postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Sun Devils program, so Arizona has just had a tough time getting on the basketball floor in general.

Benedict Mathurin continues to amaze for Arizona, as the future NBA Lottery Pick contributed 27 points while making 4 three point shots. However, other Wildcats such as Chritstian Koloko, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry all scored in double digits. Arizona already has the best inside/ outside duo in all of College Basketball with Mathurin and Azuolas Tubellis down low, so having more guys who can score the ball from elsewhere is huge for the Wildcats long term Championship aspirations.

4) Auburn – If there was anyone in College Basketball, that absolutely no one would have any interest in playing it would be Bruce Pearl and his Auburn Tigers. Auburn had a pair of SEC Conference victories this past week to improve to a 3-0 record in conference play to start off the SEC slate. The Tigers had one of the more impressive, under the radar wins this past Tuesday night when they went into Columbia, South Carolina and not only beat but dismantled the South Carolina Gamecocks . This was such an impressive effort was the fact that it was Auburn’s first game after what felt like their biggest victory of the season over LSU. The contest also tipped off at 6:30 PM ET and there was very little energy in the building, especially compared to the raucous home court advantage of Auburn Arena. All signs pointed, this would be a game that Auburn may come out with not much energy and that costs you, especially in conference play. For Auburn to put up 81 points while shooting 53% from the field and 46% from three tells me this team means business. There isn’t a better frontline in College Basketball, than Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler.

While watching Smith, all signs are clear as to why he is going to be a top 5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Each game he makes a handful of tough quick trigger shots, especially in the mid range and most of the time it goes in. The play of North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler, drastically raises this teams ceiling. The former 5 star recruit is currently averaging 9.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.1 blocks per game which is second in the entire country.

With the return of Point Guard Allen Flannigan and a number of other tough shot makers in the backcourt, this Auburn team is currently the clear team to beat in the SEC. Bruce Pearl continues to amaze, because it is clear how much he’s invested himself into this program. This Auburn team is legit and no team will want to play them anytime soon.

5) LSU – The fact that this LSU team is currently sitting at only #12 in the AP Poll with their 14-1 overall record and recent wins over Tennessee and Kentucky is pretty disrespectful. While it is clear that Will Wade isn’t the most beloved coach by the media, however no one can deny that this dude is a winner.

There have been so many coaches in College Basketball that have been able to bring in so much talent but are never able to take advantage and win with it. Will Wade does not fall into this category at all. Wade has led LSU to each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, and would have gotten a bid in 2020 if the Tournament took place. However, this LSU team is the best team since his 2019 team that won the SEC Regular Season title and is likely to go down as the best team since Wade got to Baton Rouge.

The Tigers are playing legitimate defense. The Tigers currently have 5 players in Tari Eason, Darius Days, Erc Gaines, Efton Reid and Mwani Wilkinson who are in the top 10 of individual defensive ratings in the country according to Sports-Reference. The Tigers are now 5th in the country in opposing points per game as they only allow their opponents to score 56.4 points per game.

LSU did have a little bit of a scare on Saturday against Tennessee when their Point Guard Xavier Pinson exited the game with a knee injury, but Will Wade did say after the game there was no ACL or MCL tear which is obviously a good sign. Even with not the best non conference schedule, Will Wade and LSU have done enough to prove they’re one of the best teams in not only the SEC but all of College Basketball.

6) Duke – The Blue Devils suffered their second loss of the season on Saturday Night as they fell 76-74 to the Miami Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium. What made this result, so eye opening is that usually when a big upset like this happens, the team that pulls the upset does something crazy. Miami didn’t make 60 percent of their 3s or hit a miracle shot. They took care of the ball, played great defense and just battled Duke in their building until the last second. It wasn’t a fluke, it was a gutty victory from Miami. This is now the 3rd time since ACC conference play started that Duke has come out very nonchalant for a conference game and this time it cost them.

While Duke was able to leave with victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, there was nothing particularly special about them. Duke was never able to fully pull away from either game until very late and was even down at one point in the second half to a very underachieving Virginia Tech team. While it is great that 5 star freshman AJ Griffin seems fully healthy and should be a big tie contributor for Duke the rest of the season, this result was important to note.

With Miami now being a very good team, it should be noted that there is no scheduled return game in Coral Gables so unless they meet in the ACC Tournament Duke and Miami won’t play again. This is important due to the fact that prior to this game all of Duke’s games against really good teams will have taken place, months before Selection Sunday while playing in a weak ACC Conference.

If Duke does start rattling off victories, are these games serving as opportunities to learn something about your team heading into March or will they go in too confident after just feasting against not so great opponents? That in a way, is what happened with Zion Williamson’s great 2019 Duke team. As great as Zion was, the signals were there in ACC play that it wasn’t a National Championship worthy team. If the effort we have seen from Duke to open up ACC play continues, these are the questions that need to be asked when it comes to Duke.

7) UCLA – It was great to see the Bruins back on the basketball floor after a staggering 25 day absence from the basketball floor due to COVID-19 issues. After a home victory over Long Beach State to get their footing back, UCLA won their second Pac 12 conference game of the season over a slowly improving California team in Berkeley. The Bruins are one of the few teams in College Basketball that I’m not entirely sure of who exactly there are yet.

Senior forward Cody Riley, who was a helpful contributor to last year’s UCLA team that made it all the way to the Final 4 played in his first game on Tuesday against Long Beach State since getting hurt in the season opener with a knee injury. Riley did have 9 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes of action against California and will be the primary big man in the Bruins front court going forward.

With UCLA’s recently scheduled contests against North Carolina, Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford all being postponed due to COVID-19 issues, we’ll see just exactly how good this Bruins team is as they face some better competition starting on Thursday night when Oregon comes to town.

Point Guard Tyger Campbell, is one of the more underrated players in all of College Basketball as he led the Bruins with 17 points and shot 2 / 3 from downtown in the victory over California. After averaging just 10 points per game last season, Tyger’s offensive has improved as he is currently averaging 12.8 points per game and even had 21 points in UCLA’s Pac 12 opening victory over Colorado.

While watching Campbell, there is just a certain trust apparent when the ball is in his hands. Tyger’s improvement on the offensive end along with the dynamic scoring ability of Johnny Juzang and the presence of an elite college player in Jaime Jacquez, should keep the Bruins competing at the top of the Pac 12 and maybe even College Basketball.

8) Kentucky – John Capipari’s team did suffer their 3rd loss of the season on Tuesday night at the hands of LSU, which is never a good thing. However, there are clear signs that this Kentucky team is significantly different from last year’s disastrous season.  Considering circumstances, even in a loss the Wildcats did come ready to play and competed at a very high level.

Things got crazy quickly for Kentucky in this one, when their Point Guard Sahvir Wheeler had to leave the game before the first media timeout occurred, after getting taken out on a hard hard screen from LSU’s Efton Reid. In addition, freshman guard TyTy Washington had to leave the game in the second half while dealing with cramps. To make matters even worse, Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe who is currently averaging 13.3 rebounds on the season picked up his second foul with 11 minutes remaining in the first half and didn’t return until the start of the second half.

With Oscar back on the floor, it was a different game as Kentucky was able to raise their lead all the way up to 9 early in the second half, but LSU was able to respond and come away with the win which is not even surprising. It is exactly what good, fortunate, opportunistic teams like LSU do.

However, the fact that Kentucky was in a position to possibly win the game late, is a really good sign for the Wildcats going forward because they haven’t hit on all cylinders just yet. TyTy Washington proved that he is not only healthy, but is also still capable of being that big time play maker that many Kentucky fans were so high on going into the season. Washington had 17 points and an eye popping 17 assists in the victory. When Sahvir Wheeler is healthy with his fearless style of play, TyTy is playmaking, Oscar is dominating on the glass and Davidson transfer Kellen Grady continues to shoot the ball at an elite level than this team will be a very dangerous team to face going forward. Don’t count out John Calipari just yet.

Weekly Awards

Team of the Week: Wisconsin

Player of the Week: James Akinjo (Baylor)

Coach of the Week:  Will Wade (LSU)

Flop of the Week: Arkansas

Zachary Krull
Zachary Krull

Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.