Overreactions are probably both the best and worst part about college basketball. A week and a half ago, everyone was questioning how good Arizona actually was. I’ll settle that for you right now: they’re really good. It was an unprecedented skid for a Sean Miller-coached ‘Zona team, but look where they are now, right back on top. And Georgetown’s undefeated sure, but my high school intramural team would be undefeated against that schedule. And Arizona State? I do think they’re really good. I love Tra Holder. But I’ve seen some talk about Bobby Hurley being the guy to take Coach K’s spot once he retires. I mean, he’s in the running, sure, but there are so many other qualified individuals that one good opening stretch doesn’t end the conversation. Come on now, people.
It’s barely December. When was the last time we knew how a season would end up in December? Everyone just hold onto your butts, it’s gonna be a long and fun season, and conference play is just around the corner, so we’ll start to see some true colors. We’ve got a lot of questions today, so without further ado, let’s answer them.
“Can Kansas find success in Big 12 play by playing with only 6 guys” – Brett Siegel
“Is this the year Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12 regular season title?” – Ben Auten
Two Jayhawks, one stone. Kansas had a pretty bad week, not even just by Kansas’s standards. They lost on a neutral floor (that was basically a home floor in Kansas City) to Washington, a team whose best prior win was a 4-point home win against Belmont, and got worked in Phog Allen Fieldhouse by the upstart Arizona State Sun Devils. Are the Jayhawks better than that? Yeah, but they didn’t look like it. To answer the first question, I don’t think they can be as successful as usual in the Big 12 with their current rotation. They looked gassed down the stretch against ASU (I wasn’t able to watch the Washington matchup but would imagine it was similar) after going into halftime with a lead. They bring two guys off the bench, both of whom are inexperienced and, how should I say this, not good. They combined for exactly 1 point on Sunday. Plus, their starting center, Udoka Azubuike, can’t really play more than 25 minutes a game. That leaves their four perimeter players playing between 32-40 minutes a night. They’re going to wear themselves down by February. Granted, those four players, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman, can pretty easily win some games on their own for Bill Self, but the problem is so glaringly obvious. What’s going on with Billy Preston? Can Silvio De Sousa enroll at the semester break? Kansas needs a frontcourt to succeed for a season-long period of time. If De Sousa and Preston can play soon, Self has a little bit more freedom with his lineups, but until those situations get figured out, Kansas will be sucking wind a lot. If you asked me to place a bet on who’s winning the Big 12 this year, I’m taking the field.
“Is Arizona State the favorite now in the PAC-12?” – Duncan Hensley
“Was Arizona’s week in the Bahamas just a hiccup after watching them this week? Also, how much of an impact does Rawle Alkins have on this team?” – Brett Siegel
Another couple of birds with only a single stone. Call this the efficiency edition of the mailbag. I think Arizona State is a threat, but to me, Arizona is still the favorite. However, like with KU, the field certainly has better odds than the Wildcats. I don’t think Battle 4 Atlantis was a hiccup necessarily, because it did expose some serious flaws in Sean Miller’s team, but you still have to look at their roster and think that they’re going to be the team to beat. Conferences are won off conference records, and there are only two teams in the whole conference I can confidently say can win tough games in the PAC-12: Arizona and USC. I really hope that Arizona State can prove me wrong because we need some fresh faces at the top of the rankings, but four good wins in November/December aren’t enough to vault you to the top, especially considering the talent that the Wildcats and Trojans have. And yeah, both of those teams have struggled early, but what if ASU is peaking now? The other two teams have the players and the coaches to figure things out quickly and dominate out west. Arizona is already starting to do that, as they got two solid wins this week against Texas A&M and Alabama, both at home. I think the Sun Devils have shown me enough to be a top-4 PAC-12 team, but despite their No. 5 ranking, they’re only 35th in KenPom. Let’s slow down before we anoint them conference champions too soon.
As for Alkins, he’s got a big impact. It’s another body for Sean Miller, and a good one. He played his first game of the season against Alabama, and he played fine, he’ll be back to normal soon. He’s an athletic defender and a pretty good shooter and rebounder. He’ll be important for the Wildcats.
“Has Ky Bowman proved BC is legit and that he has a legit shot at ACC POY” – Brett Siegel
If Boston College was legit, it wouldn’t be just Ky Bowman proving that, it would be the whole team. Bowman was an assist shy of a 30-point triple double on Saturday when the Eagles upset Duke in Boston, which is a stupendous win and probably that program’s best win in a long time. But again, it’s December, let’s chill out before we start talking about which regional Boston College will be going to. They have an awesome backcourt in Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, and some other decent pieces, but to be “legit” in the ACC you need to be a top-6 or 7 team, and I definitely don’t think BC is going to be there. Bowman is a great player who could probably make a push for All-ACC if he can play even half as good as he did on Saturday, but There are so many great players in the ACC that are going to be doing so much for top-15 teams. It was a really great game for the Eagles, one that Jim Christian prepared his guys for perfectly (seriously, it was one of the best game plans I’ve ever seen and probably showed a lot of people where Duke’s weaknesses are). But was NC State legit when they beat Duke in Cameron Indoor last season? Was Dennis Smith Jr. ACC POY? What about John Gillon when Syracuse beat Duke? Let’s talk in early February and see where Boston College is. Until then, Boston College played a great game and was able to beat a team much better than them. It happens. That’s why this game is fun. Let’s enjoy it.
“Who is the best freshman in college basketball?” – Sean Bock
This is such a frustrating question. I think there are four correct answers to this. I’ll quickly go through each of them. Marvin Bagley has been a complete stud, averaging about 21 and 11 per game on the most talented team in the country, and should also be a high school senior right now. It’s insane. DeAndre Ayton is putting up similar numbers to Bagley on an almost-as-talented team, just posted a 29-point, 18-rebound effort and is also the biggest human being in the world. Trae Young is the excitement of Steph Curry, Jimmer Fredette and Doug McDermott, but on a high-major team, is a passing wizard and is leading the country in scoring. Collin Sexton might just be the most fun to watch out of the four of these and almost beat a then-top-25 team on the road playing 3-on-5. Three players against five. Enjoy them while they’re here.
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