With exams and the non conference schedules nearing their conclusion I found myself with some extra free time and thought I would empty my mailbag of questions that either other writers or fans have asked over the past couple weeks. Comment at the bottom to let us know if you’d like to see another mailbag article like this down the road.
What is Wisconsin’s future post Bo Ryan?
Well it was an abrupt ending to Bo Ryan’s legendary career this week. College basketball and the Wisconsin Badgers will not be the same without him. Wisconsin was up and down this year even with Bo at the helm and I have a hard time seeing them recovering to have a top 4 finish in the Big Ten once again. In terms of the long term, I think Wisconsin will be a middle tier team without Bo. Bo made a living by taking under recruited kids like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker and making them into a great team. Yes, Bo leaves a great legacy and made Wisconsin into a great program but a lot of players went to Wisconsin because of Bo Ryan so I have a hard time seeing Wisconsin maintain their status in the top echelon of college basketball.
Is this the year that Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12?
Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 title every year for the past 11 years. This is a remarkable streak that the Jayhawks hope to continue this season. Their has been a lot of chatter about the Big 12 this year due to the supposed three headed monster at the top. The top two teams that are looking to end the streak are Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Iowa State has made some noise in the Big 12 the last couple seasons with a talented team led by Georges Niang and Monte Morris but they just lost guard Naz Long for the rest of the season. This news came out shortly after Iowa States embarrassing court storming win against Iowa. I think the loss of Fred Hoiberg will be underestimated and the team will struggle in Big 12 play. Oklahoma has a star in Buddy Hield. If they can go through their conference slate without any bad losses I can certainly see their match-ups with Kansas as the difference maker. The Big 12 is tough because of teams like Texas, West Virginia, and Baylor that are very talented teams that could derail a title run with just one game. Oklahoma is really the only true threat to “the streak” in my mind. But I still believe that Bill Self and guys will be able to get at least a share of the Big 12 due to their experience and their home court advantage.
Is this the year that Kansas makes a deep run in the tournament?
It is so tough to predict tournament outcomes this early in the season as their could be injuries or a team struggling going into the tournament. I am going to say yes right now because I don’t think they will play a team of Michigan State’s caliber in the first 2 or 3 games. Kansas has great shooters to go along with Cheick Diallo’s hard working game underneath the hoop. The talent and chemistry seem to be there. It will all depend on injuries and match-ups.
Does Xavier win the Big East?
Part of the answer to this question will be discussed later about Villanova but I do not believe Xavier will win the Big East. I think they are extremely talented and certainly could win depending on how the chips fall. Villanova is not as bad as they are playing right now. Providence is the sleeper in my eyes. They beat a very good Arizona team and played right with Michigan State right up until the end. I think Xavier will be in the hunt in every game but I can certainly see them dropping a road game here and there. I think Kris Dunn and Jalen Brunson will carry Providence and Villanova respectively through games but I do not see that guy that can carry his team on Xavier.
Will the Villanova shooters heat up or is this for real?
Villanova has been a very disappointing team thus-far and some of the blame can go right onto their shooters. They are shooting 30.4 percent from 3 point range and the scary thing is that they are taking more than half of their shots from behind the arc. The roster seems to have tons of great shooters on it to go along with Daniel Ochefu’s inside game. I think the shooters will heat up. Ryan Arcidiacono struggled with a wrist injury last season that affected his jump shot. I still think he is knocking some of the rust off his outside shot. Jalen Brunson can light it up but he needs to get the ball more. I think the shooters will heat up just in time for conference play but unless Jay Wright gives Jalen Brunson the ball more I think it could be another early exit for the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament.
Who wins the Big Ten?
This question I did not have to think about for a while. Michigan State is playing like a team that thinks it is March. Usually Tom Izzo’s teams take a few weeks to work out their flaws and then hit their stride right at the end of conference season in time for the tournaments. But this year, this team is playing as if it is already March. This team is deep and is playing fantastic right now. They will continue this hot streak and win the Big Ten. The only thing that can slow down Denzel Valentine is his foul count. I don’t think Purdue or Maryland will have the depth or firepower to take the crown from Michigan State this year.
Which players have surprise you so far and which have disappointed?
I am a positive guy so I will start off with the player I have been most surprised with: Ben Bentil. Bentil has been a key cog in the paint for Providence. At the end of last season a number of forwards transferred out of Providence leaving Bentil as the only major big left. Kevin Copp wrote a great article before the season on who could be a sidekick to Kris Dunn and Bentil has stepped up to fill that role. He has averaged 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He has flown under the radar due to Kris Dunn but this kid has a lot of talent and has shown it thus-far. Look for Bentil to make Providence a major contender in the Big East.
There is no Cliff Alexander this year which is good. The most disappointing player in my mind has been Malik Newman. The highly touted Mississippi State guard has averaged 12 points a game so far but has been extremely inefficient and has looked lost at times. There is not a ton of talent on that MSU roster and Newman has been asked to score a majority of their points but he has been unable too. MSU’s non conference schedule has not had a lot of quality games on their giving Newman some games to find his stroke and get into the flow of the game but he has struggled. Look for this disastrous campaign to continue as he starts to play some of the top tier teams in the SEC. If I had to pick a second disappointing player it would be Diamond Stone of Maryland. Even though the team has won almost all of their games Stone has showed a lack of hustle and heart. He has played better recently and might be hitting his stride just in time for Big Ten play so I gave the nod to Newman.
LSU has one of the best player in the country why are they playing so bad?
LSU has been a unique team so far this season. They have drawn a high number of general college basketball fans to watch their games because of highly touted freshman Ben Simmons. Simmons has taken a path like no other top 5 prospect by going to a school that has struggled on the basketball court for the majority of the past 10 years. Simmons has not disappointed fans by showing off his all around game and putting up some spectacular scoring and assist numbers.
The question everyone asked was “Why are they playing so bad?” and after looking at the stats it appears unclear. After digging in deeper the one stat that I can look at is that teams are shooting 35% from 3 point range against them. This shows a lack of perimeter defense when Simmons is likely in the key guarding a big. The 35% is especially alarming because they have not played teams that are very good. According to Kenpom, the best team they’ve played so far was #71 NC State and they lost in overtime. Needless to say the teams they have played and sometimes lost to are not notorious good shooting teams. As good as Simmons has been if the opponents keep making a large number of three pointers.
Another reason that LSU has struggled with Ben Simmons on the roster is due to a lack of a sidekick. Antonio Blakeney was another highly recruited freshman who could be a sidekick to Simmons but he has been the 65th most efficient offensive player in the SEC. Tim Quarterman has also helped Simmons but he is ranked as the 40th most efficient player in the SEC. If those two players can’t knock down some of the shots that Simmons has been creating then the Tigers could be in for a long season.
What is your read on Kentucky with all those guards and Skal Labissiere struggling?
Kentucky has only lost one game so far this season, but that doesn’t mean they are as talented or unbeatable as they have been in previous years. They run a system with three main guards that all prefer having the ball in their hands and their main post presence has struggled staying on the floor with foul trouble and inconsistency.
My read on the team is that they will win the SEC because they have more talented pieces than every other team but they will not be a contender for a National Title. Isiah Briscoe, Tyler Ulis, and Jamal Murray are all guards who play best with the ball in their hand. Other than Ulis the guards have struggled to hit outside shots. They are shooting 27.6% from 3-point range. For a team with this much talent and tons of open looks they should be more successful. They also do not have the defensive presence they did last year. Skal Labissiere can’t seem to block shots without fouling. Murray and Briscoe have struggled to stay glued to their man as the Harrison twins did last season. The talent is on the roster but it seems like the pieces might not all fit together this season.