College Hoops – One Month In

Joe Clark, Sports Writer

With almost one month played in the 2015-16 College Basketball season, the top teams and players have become clearer. Per usual, the Kentucky Wildcats are the class of college basketball. Coming off a near-undefeated season, Kentucky is considered a favorite to win the National Championship. The Wildcats are led by coach John Calipari and his usual cast of freshman stars, headlined by Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, and Skal Labissiere. The Wildcats also return some key pieces from last year’s Final Four team such as Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, and senior Alex Poythress. While they won’t be as good as they were last year (undefeated regular season) Kentucky will be a good team again. Poythress, Lee, and Ulis provide veteran leadership and know Coach Cal’s offense, while Ulis is one of the best guards in college basketball, and him and Murray together is a dangerous combination.

Defending national champs Duke, led by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, also have freshmen talent under their belt this season, in guards Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard, as well as small forward Brandon Ingram and his insane vertical leap. The Blue Devils also return guards Grayson Allen and Matt Jones. Big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee from last season’s championship team. Duke is a talented team, with depth at every position-look for them to make a strong bid to repeat.

Another top team this season is the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are playing like the best team in college basketball right now, even without power forward Gavin Schilling. With one of Tom Izzo’s top recruiting classes in years, the Spartans, led by Wooden Award finalist Denzel Valentine, have solid players up and down the roster. Center Deyonta Davis has been phenomenal for the Spartans in his rookie year, generating legitimate NBA Draft buzz.

Also expected to make an impact for the Spartans are guards Bryn Forbes, Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr, Eron Harris, and forwards Marvin Clark Jr. and Matt Costello.  Valentine is one of the best players in college basketball. He has two triple-doubles already. He’s the type of player that doesn’t really stand out, but is a consistent 15-5-5 guy on an immensely talented roster. Nairn is a lightning quick, but can be a defensive liability at times. Forbes is a supremely talented scoring guard who consistently finds ways to put the ball in the hoop. Costello can be decent down low, Harris, a transfer from West Virginia, is a good role player and can score, pass, and defend off the bench. Clark is an undersized 3-4, at only 6’6, but he can use his 225 lb frame to score inside, or hit shots from the perimeter.

The Maryland Terrapins are also a title contender this season, led by guards Melo Trimble, Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, and Jared Nickens, forwards Jake Layman (A Wrentham native), Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter, and freshman Diamond Stone. This is Maryland’s strongest team since their National Title team in 2002. Look for Trimble and Sulaimon to shine in Mark Turgeon’s guard oriented offense.

One the best and arguably deepest teams in college hoops this year is the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Heels are led by Marcus Paige, who made his season debut December 1st against Maryland. Without Paige, UNC, the preseason AP #1, suffered an upset loss at the hands of Northern Iowa. Outside of JP Tokoto, UNC hasn’t suffered any major losses from last season’s team, and return Theo Pinson, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, and Isaiah Hicks from last year’s team. While I don’t really think Nate Britt is all that good, Pinson is better than Tokoto was, and he will make an impact this year. Joel Berry is a really talented guard, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are beasts on the block, Jackson can fill it up, and Hicks is a talented role player. Look for the Heels to make some serious noise come March.

Another one of the usual suspects, the Kansas Jayhawks, look good again this year. Despite their 2 losses, to Michigan St. and UNC, the Jayhawks were missing star freshman Cheick Diallo for those games. Diallo was under academic investigation by the NCAA, but he and the school was cleared of any wrongdoing. Diallo certainly made a mark in his December 1st return, throwing down this Karl Malone-esque dunk in addition to his 13 points on 6-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Outside of Diallo, the Jayhawks still have a ton of talent, with guards Frank Mason III and Boston native Wayne Selden Jr. The Jayhawks boast backcourt depth with guards Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk joining Mason III and Selden in the backcourt. Freshman Lagerald Vick has also seen some time on the court this season. On the wing, the Jayhawks feature freshman Carlton Bragg Jr, who hasn’t seen a lot of minutes this season but can make an impact if needed. The Jayhawks are one of the best teams in the post, as they return Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, two guys who were good for Kansas last season. This is a talented team all around, and might be the strongest Kansas team since their 2012 team, who made a National Title game appearance and almost knocked off an Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team.

A team that could look to do some damage in March this season is the LSU Tigers. With freshmen Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers can really make some noise this year. Simmons, the #1 recruit in the country, has been one of, if not the best player in the country this year. A small forward, he leads the country in rebounding with an astonishing 15 RPG (as of December 2nd). He is likely the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Blakeney is a guard with nearly unlimited range, and should make a big impact for LSU this year. Fellow freshman Brandon Sampson has also played well, putting in 9.8 PPG and 2.7 RPG in 26 minutes. Junior guard Tim Quarterman has been overshadowed a bit by Simmons, but nonetheless he is having a good season, with 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 2.8 APG. However, with the losses of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin to the NBA, LSU doesn’t have much talent in the frontcourt, which will hurt them when they face bigger teams. Despite Simmons’ athleticism  he can’t cover guys that are 300 lbs down low. Even so, Simmons is so good that he can put this team on his back come tournament time, despite their 3-3 season record thus far.

A team similar to LSU this year is the Cal Golden Bears. Like LSU, Cal had a top recruiting class, but they also returned some top talent. In addition to bringing in top recruits Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, the Golden Bears brought back guards Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird. Bird, a SF, has had to take a backseat to Brown this year, but he’s still putting up 9.1 PPG in 26 minutes this year. Wallace, a 6’5 PG, has been really impressive this season, with 18.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 4.9 APG after a season last year where he put up 17.1 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 7.1 RPG. He’s one of the most overlooked players in college basketball, even though he is one of the best. Brown, the #4 recruit in the country, is averaging 15.7 PPG and 6.0 RPG. He still has room to grow as a shooter, but is an athletic wing, the exact type of player the NBA covets. Despite back to back losses to San Diego St and Richmond earlier in the year. Cal is another team to look out for come March.

Local teams have also been good this season. The Connecticut Huskies are playing good basketball right now, and despite losses to Syracuse and Gonzaga (two top teams) which dropped them from the top 25, the Huskies are arguably the top team in New England this year. With Jalen Adams, Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs, Daniel Hamilton, and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, the Huskies have one of the best backcourts in college hoops.

Hamilton, like Tyrone Wallace, is overlooked, putting up 12.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and 6.2 APG as UConn’s primary SG. Adams, a top 100 recruit from Boston, hasn’t played a ton this year (17.7 MPG) but when you’re playing behind Gibbs (12.3 PPG) and Purvis (13.3 PPG) you should expect less playing time. UConn’s frontcourt isn’t lacking either, with 7 footer Amida Brimah manning the paint, where he is joined by Cornell transfer Shonn Miller and Kentan Facey. 4 star recruit Steven Enoch is also chipping in 8.3 MPG, with 2.7 PPG and 3.3 RPG. Miller, a small forward, is a lights out shooter, shooting .62% on the young season. Brimah uses his size to block or change shots at the rim, as evidenced by his block a game this year and 1.8 BPG last season. Facey, a PF, is splitting time with Enoch, but his 5.2 RPG in 15.7 minutes is solid. The Huskies are a deep team, with immense frontcourt talent coupled with really solid guys in the frontcourt. Kevin Ollie has really done a great job as Head Coach.


Another local team that has impressed this season is the Providence Friars. The Friars, under Ed Cooley, are 6-1 and ranked #23 in the country. Led by Wooden Award candidate and future lottery pick Kris Dunn, the Friars are in a good position to make a run in March. In addition to Dunn,the Friars feature forwards Rodney Bullock, Ryan Fazekas, and Ben Bentil. The Friars feature  guards Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey, and Junior Lomomba. Dunn shocked the basketball world by announcing he would return to school this season, and he hasn’t upset. In an upset win over Arizona on November 27th, Dunn outscored Arizona 15-7, and scored every Friars point in that time span. Despite only playing 21 minutes due to foul trouble, Dunn finished with 19 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals. Twice this season he has nearly had the ultra-rare quadruple double, once again Brown when he finished with 11 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, and 6 steals in 34 minutes of work, and again against NJIT, where he finished with 22 points, 9 assists, 10 rebounds, and 7 steals. On the year, he’s averaging 19.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.1 RPG, and 3.7 SPG.

Dunn isn’t the entire team though. Redshirt sophomore Rodney Bullock, playing in his first season after missing the last two due to suspension and injury, is averaging 13.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG. He has been a big factor for the Friars success this year. Sophomore Ben Bentil has taken a big step forward from his freshman campaign, averaging 17.0 PPG and 7.1 RPG. Along with Dunn, he was named to the all-tournament team for the Wooden Legacy Tournament, which Providence recently participated in. He has been the big man PC has needed after the graduation of Carson Desrosiers and transfer of Paschal Chukwu. Ryan Fazekas, a freshman, has been lights out from 3 this season, hitting on .43% of his 3 point attempts. Cartwright has provided solid depth behind Dunn, and has played well when Dunn has suffered foul trouble. Lomomba, the Friars starting shooting guard, has added a bit of an offensive game to his repertoire after mainly being a defense-first player previously. He’s averaging 6.6 PPG this season. Lindsey, like Fazekas, is a good three point shooter. He can play the 3 in smaller lineups, and with him and Fazekas on the floor, defenses have to extend out which opens up opportunities for Bullock and Fazekas down low. With Dunn at the helm this season, anything is possible for the Friars.

The Rhode Island Rams are another top local team this year. Despite the loss of EC Matthews, one of the top players in college basketball, to a torn ACL, the Rams still could be an NCAA tournament team. Without Matthews, the Rams are led by forward Hassan Martin. Martin, a 6’7 PF, doesn’t look like the type of guy who would lead the NCAA blocks, but that’s exactly what he did last season with 3.1 BPG. He’s racking up block after block again this season, with 2.8 BPG this year. He’s also chipping in 10.2 PPG and 5.7 RPG this year. Joining Martin in leading the Rams this year is 5th year senior Four McGlynn. McGlynn, one of the best shooters in college basketball, is shooting 44% from 3 point range this year, while averaging 14.2 PPG. Forward Kuran Iverson also looks to be a factor for Dan Hurley’s team, and he has been so far this year, with 11.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG. Guard Jared Terrell is the main guy tasked with picking up where Matthews left off, and he has thus far, with 10.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.3 APG. Center Earl Watson has been solid this year as well, chipping in 7.5 PPG and 4.2 RPG in 19.8 MPG. Guard Jarvis Garrett has also been a key player for URI this year, with 9.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 3.7 APG this year. The Rams play in a tough A-10 conference, and despite the loss of Matthews, they still could be a tournament team this year.

There are a ton of other contenders this season, such as the Gonzaga Bulldogs led by Wooden Award finalist Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, and Przemek Karnowski. Villanova, Purdue, Oklahoma, Louisville, Baylor, and Xavier are also strong this year. I would analyze them, but this would then be longer than it already is, and it’s already pretty long. For more information on college basketball look here, here, and here. if you want more advanced stats, look here. This year is the most parity there has been in CBB in a long time. Look for some upsets come March.