At this point in the season we’re just over a month into the 2018-19 NCAA Men’s Basketball season and only one thing is for certain; no team is a lock to win the National Championship in April.
We’ve seen a number one team fall in the rankings while still being undefeated, two number one teams lose, and the defending National Champions fall from being ranked 8th in the country to un-ranked in a matter of seven days.
Combine the top ranked parity with the highlight reel play of the Duke freshmen trio, Bol Bol, Romeo Langford and Nassir Little and we are setting up for one of the most exciting March Madness tournaments in recent memory.
TOP RANKED PARITY
Including the preseason list, there have been six top-25 rankings lists released this season. In those six weeks Kansas, Duke, and Gonzaga have all held the number one position for at least two weeks; with Kansas currently at the top for the second time in this early campaign.
The Jaykawks started the season ranked number one and lost their spot after Duke’s 118-84 win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic. Kansas actually beat the 10th-ranked Spartans of Michigan State earlier that night; but after (4)Duke’s shellacking of the 2nd-ranked Kentucky Wildcats it became clear that the Blue Devils were the best team in the nation.
Fast-forward 15 days later and the Maui Invitational treated us with a top-three matchup featuring Duke and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga came in as a seven point underdog; but a squad fully capable of pulling the upset with their interior defense and experience. After falling behind by double-digits, the Blue Devils fought back to make it a one possession game in the final seconds; however Gonzaga’s junior foward Rui Hachimura led the Bulldogs to an 89-87 victory.
The Zags subsequently jumped to the top spot where they stayed for nearly three weeks before losing to the previously 7th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. In a highly-contested game, the Vols senior guard Admiral Schofield poured in 25 of his 30 points in the second half ; including the game-winning three-pointer with 24 seconds left to knock off the number one Zags in the Colangelo Classic.
In the week six rankings released earlier this afternoon; Kansas reclaimed the throne at the top of the top-25 followed by Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, and the Michigan Wolverines.
The Duke freshmen trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish were the hot topic of college basketball leading into this college basketball season. While Barrett has been putting up solid numbers and Williamson continues to make the top play list on a nightly basis, Reddish has flown under the radar in the first month of the season. The Duke guys aren’t the only ones making noise though. The fight for this year’s Wayman Tisdale for best freshman player in the Nation may be just as competitive as the fight for the four number one seeds come March.
Indiana guard Romeo Langford has led the Hoosiers to an 8-2 start which includes a 2-0 record in early B1G play. Langford is averaging 18.2 points per game; along with 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the 6-6 shooting guard. The New Albany, Indiana native choked away his opportunity to perform big on the national stage after only producing 13 points in their ACC/B1G matchup against Duke. Despite the sub-par performance in the high profile contest, Langford has a realistic chance to lead the Hoosiers to a B1G championship and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016.
No one in the upcoming NBA draft wants to be the guy that passes on Zion. That same thought process should apply to Oregon center Bol Bol. The son of the late great 7-7 Maunte Bol probably won’t get much national attention due to playing on the West Coast and the overall success of the the Ducks; but this 7-3 giant is a star in the making. Bol Bol is nearly averaging a double-double with 21.1 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Oregon sits with a 5-3 record and have fallen out of the top-25 after previously being ranked as high as 13. Bol can shoot the 3-ball with the fluidity of a Kevin Durant and has the interior presence of his father. Bol very well may be the next coming of Joel Embiid pending health and work in the weightroom.
Nassir Little is a special case. Playing under Roy Williams, Little has yet to crack the starting lineup, coming off the bench as UNC’s sixth man. The sixth-ranked incoming freshman is averaging 12 PPG and 4.8 RPG in his early season role. Little was also recruited by Duke, Arizona, Georgia Tech, and Miami (FL); and there’s a solid chance he’d be starting at any of those programs. The Tar Heels have already dropped two games before entering ACC play. Whether it be due to fan demand or on the court performances, Williams will have no choice but to insert his freshman star into the first five and once that occurs, the ceiling is the roof.
THE WEEK AHEAD
This week in college basketball is an early Christmas present as we get Gonzaga taking a trip to North Carolina for a top-12 matchup with the Tar Heels, and the Jayhawks hosting the defending Villanova Wildcats in a Final Four rematch from this past March. Look for the Volunteers to be on upset alert this week; as they travel to take on the in-state rival Memphis Tigers led by none other than Penny Hardaway.