There were plenty of surprises during college basketball’s first month — as well as teams and players who validated their preseason hype. At least one freshman has exceeded his already high expectations, a preseason top-5 team has underachieved and a league that puts multiple teams into the NCAA tournament year after year has looked brutal through the first few weeks of the season. Find out why that is and how it could cost them come Selection Sunday.
Marvin Bagley III has emerged as the most dominant player in college basketball
What we thought: It would take time, and Bagley would take a back seat to senior teammate Grayson Allen this season.
What we know: Bagley doesn’t need time. He is the first Duke player to post consecutive 30-point, 15-rebound games and has taken over when the game has been close. He also plays with far more poise than anyone expected. He’s averaging 22 points and 11 boards through the first 10 games of his college career.
What happens next: Bagley will continue to produce at a high level, but he’s logging a ton of minutes (he’s averaging 35.4 over the past five games). It will be interesting to see if he hits any sort of freshman wall come February.
Arizona has been brutal thus far
What we thought: Arizona would roll to the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament down in the Bahamas and beat Villanova to make it the storybook homecoming for 7-foot frosh Deandre Ayton.
What we know: This team has issues. It begins with the distractions surrounding the FBI probe, which resulted in the arrest of assistant Book Richardson, and extends to this not being a typical Sean Miller hard-nosed, defensive-minded group.
What happens next: The good news is that the Pac-12 is mediocre (and that’s being kind). The Wildcats passed a big test Tuesday night, besting Texas A&M 67-64 in the Valley of the Sun Showcase. Arizona has another revealing contest against Alabama upcoming, then starts conference play against a sizzling Arizona State club.
The Big Ten is lackluster right now
What we thought: That the league would be down, but not like this. We knew Michigan State would be elite but figured there would be multiple teams in the back end of the Top 25: Minnesota, Northwestern and maybe even Purdue.
What we know: Michigan State is one of the top teams in the country, and Minnesota is deserving of a spot in the Top 25. But after that, no one has really done enough to warrant a spot in the Top 25. Purdue has a couple of nice wins, including a home victory over Louisville, but the Boilermakers also lost to Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the Bahamas. Northwestern has struggled, Michigan lost to LSU, Maryland lost to St. Bonaventure and the league went 3-11 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
What happens next: Michigan State should cruise to the Big Ten crown, and Minnesota should continue to establish itself as a lock NCAA tourney team. That means two “résumé” teams in the league will make it difficult for the conference to get more than a handful of teams in the tourney come Selection Sunday.
Gonzaga is still the team to beat in the WCC
What we thought: Saint Mary’s was the favorite to win the league with standout big man Jock Landale and Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar all back in the fold. In fact, every coach in the league except for Randy Bennett picked the Gaels to win the conference.
What we know: The Zags may have lost four starters from last year’s team that nearly won the national title, but Mark Few’s team hasn’t missed a beat. Josh Perkins has stepped up in the backcourt, freshman Corey Kispert has quickly emerged as a dependable shooter on the wing and Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams are a formidable frontcourt duo.
What happens next: This will be settled on Jan. 18 and Feb. 10. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s will play in Spokane the first time around and in Moraga in mid-February.
Kentucky is no lock to rule the SEC
What we thought: It was John Calipari’s Kentucky squad, and then separation between the Cats and the next tier, which featured Florida and Texas A&M.
What we know: Kentucky isn’t the frontrunner to win the SEC this season. This is an inexperienced team that also lacks star power. Florida and Texas A&M on the other hand have been impressive. The Gators nearly knocked off Duke, and the Aggies pounded West Virginia and had no difficulty with USC on the road, although it did let a struggling Arizona team sneak by.
What happens next: Kentucky will face both Florida and Texas A&M twice, but the Aggies only have to face Mike White’s team once, in College Station on Jan. 2. So, we’ll give Texas A&M the edge for the SEC title.
UConn will be irrelevant nationally for another season
What we thought: This Huskies team would be better now that Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert are back after missing most of last season. Gilbert is hurt again, but Kevin Ollie’s team struggled even with everyone at full-strength, getting blown out by Arkansas in its final game of the PK80 in Portland and routed by Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.
What we know: This UConn team isn’t really any different than last year’s squad. Right now, without Gilbert, it’s a two-man team for the most part: Jalen Adams and Larrier. The frontline is abysmal for a program of UConn’s standards.
What happens next: UConn likely does what it’s done the last few years and finishes somewhere around fifth in the American Athletic Conference.
Kansas will win the Big 12 … again
What we thought: That maybe, just maybe, West Virginia would push Kansas.
What we know: Let’s face it: West Virginia hasn’t looked powerful, and the rest of the league isn’t as good as it’s been in the last few years. Bill Self’s team is painfully thin up front right now while freshman Billy Preston is still ineligible, and Self has questioned the team’s toughness, but the Jayhawks perimeter shooters, including senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, have carried them thus far.
What happens next: Kansas will lose at least a couple conference games on the road, but the Jayhawks will run the table at Allen Fieldhouse, and Self & Co., should extend their streak of 13 straight Big 12 titles.
The Ball family will find a way to remain in the headlines
What we thought: LaVar Ball would be focused on his older son, Lonzo, during his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers, and also home-schooling his youngest, LaMelo, after pulling his youngest son from Chino Hills High. The only reason we’d hear from LaVar on the college front was to complain about LiAngelo’s playing time as a freshman at UCLA.
What we know: We were naive in thinking that the family wouldn’t find a way to stay relevant. LiAngelo found a way to create his own headlines, when he and two other Bruins’ freshmen were arrested for shoplifting in China. Then came the war of Twitter words between LaVar and President Donald Trump, and LaVar’s appearance on CNN. Now LiAngelo has withdrawn from UCLA.
What happens next: UCLA is able to move forward without distractions, especially when Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are reinstated from their indefinite suspensions. And it shouldn’t be too long before LaVar announces what LiAngelo will do this season, and also whether LaMelo will actually attempt to play college basketball at UCLA in a couple years.
Arizona State has the most impressive win thus far this season
What we thought: The Sun Devils would take a step forward and be an NIT team after failing to advance to the postseason in the first two years of the Bobby Hurley regime.
What we know: Arizona State has a huge résumé win over Xavier on a neutral court, and the Sun Devils blasted San Diego State and also beat Kansas State. Hurley’s club, which boasts a veteran backcourt of Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, has looked as impressive as any team in the Pac-12 in November.
What happens next: ASU needs to win two of its upcoming three nonconference games to remain in the Top 25 heading into league play. Next is a game in Los Angeles against St. John’s, followed by a road game at Kansas and a home date with Vanderbilt. Then there are a pair of home games against Longwood and Pacific before league play gets going with a date in Tucson against rival Arizona. Thanks to a strong nonconference showing, the Sun Devils could wind up getting to the NCAA tourney.