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.