The Redshirt Senior: New Year, New Beginnings in College Basketball
The new year means new beginnings and a desire to transform oneself for the better. Some people go to the gym for a week or two, some people make an effort to be nicer to others and some people make an effort to put down the bottle. College basketball in 2019 was all about the big stars. Duke University was in the top five of the AP poll last year due to Zion Williamson’s heroics, and Carsen Edwards went on a scoring streak for Purdue University in the NCAA Tournament that ultimately fell at the hands of eventual national champions the University of Virginia. So how did the college basketball world change from last season to this season?
It learned what parity was.
Who is the best team in the country this year? The AP Poll thought it was Michigan State University to start the year, but the Spartans lost to the University of Kentucky in the Champions Classic. Kentucky then claimed the top spot for a week before losing to the University of Evansville, the team that’s currently in last place in the Missouri Valley Conference. Duke then claimed the top spot for two weeks due to wins over the University of Kansas and Georgetown University before falling at home in overtime to Southland Conference tournament darling Stephen F. Austin University, the second instance of an AP Number 1 falling at home to an unranked team wearing purple this season.
After Duke lost, the University of Louisville took over the top spot for two weeks, but then fell to unranked Texas Tech University by 13 points at Madison Square Garden. Then the last of the four teams in the Champions Classic, Kansas, took the top spot before suffering a very close loss to a ranked Villanova University team. Now Gonzaga University is next on the docket to lose as the AP Number 1 as conference play has gotten underway for most teams. The next unranked team Gonzaga faces at home is Santa Clara University on Jan. 16, and that team is 14-2, so you never know.
What does this all mean? Is the quality of college basketball declining? The highest-rated team by Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency metric is Duke as of right now; last year this Duke team would have been the sixth-most efficient team. How will ESPN know which player to flash in its viewers’ faces if there’s no obviously dominant team? What does this mean for the NBA if the perceived talent of the recruiting class suffers?
It doesn’t mean anything. The reason fans of college basketball watch college kids play instead of the pros is for the love of the game. College ball is supposed to be wacky; there’s a reason why March Madness is so popular and why the postseason Cinderellas are so lauded. On any given day, any team can win, and the storylines are dominated by play instead of inter- and intra-team drama in the professional leagues. I love this season and you should too.
As for the best team? Even though they just had its second loss against Villanova, I’d have to go with Kansas. Duke is the most efficient team at the moment, but Kansas has played a much tougher schedule and has the record to show for it. The Jayhawks lost to Villanova and Duke (but it was the first game of the season so I don’t give that game much credit) and has quality wins over Brigham Young University, the University of Dayton, the University of Colorado and Stanford University — with the Maui Championship title coming with the wins over the former two teams.
Kansas also has who I think is the player of the year candidate in Devon Dotson. The sophomore point guard from Charlotte, NC is averaging 19/4/4 on a 45.8 percent shooting clip per game and is a big reason why Kansas was able to beat upstart Dayton in the Maui Tournament finals. Dotson finished that game with 31 points, six rebounds and five steals in the overtime victory.
The other player for whom you could make an argument is Duke center Vernon Carey Jr., who is averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds per game, but unlike Dotson, has only played above 30 minutes in two games this season, something Dotson has only done twice when Kansas was winning by at least 41 points.
*It was at this point when I took a break from writing to watch Syracuse University lose by one point to the University of Notre Dame. I apologize for any potential negativity strewn through the rest of the column.*
Now for your Ivy League update. The Ivy League is much like the ACC this year: There are a handful of good teams (Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Florida State University in the former, and Harvard University, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania in the latter), and everyone else stinks. I thought Harvard was going to be the top dog in the league because all three of the Crimson’s senior starters would be healthy, but Seth Towns is now undergoing surgery and will seek one extra year of playing time away from Cambridge. Yale is now my pick to represent the Ivy League in the NCAA postseason, with an away win over Clemson University and a three-point loss to the University of North Carolina under the Bulldogs’ belts.
I’ll end with some Ivy League predictions, which will be fun to look back on in March. Happy Winter!
Ivy League Tournament:
No. 1 Yale vs. No. 4 Brown; No. 2 Harvard vs. No. 3 Penn
Ivy League First Team:
PG: Mike Smith, Sr., Columbia
SG: Brandon Anderson, Sr., Brown
SF: Jimmy Boeheim, Jr., Cornell
PF: AJ Brodeur, Sr., Penn
C: Paul Atkinson, Jr., Yale
Ivy League Second Team:
PG: Devon Goodman, Sr., Penn
SG: James Foye, Sr., Dartmouth
SF: Ryan Betley, Sr., Penn
PF: Jordan Bruner, Sr., Yale
C: Richmond Aririguzoh, Jr., Princeton