The Redshirt Senior: Despite ‘Parity,’ Plenty of Excitement Can Be Found in College Basketball
Some words that have been tossed around this college basketball season include “parity” and “chaos,” and the take that there isn’t a “top team” in this season and how that is ruining the game. While this season has been known for its upsets, with the first seven weeks of the AP Poll having seen five different number 1 teams (Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Kansas) and top 10 teams losing a total of 11 games against unranked opponents in the first half of December, the absence of a dominant team and the resulting chaos does not make for a poor season.
Sure, it will make it harder to fill out your bracket and it will make it harder for the media to come up with storylines since there’s no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant highlights to shove down your throat every week, but with a little bit of searching, excitement can be found within the chaos.
Let’s first look at the players that are trying to fill the void that Zion left. The odds-on favorite for the Naismith Player of the Year is Michigan State’s Cassius Winston. It makes sense too, at the end of last season when Winston and the Spartans knocked of Zion Williamson’s Blue Devils in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and the NBA-caliber talent decided to return for his senior season. This season, Winston hasn’t played poorly, he’s averaging 18.5/2.5/5.8, but he’s regressed a bit from the 18.8/3/7.5 he averaged last year.
The fact that Winston isn’t in the spotlight much this season has just as much to do with Michigan State not playing like the preseason AP Number 1 team. By this time last year, Michigan State was 23-5 and 14-3 in Big Ten play; the Spartans would lose only one more game on the season, a one-point road loss to Indiana, and would go on to win the Big Ten Tournament and advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
This season, the Spartans are 19-9 and 11-6 in Big Ten play and are as of Sunday are in second place in the Big Ten. Despite the record being worse than last year’s and the team being currently projected as a 5-seed in this year’s tournament (the Spartans were a 2-seed last year), Michigan State is the 7th most efficient team in the country per KenPom. The fact that Winston isn’t getting more player of the year attention can be attributed to the fact that the Big Ten is a bloodbath this year. Since I care way too much about college basketball, here’s where I personally have the Big Ten teams projected to be seeded in this year’s tournament:
Maryland: 2 (Big Ten Champion)
Penn State: 4
Michigan State: 5
Ohio State: 6
That’s 10 teams, a whole lot more than the ACC is going to get this year. Michigan State isn’t a bad team and Cassius Winston is still playing well, even though the Spartans are the first team since 2013 to start at the top of the AP Poll and drop out completely.
So Cassius Winston probably won’t be the player of the year, since Michigan State is trapped in the gauntlet that is the Big Ten. One player who is quietly filling the void is Kansas’ Devon Dotson, the point guard for the current AP Number 1. Dotson averages 18/4/4 for the Jayhawks and is the team’s current leading scorer. But the biggest thing Dotson has going for him is consistency, and that’s a big reason why the Jayhawks are the number one team in the country at the moment.
Dotson has scored in double figures in every game except for one this season, and that game was against the former top-seeded Baylor Bears in which he scored 9 points before exiting the game with a hip injury. While Dotson doesn’t have the athleticism of big man Udoka Azubuike or the defensive stats of fellow guard Marcus Garrett, all he does is score points and win games, like against Iowa State when he put up 29 points with six threes in a 91-71 victory.
The media has slept on Kansas for most of the year — in part because they lost their first game of the season to Duke (my opinion is the first game of the season doesn’t matter; the final score of the Virginia-Syracuse season opener was 48-34, no one plays good basketball the first game of the season) but the Jayhawks are primed to make a run in the postseason. As of right now, they’re my pick to win it all.
Another player who has shone this season includes Dayton’s Obi Toppin. Toppin is currently the betting favorite to win player of the year (and hasn’t gotten attention from the media since Dayton is in the Atlantic 10), averaging 20/8/2 and leading the Flyers to a 27-2 record. Dayton joins fellow mid-major San Diego State as the two best small schools in the country (other than Gonzaga, they’re always good). San Diego State has its own player of the year candidate in guard Malachi Flynn, who was a big reason why the Aztecs were the last undefeated team in the country this season.
All these players have something exciting and worth watching. Winston has excellent ball movement, Dotson and Flynn will have great games no matter whom they play, Toppin can muscle to the basket and dunk on anyone. There are great players around the country this season, even though they’re not your James Wisemans or your Cole Anthonys — highly touted freshman and top draft prospects that have either underperformed or not played at all. Don’t equate parity with a lack of talent, and don’t assume there is a lack of talent because the media says so. Excitement is there if you know where to look.