That’s Debatable: Contenders and PretendersPosted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at email@example.com.
This Week’s Topic: Zach Hayes wrote an article this week examining the teams he viewed as contenders and pretenders at this point; with that in mind, who is your top contender and top pretender through the first six weeks of the season?
Matt Patton, RTC contributor
I think I have to stick with Duke for contender. If Kyrie Irving is definitively out the whole season and Josh Selby turns out to be of a similar caliber, Kansas would probably slide up to that spot. Ohio State comes in a relatively distant third until I see them play some conference games. But I think the Blue Devils are the most complete team in the country: a great coach, a great backcourt and a very good (though shallow) frontcourt. Even without Irving, I think Duke could still be the best in the country. It’s much closer, but they still have two great senior leaders with proven postseason success, Mason Plumlee, and a couple sharpshooters who will put up 20 if you leave them alone. On the pretender side I think the obvious choice is Connecticut with Syracuse as the bizarro runner-up. That’s a team waiting for the wheels to come off. Kemba Walker has carried them so far, but teams in the Big East are going to lock in on Walker and force someone else to make big plays. Maybe Jim Calhoun will find a way to keep things going, but I doubt it.
Brian Otskey, RTC contributor
I’ll go with BYU as my top contender as they have an outright star in Jimmer Fredette and a solid supporting cast around him. The Cougars are a strong defensive team, ranked ninth in effective field goal percentage against. BYU also takes terrific care of the ball, second in the country in turnover percentage. Once they start shooting the three-ball better, this team will really take off behind Fredette, Jackson Emery and company. As for my pretender, it was a tough choice between Connecticut and Tennessee but I’m going to disagree with my good friend Zach and go with the Volunteers. I thought Bruce Pearl’s club was overrated even before the loss to Oakland and they may have peaked already. Tennessee’s great free throw rate is bound to drop plus they already give most of it away on the other end, ranked #288 in opponent’s free throw rate. The chip on their shoulder, playing so hard for Pearl despite his troubles, will eventually wear off and they’ll miss his presence on the sideline when he’s out for eight games. Tennessee turns it over too much, is not a great three-point shooting team and gives up almost 70 PPG. I realize they play an up-tempo style but that’s too high for my liking. Tennessee is still a good team that will contend in the SEC but I don’t see them as the national contender many have proclaimed them to be.
Andrew Murawa, RTC contributor
Despite Tennessee’s somewhat surprising loss to Oakland last night (ed note: this was written prior to UT’s loss to Charlotte on Friday night), that team to me is still a bona fide contender. Sure, the bad Scotty Hopson appeared for the first time this season, a somewhat scary flashback to last season’s inconsistency which we were all but promised was a thing of the past. And yes, it is awful hard to want to throw the ball into your big senior center Brian Williams in tight games when you know he’s no better than 50/50 to make free throws. But the not-so-secret weapon that convinces me that this Volunteer squad will be a force to be reckoned with is freshman Tobias Harris, who Bruce Pearl and company are only beginning to get the best out of. Eventually more and more of the Vol offense will run through Harris and, being a more than capable creator for teammates, he can get more open looks for Hopson, create easy opportunities for Williams, and just generally make the entire Tennessee team better. While some will see the Oakland loss as a sign that Tennessee is just a pretender, this Volunteer team you see now is but a pale shadow of what could become by March.
Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor
I have thought for the past week or so that Memphis is a serious pretender this year, and their two point win over Austin Peay confirmed that for me. The Tigers, who shot a dismal 15-30 from the line, were lucky to get by AP as they trailed 40-26 midway through the second half. Although they are 3-1 in the month of December, ever since their overtime victory against Arkansas State, Memphis has been very unimpressive. This is a young and inexperienced group of Tigers as only four upperclassmen see significant minutes; the maturity of the team as a whole, in my opinion has come into question as of late. In their close wins against Arkansas State and Austin Peay, the Tigers took possessions off on defense in the second half illustrated by allowing both teams to push the game into overtime. Memphis’ game against Georgetown on December 23rd will be very telling whether this team is a contender or not. The Pac-10 has been getting little love this year from analysts, and deservedly so. There is not one team from the conference in the Top 25, and the bottom five teams—Oregon State, Arizona State, California, UCLA, and USC—have a very pedestrian combined record of 24-21. With that being said, I am still a believer in the two Washington-based schools, especially the Cougars from Washington State. Losing 10 of their last 12 games to end last season and picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 Preseason Poll, not much was to be expected of Washington State, but they have quietly begun the season 7-1 including an 81-59 drubbing over Gonzaga. Sure, the Bulldogs don’t seem like much this year, but of all their losses to quality teams, the one to Washington State was by the largest margin. The only blemish on the Cougars’ resume thus far is a slim five point loss against Kansas State. As of December 15, they are fourth in the country in two point field goal percentage and ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. Their two top players though—Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson—are one of the best one-two punches in the Pac-10 as they collectively average nearly 40 points a game. Don’t sleep on these guys.
Kellen Carpenter, RTC contributor
Tennessee is a pretender and I’m not just saying this because they finally lost one. Tennessee’s skill at getting to the free-throw line is too good to be true; watch for the trips to the line to start decreasing as the season wears on. As the free throws dry up, so will the heretofore excellent offense and Tennessee’s chances at a title. On the other side of things, I think Syracuse is a contender, and the troubles of this team on the perimeter are unlikely to last. Once Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche start hitting three-pointers like they have in the past, Syracuse becomes a very dangerous team. There’s probably no cure for Kris Joseph’s three-point shooting, but, hey, no team is perfect.
Ned Reddick, RTC contributor
Even with Kyrie Irving’s injury the Duke Blue Devils are still the top contender. If he manages to come back they are the odds-on favorite to win the NCAA Tournament even if he is only at 75%. If he doesn’t, Coach K still has enough depth and talent in his trio of guards (Nolan Smith, Andre Dawkins, and Seth Curry) to make a serious run at another title. Sure, Ohio State looks good right now and Jared Sullinger has looked really good against weak competition, but Duke is still the class of college basketball right now. As for my pretender, the obvious choice is the Florida Gators. Nobody has been more thoroughly exposed than Billy Donovan’s crew. After a few disappointing seasons following their back-to-back titles, this was supposed to be the year that UF was back in the national spotlight. Instead they look like they will be fighting to stay relevant in the SEC yet again.
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor
With Coach K’s mid-week mention that Kyrie Irving is going to be out of his lineup for a long time, I’m hesitant to call Duke the top contender now; but I have no such problem in doing so for Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes. What separates the Buckeyes is that they have a 6’9 mammoth of a post player inside called Jared Sullinger, and we’re convinced that he’s every bit as good as DeMarcus Cousins was last year. You add a talented corps of juniors and seniors in William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler, and you’ve got a big, athletic team that can defend as well as it can score. OSU has had a lighter schedule so far this season, but easily winning games at Florida and Florida State show what they’re capable of when focused. As for pretender, Tennessee and Memphis are obvious choices, but how about Villanova? The Wildcats haven’t done much of anything impressive enough this season to show they deserve to be in the top ten, but they’re there anyway. We’re just not sure that we believe in their interior players yet, and the guardplay can still be a little inconsistent in spots. They don’t look much different to us than they did last year, and that was a disappointing second round NCAA team.