Tuesday, 6 December 2016

College Basketball: Early Observations

The College Basketball is in full swing and with most teams close to playing their 10th regular season game after the early season tournaments now ended, conferences are in to the strength of their non-conference schedule.

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Fort Wayne triumphed over Indiana

In this instance, many teams can either decide to fill their card with cup cake victories whilst playing a top 25 side to look good in the eyes of the committee come Selection Sunday. The need for these games is to fulfill a season rota but also learn how your team is playing before the conference schedule comes into full swing.

Some games are built on rivalry in-state, such as the Big 12 West Virginia travelling to the ACC Virginia; both teams will be in the NCAA tournament but a win for either promised a big RPI victory. In this case, it was Bob Huggins' Western Mountaineers who left with the bragging rights and a road win to the resume.

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West Virginia in their starting back court formation

Others can find a defeat can be liberating. Indiana Hoosiers, so often a perennial underachiever with Tom Crean at the helm defeated Kansas Jayhawks on the opening night; then followed a loss on the road at Fort Wayne, Indiana. A crippling loss for the Hoosiers, but should Fort Wayne win the Horizon League or even finish a close 2nd with 25 wins they can be considered for the tournament. And not all defeats are bad, the Hoosiers themselves welcomed North Carolina, who at the time were undefeated and handed them their first loss of the season.

It is this merry-go-round or carousel of chaos that makes the College Basketball season so unpredictable at times. Due to the one and done rule, teams are frequently looking for new schemes and integrating personnel into those schemes  You will not see a team like Florida who won back to back titles under Billy Donovan and had a returning title side of four starters; Kentucky with their frequent revolving door of talent attempt it but even they can end up in the NIT.

Teams that look good thus far are sometime familiar, Kansas Jayhawks (7-1), North Carolina (8-1), title holders Villanova (8-0) proving it was not a fluke and that Jay Wright deserves more props than he receives and UCLA (9-0) who went into the Rupp Arena, Kentucky (7-1) and served up the Wildcats first defeat of the season.

The Bruins 97-92 victory was nothing to do with the Wildcats having an off day, but more to do with the collective talent of UCLA combining in spite of an off day for Lonzo Ball, their heralded guard who himself had an off day.

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Lonzo Ball silenced the Rupp Arena on Saturday

This victory which elevated the Bruins to #2 in the rankings behind Villanova, is indicative of a trend currently returning to College Basketball. Guard play and balanced scoring - up and down the divisions you can see good guard play making a comeback. From Kansas playing a small rotation with Devonte Graham and Frank Mason, Ball at UCLA to Al Freeman and Manu Lecomte at Baylor (8-0).

The idea of balanced scoring and not being over-reliant on a big forward in the paint means a team is harder to prepare for in opposition, utilises confident shot makers from behind the arc or in mid-range yet it asks for consistency at both ends of the court. Guards by definition are defenders, who hassle attackers forcing turnovers and steals then quickly scoring on the break.

Teams are scoring a lot, the Bruins scored 97 at Kentucky, a team who have scored over 100 points three times already this year. This is due to teams wanting to score more in possession and the growth of the three point shot, a trickle down effect from the success Steph Curry had in college up to the NBA.

There will still be good defending sides who make it difficult for teams to score and eat up their shot clock possession such as Louisville (7-1) and West Virgina (6-1), whose constant press will be hard to face for a full 40 minutes, and Villanova while they may not have the dynamic playmakers that set the NBA draft on fire, the diligence of the system will win them more games than they lose.

Markelle Fultz 22.7-6.7-6.6 on a 4-3 team

Games to watch for this week:
Markelle Fultz's Washington on the road at Gonzaga; Fultz is a top NBA prospect averaging 22.7 ppg, 6.7rpg and 6.6apg yet the team is 4-3 facing a tough road trip at undefeated Gonzaga (8-0) - Wednesday night.
Saturday - Battle of 2 undefeated teams - Villanova travel to Notre Dame (8-0) ranked #23
and a barn burner as Cincinnati (7-1) travel to Butler (8-0)

Keep watching this space for more CBB observation next to the aisle.

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