The 2018-19 college basketball season is almost eight weeks old, which means we have enough evidence to start taking stock of the state of things across the sport. Some of those stocks look markedly better than we thought they would at the beginning of November, some have headed in the opposite direction.
Let’s get to it.
Stock Up: Kansas’ Resume
There’s little debate right now that Kansas has the best resume in all of college basketball. The Jayhawks are 10-0 with six wins over teams currently ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100. Three of those victories have come against teams in Ken Pom’s top 20 — No. 8 Michigan State, No. 10 Tennessee, and No. 18 Villanova. KU also has a victory over Marquette, which is No. 20 in the current AP poll.
Kansas still has non-conference road tests against Arizona State (Dec. 22) and Kentucky (Jan. 26), but assuming the Jayhawks do what they always do to the rest of the Big 12, it’s already hard to envision this team getting anything other than a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Stock Down: Kansas’ Actual Play
Despite everything we just talked about, Kansas remains one of the stranger undefeated No. 1 teams college basketball has seen in mid-December. It took overtime for the Jayhawks to beat a bad Stanford team in Lawrence on Dec. 1, and New Mexico State and Villanova also provided closer than they should have been calls the following two Saturdays.
Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick have both been good enough to establish themselves as early contenders in the national Player of the Year race (although “Good Lagerald” vs. “Bad Lagerald” could be its own stock up/stock down blurb), but the issue is Bill Self isn’t getting enough from anyone else. Udoka Azubuike should be back soon, which will provide a huge lift, but it won’t solve all of KU’s issues.
Freshman point guard Devon Dotson can be spectacular in doses, but decision-making and consistent play remain significant concerns. Fellow frosh Quentin Grimes was spectacular in the team’s season-opening win over Michigan State, but he’s scored 6 points or fewer in seven of Kansas’ nine games since then. Marcus Garrett, Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson all seem to be struggling to figure out what their role is on the team.
Kansas deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country based on its body of work, but if we’re talking power rankings, you can’t fault anyone who has the Jayhawks third or fourth.
Stock Up: The West Coast Conference
The West Coast Conference has long been striving to establish itself as something other than “that league Gonzaga plays in.” If the first eight weeks of 2018-19 are any indication, it might be well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
Gonzaga is, of course, one of the best teams in the country, but the Bulldogs aren’t alone in appearing worthy of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
San Francisco, which has 11 wins and a lone loss to unbeaten and 14th-ranked Buffalo on a neutral court, is currently No. 20 in the new NET rankings that the Selection Committee will be utilizing this year. Loyola Marymount, which has an identical 11-1 record, cracks the top 50 in the NET as well. Saint Mary’s (62) and San Diego (64) are presently ranked in the top 70.
The bottom of the conference, which has been littered with single-digit win teams in recent years, is also up. So much so that as a whole, the WCC is the No. 8 overall league in America according to Ken Pomeroy. It’s ahead of the Atlantic 10, ahead of the Mountain West, and within striking distance of the American Athletic.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the WCC’s body of work is that it’s accomplishing all this in a year where Saint Mary’s is significantly down and BYU has been something of a disappointment. If the rest of the league continues its uptick and those two programs get back where they’re supposed to be, there’s no reason the WCC can’t be a perennial top 10 conference.
Stock Down: The Pac-12
On the other end of the spectrum is the Pac-12, which has had about as rough an opening month and a half as a power conference can have.
The Pac-12 began 2018-19 with three teams ranked in the preseason AP top 25 — No. 14 Oregon, No. 21 UCLA and No. 25 Washington. Unless Arizona State upsets Kansas this weekend, the league is likely to head into 2019 without a ranked squad to its name.
Oregon has been a disappointment, winning a game over Syracuse that no longer appears overly impressive, while losing respectably to Iowa and Houston but taking an inexcusable home loss to Texas Southern. UCLA’s performance has fans in Westwood already discussing who the program’s next head coach is going to be. The Bruins have been hammered by Michigan State, North Carolina and Cincinnati, and took a home loss to Belmont last Saturday. Washington is 7-4, but has lost to every respectable opponent it’s faced. Colorado has a nice, shiny 8-1 record, but it lost to the only top 100 team it’s played (San Diego).
It's six days before Christmas, and the Pac-12 has more sub-200 KenPom losses (4) than top 50 KenPom wins (3).— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) December 20, 2018
The league’s woes were on full display Tuesday night, as Stanford struggled with 3-7 San Jose State, Oregon did the same against 3-10 Florida A&M, and USC took a home loss to perhaps the worst team in the West Coast Conference, Santa Clara. That loss, it should be noted, dropped the Pac-12 to an embarrassing 7-7 in games against the WCC so far this season.
Stock Up: Crazy Buzzer-Beaters
December is typically the quietest month on the college basketball calendar, but just over the last few days we’ve seen some finishes that would make March red with jealousy.
On Saturday, Rob Phinisee established himself as a name that will be remembered in the state of Indiana forever thanks to this shot that beat Butler in the Crossroads Classic.
On Tuesday night alone, we had three buzzer-beaters in the span of an hour.
Stephen F. Austin went coast-to-coast for layup at the horn to stun Baylor on the Bears’ home floor.
Preston Parks hit a 75-footer at the buzzer to lift UT-Martin over Chattanooga.
And then Ja Morant, one of the best players in the country and a name everyone will know by the time the NBA Draft rolls around, propelled Murray State past Evansville on this shot at the buzzer.
Who else but Ja Morant? pic.twitter.com/yqsvX8GczM— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) December 19, 2018
Not a bad evening.
Stock Down: Crazy Dunks
You hate to point the finger at one person in particular here, but we’re going to need more from Zion Williamson in this department. Hitting your head on the backboard en route to a monster block against Princeton is cool and all, but the top 10 caliber crams have tailed off since the first few weeks of the season.
Your team is incredible and you’ve probably been the best overall player in the country up to this point, but the mob demands more dunks of the spectacular variety.
The holidays are 85 percent about greed. Never forget that.
Stock Up: Carsen Edwards Being a Preseason POY Favorite Not Getting Enough Help
Carsen Edwards was the preseason National Player of the Year pick for everybody who doesn’t like handing such an honor to a freshman. It was a deserved distinction. Edwards was the leading scorer (18.5 ppg) on a Purdue squad that won 30 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament. He was also the only player of note from that squad who returned to West Lafayette for 2018-19.
Edwards has been sensational thus far as a junior, averaging 25.6 ppg, good enough to make him the fifth-leading scorer in the country. His supporting cast has not been sensational, which is why Purdue is currently 6-5 and losers of four of their last five games.
Edwards’ numbers may wind up being good enough to earn national Player of the Year, but voters typically have a hard time handing those awards to guys on teams that aren’t top 35-40 caliber.
If there’s anyone who can relate ...
Stock Down: Ethan Happ Being a Preseason POY Favorite Not Getting Enough Help
Happ was in an almost identical spot as Edwards a year ago. He put up sparkling numbers on a good team as a sophomore, was a preseason favorite for virtually every major individual award heading into his junior season, put up even better numbers during said season, but his lack of support and his team’s overall subpar performance took him out of the running for Big Ten Player of the Year and every other major accolade.
Eleven games into his senior season, Happ is averaging career-bests in points (19.2 ppg), rebounds (10.8 rpg), assists (5.0 apg) and blocks (1.5 bpg). He’s doing all of this on a Wisconsin team that is back where we’re used to seeing them: Ranked 16th in the country and owning a 9-2 record.
A healthy D’Mitrik Trice and a much-improved Brad Davison have made life much easier for Happ. They’ve also made him a national Player of the Year contender again, and the Badgers a Big Ten title contender again.
Stock Up: The Tennessee-Memphis Rivalry
Tennessee and Memphis played for the first time in almost six years last weekend. What transpired that day at the FedEx Forum and in the days since should make every college hoops fan clamor for the Volunteer State rivals to play every season from now on.
The game itself was entertaining enough. The two teams combined for nearly 200 points as No. 3 Tennessee pulled out a 102-92 win in a game the Vols, as expected, controlled from start to finish.
Where things really started to get interesting was in the game’s final minutes.
Multiple technical fouls were assessed after Tennessee’s Jordan Bone got into it with Memphis’ Alex Lomax and Jeremiah Martin. After the game, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway stated that Bone and other UT players had their “fists balled” and were ready to fight, an assertion the video doesn’t seem to back up.
Oh the humanity, I see a bunch of guys chirping. #Vols #Tigers— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) December 15, 2018
“Balling up fists, coming off bench Ready to fight”
That was an interesting statement that Penny made this afternoon pic.twitter.com/z5E3DIPHgN
That talk got back to Hardaway, who then came out firing even harder during his Tuesday press conference.
“I don’t know who Rick Barnes thinks I am, but I’m not a dude that likes to just mess around about anything,” Hardaway said. “I just call it like I see it. No matter how he’s trying to make things seem, and I think it’s kind of low-class how he’s trying to downgrade my guys for flopping and all that. Man, come on, give me a break.
“I think it’s more something on the page of maybe the recruiting that we have to do in the state. Maybe he’s trying to get an upper hand on me or whatever. I have no complaints about anything else. I just called it like I saw it, and the comments that he made about my team when it came to the flopping and all that — that’s low-class. I would never do that to another team.”
Hardaway then ended his press conference with this: “Rick Barnes, get the fuck out of here.”
The fan bases have kept the fun going in the days since.
Also, a Memphis fan got caught taking a dump behind a concession stand during the game. But you’ve probably heard enough about that by this point.
With Tennessee set up to be successful for the foreseeable future and Memphis brining in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes next season, this rivalry has the potential to be a must-follow moving forward.
Stock Down: The Cincinnati-Xavier Rivalry
We’re less than a year removed from Cincinnati being at the center of the college basketball universe. After playing a typically competitive and contentious tilt in December, UC and Xavier both rolled through their conferences on their way to a No. 2 and No. 1 seed, respectively, in the NCAA tournament.
Things have changed.
Chris Mack took the head coaching job at Louisville, leaving Xavier in the hands of former assistant Travis Steele. Neither the Bearcats nor the Musketeers are nationally ranked, and neither has defeated a top 25 opponent. When the two rivals met for the annual “Crosstown Shootout” game two Saturdays ago, it was lost in the shuffle of a loaded college hoops schedule. Cincinnati won the game by 15 points, but few people seemed to notice.
The hatred between Cincinnati and Xavier is always going to be there, regardless of the teams’ national standing. That said, it was refreshing to see one of college basketball’s great rivalries get a signficiant bump in attention in recent years thanks to the sparkling records of the participants. Hopefully that returns to being the norm starting next year.
Stock Up: Chris Beard
If you ask people around college basketball who the game’s top coaches are going to be five or 10 years from now, one of the names you’re always going to hear mentioned is Chris Beard. It’s not hard to understand why.
A year after bringing Texas Tech to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, Beard has the Red Raiders at 10-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country heading into Thursday night’s showdown against Duke. This despite the fact that Beard lost leading scorer and Second Team All-American Keenan Evans to graduation, and second leading scorer Zhaire Smith to a surprise one-and-done tenure.
Despite those losses, Texas Tech is currently the No. 1 team in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, and has yet to play a game this season that it has won by fewer than 11 points.
Don’t be surprised if Beard’s next jump is to one of the 10 best gigs in the sport.
Stock Down: LA’s Head Coaches
Apparently Andy Enfield didn’t want Steve Alford to be alone on the hot seat.
After being arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball last season, USC has been demonstrably worse so far in 2018-19. The Trojans don’t seem to play with any energy at all, and they’re currently riding a four-game losing streak that includes an embarrassing 35-point loss to TCU and an even more embarrassing home loss to Santa Clara. Getting potential lottery pick Kevin Porter Jr. back in the fold will help, but it won’t come close to solving all of Enfield’s problems.
Unless this season goes completely off the rails, Enfield’s job security would still appear to be better than Alford’s. That’s due mostly to the fact that USC currently has the second-ranked 2019 recruiting class in the country, one headlined by five-star prospects Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu.
Of course there’s also the FBI stuff ...
Stock Down: Ranked Syracuse
Returning Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett from the squad that made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last season, Syracuse began 2018-19 ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press and No. 14 by the coaches. They are no longer within sniffing distance of either poll thanks to a 7-4 start that now includes back-to-back home losses at the hands of Old Dominion and Buffalo. Those defeats mark the first time the Orange have lost back-to-back home games against non-conference opponents since 1975.
Stock Up: Bubble Bound Syracuse
It’s pretty easy to see right through Jim Boeheim here. His most successful tournament runs in recent years have come from teams that have been controversial selections to the field of 68. If you want to duplicate that success, you have to lay the foundation early.
Syracuse will go 10-8 in the ACC with at least one signature win. They’ll lose in the first round of the conference tournament, and everyone will declare the Orange to be definitely “on the wrong side of the bubble.” People will lose their minds when ‘Cuse pops up on Selection Sunday, and the team will respond by winning no fewer than three games in the Big Dance.
We’ve seen this too many times to believe anything else will happen here.