Overvalued/Undervalued: November EditionPosted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2011
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Over the last three weeks, I’ve made it a priority to absorb as much college basketball as humanly possible. From Manhattan to Puerto Rico to Maui, there’s been an abundance of quality matchups and intriguing contests across the landscape, and, thanks to a lack of consequential responsibilities (college is fun), my mission has gone off without a hitch.
Of course, so much changes after the month of November. Teams alter their playing style, discontented reserves transfer for more playing time, someone blows out their ACL in practice…it’s inevitable that the outfits we see in March will only partially resemble our impressions today. We all remember the roller coaster ride for Connecticut a year ago – undefeated during a grueling non-conference, .500 in the Big East, 11-0 in postseason tourney play.
Still, trends are developing, players are emerging and teams are starting to separate themselves, especially after an unusually high number of premiere early-season games. Plus, as the saying goes: First impressions are the most lasting. Here are some players, teams and coaches I kept help but judging as either undervalued or overvalued after the first 3+ weeks.
Overvalued: Wisconsin. The Badgers are turning some heads early on by posting lop-sided final scores and holding opponents to absurd point totals and field goal percentages. Allow me to pump the brakes for a moment. Those opponents that the Badgers are bludgeoning into oblivion are Kennesaw State, Colgate, UMKC and a Wofford team that lost their top three scorers. Amidst the blowouts is actually a disturbing trend. Without Jon Leuer posting up or any feared back to the basket presence, Wisconsin is jacking up a three-pointer in 47.2% of their possessions, tops in the nation. Making 48% of those treys is fool’s good and completely unsustainable for any team not consisting of Jon Diebler clones. If they’re relying on so many threes against the dregs of Division I, what happens when Michigan State or Purdue muscles the Badgers around? Bo Ryan has a real solid unit and Jordan Taylor will start to accrue more of the scoring load as the season wears on, but don’t be fooled by the lopsided scores and buy into Wisconsin as the 11th-best team in the land.
Undervalued: SEC top tier. The popular belief heading into this season was that the Big East would once again reign supreme among conferences. It certainly helps to have 16 teams, but that belief still holds true; the Big East could legitimately receive ten bids to the NCAA Tournament this season depending on how expected bubble teams like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown develop. Among the expected contenders at the top of the league, though, the SEC stacks up with the powerful Big East. Kentucky finally has an ideal mix of ultra-talented rookies and returnees. Florida should have an outstanding campaign, especially after Patric Young held his own against Jared Sullinger. Vanderbilt will improve once Festus Ezeli returns. But it’s Alabama that swung the pendulum. Their smothering team defense, length and athleticism serves as the backbone for an emerging top-15 team in Tuscaloosa.
Overvalued: Andre Drummond. Sometimes we forget that Jared Sullinger is the exception to the rule. Most freshmen, especially freshman centers who don’t control as many possessions as guards, are humbled when they make the considerable jump from high school or prep ranks to the rigors of college basketball (Fab Melo anyone?). Drummond stunned the hoops universe by enrolling at his home state school for what everyone anticipated was a one-year cameo. Drummond will surely improve and post more inspiring numbers, but 23 points scored and 14 fouls committed through four games isn’t exactly the resume of a lottery pick. Drummond is in the midst of a challenging transition process, even more so than other rookies like Brad Beal, Anthony Davis or Quincy Miller. Luckily for him and most of the college basketball populous, there’s plenty of time till March.
Undervalued: Marcus Denmon. It’s almost criminal how undervalued Denmon is for a Missouri squad that looked like a well-oiled machine during their emasculation of both Notre Dame and Cal the last two nights. One would think Denmon had earned more recognition after finishing 19th in the nation in offensive rating last season among players who used 20-24% of his teams’ possessions (while, by the way, leading the country in turnover rate). Denmon has picked up where he left off: 20/6/2 stl while shooting 54/44/92 in 31 MPG. There’s truly not one area of basketball that Marcus Denmon isn’t playing at an elite level right now. He’s a top-15 guard in America.
Overvalued: CAA favorites. A mid-major league fielding two Final Four teams in six years deserves major national accolades, but the widely respected CAA will take a step back in 2011-12. The usual suspects – George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion – have all taken their lumps in the early going. Mason has played three overtime games already and lost two of them to Florida Atlantic and Florida International. The Rams lost most of their scoring output and barely escaped an 0-3 record last weekend in Charleston, while ODU has been spotty (hung with Kentucky, struggled in their other four contests) while trying to ease back star Kent Bazemore from a foot injury. And preseason favorite Drexel still can’t score. Forget Final Four, there’s no Sweet 16 contender in this league.
Undervalued: Mark Lyons. Don’t be fooled into thinking Xavier is Tu Holloway and a bunch of mediocrity. Look no further than his backcourt partner to find one of the most complete guards in the nation. Lyons has scored 18+ points in each of the Musketeers’ first three contests, including a 22/7/6/3 stl banner performance in the season opener sans Holloway. The 6’1 junior is just as versatile as Holloway with his ability to rebound, pass and play inspired defense. Chris Mack is spoiled with such a multi-purpose, selfless guard duo. Holloway and Lyons are two of the biggest reasons why I have Xavier currently pegged for the Final Four (with North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida).
Overvalued: Pac-12 taking a step forward. The early departures of Klay Thompson, Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee and Isaiah Thomas (not to mention Jio Fontan tearing up his knee and MoMo Jones transferring) removed some of the luster, but most still expected the Pac-12 to take their first step towards a potential renaissance in 2011-12. Instead, the conference has sustained body blow after body blow in the month of November. The laundry list: Arizona flirted with two upsets while their freshman point guard is struggling to get acclimated; UCLA has been a dumpster fire with the Reeves Nelson suspension and two embarrassing “home” defeats, Oregon’s best pure scorer Jabari Brown mysteriously bolted the program; Cal just lost by 39; Saint Louis absolutely schooled Washington last Saturday and USC scored 36 points in 40 minutes during a loss to Cal Poly.
Undervalued: Scott Machado. My impressions after watching the bulk of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Tony Mitchell will make all-SEC, Robbie Hummel is back, Wichita is a couple rungs behind Creighton in the MVC pecking order, Michael Eric is the key for Temple and Scott Machado is one of the top five true point guards in the country. Machado averaged 15.3 PPG, 13.7 APG, 4.7 RPG and 2.7 SPG and 2.0 TPG against Purdue, Western Michigan and Maryland. The engine for Iona’s high-octane offensive attack is the nation’s best pure passer not named Kendall Marshall.
Overvalued: Josh Smith. Just as we’ve collectively conceded that Renardo Sidney is never going to get completely motivated, harness his remarkable talents and become a superstar, let’s start to consider Smith could be a lost cause. Sure, Smith is only a sophomore that happens to be shooting 65% when he can actually stay on the floor, but Ben Howland was openly disappointed with his conditioning and playing shape during preseason practices and that type of negligence has translated to UCLA’s sluggish 1-3 start. A big body with his talent and skill should destroy the frontline of Loyola Marymount, but the enigmatic Smith instead went through the motions to the tune of five points and three fouls in 16 minutes during an 11-point loss. And against Kansas last night in front of NBA scouts? One point and one shot.
Undervalued: Mike Moser. Speaking of UCLA, transfer Mike Moser is making quite the early impression for UNLV in the early going. The obvious caveat is that the Rebels most difficult game thus far has come against a Nevada squad that hasn’t won a WAC title in three seasons. Regardless, the 6’8″ sophomore forward has spearheaded a newly instituted run-and-gun style under first-year coach Dave Rice. Moser is averaging 16/13/3/3 stl and posted a silly 23/17 against a competitive Morgan State team. Moser trails only two Division I players in overall rebounding and his emergence will be a major boon to a frontcourt bereft of reliable offensive weapons.
Overvalued: Memphis. After falling to Michigan and nearly stumbling again vs. in-state rival Tennessee, the Tigers won’t be ranked eighth in the nation when the polls are released Monday. But they’ll still be ranked right around the #15 range if they beat Georgetown today and depart Maui 2-1, which is still much too lofty of a perch for Memphis. November is for solving these dilemmas, but Josh Pastner still hasn’t discovered a workable and consistent rotation. For example, Pastner played starters Joe Jackson, Charles Carmouche and Tarik Black (foul trouble played a role) a total of 19, 15 and 13 minutes, respectively, in their double-OT win on Tuesday. Their frontline is continuously destroyed on the glass game in and game out and both the two-point and three-point field goal defense is mediocre. There’s a boatload of talent here and Memphis’ schedule has been anything but light, but I’m not sold on last year’s fourth-place finishers in C-USA as a top-15 caliber squad.
Undervalued: Casper Ware vs. Orlando Johnson. The best conference POY isn’t Terrence Jones vs. John Jenkins. It isn’t Thomas Robinson vs. Perry Jones or Jared Sullinger vs. Jordan Taylor. Keep an eye on the battle in the Big West between Ware and Johnson, two of the most refined guards in the nation. Reigning POY (and defensive POY, becoming the first player in conference history to win both awards) Ware earned a leg up with his 28 points on 10-18 FG in a win at Pittsburgh last week and will have a few more showcases ahead during the Beach’s insane schedule. Johnson’s UCSB team has only played two D-1 opponents in Portland and Santa Clara, but his numbers look mighty similar to the 21/6/3 and 48/41/80 he posted as a junior. These are two of the top-50 players in the county who are vastly underrated on a national level due to their teams’ conference affiliation.