NCAA Basketball’s Most Impressive Teams: An Early Look
Let’s take a look at the teams who have put together the best resumes so far this season:
The number one ranked team in the preseason AP poll largely lived up to their reputation through the first 12 games. One of the youngest teams in school history has also proven to be one of the most talented. The Blue Devil’s starting lineup, composed of four 5-star recruits and star senior, Grayson Allen, started the first 11 games of the season undefeated despite tough matchups against Michigan State, Texas, and Florida. As well as Allen has played (with an incredible 39 point performance against Michigan State), the story of Duke’s season has been the play of number 1 recruit Marvin Bagley. Bagley is averaging 22.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and, along with Wendell Carter, has added a new dimension to to Duke’s offensive game The Blue Devils, who have been typically reliant on outside shooting in years past, now boast two major scoring options in the paint in both Bagley and Carter. Additionally, the arrival of freshman point guard, Trevon Duval, has allowed Grayson Allen to return to his role as an off ball two guard (where he flourished 2 years ago). Allen and freshman shooting guard, Gary Trent Jr, also make the team a perimeter shooting threat, like last year’s team. All in all, Duke’s roster is about 8 players deep, the rest of which is rounded out by sophomore center Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier (PF), and Alex O’Connell (SG). Despite all of this talent and an undefeated record, the Blue Devil’s haven’t even been playing their best basketball. Throughout the PK 80 tournament, they needed comeback efforts against Portland State, Texas, and Florida. A team that hasn’t yet hit their stride, despite being ranked number and recording two top ten wins, is a scary proposition. Everybody hates Duke, but every time this group is on TV it should be appointment television. A slip up against Boston College is the only reason this team isn’t ranked number one
#2) Michigan State
Another team that has lived up to the billing of their preseason ranking is Michigan State. While the Blue Devils are flourishing because of their freshmen, the Spartan’s strength comes from their sophomores. Player of the year favorite, Miles Bridges, leads a stable of talented second year players. Bridges has yet to really kick it into gear, but when he is on and aggressive offensively, he looks every bit a lottery pick. Both Cassius Winston and Josh Langford have grown leaps and bounds at the guard spots, finally justifying their rankings as ESPN top 100 recruits last year. Meanwhile, Center, Nick Ward, has continued his stellar play down low from the season prior. Additionally, the Spartans have a 5 star recruit of their own in Jaren Jackson. Jackson adds even more athleticism to this team and gives a Coach Izzo a great rebounder, rim protector, and shot blocker. The number two ranked Spartans simply outclassed #5 Notre Dame and #9 UNC in back to back games. Furthermore, they have run through every opponent except Duke with ease, with every one of their wins coming by double digits. Their narrow defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils is the only reason Michigan State is not ranked number one.
The number one team in the country is also one of the most well rounded teams in the country. They don’t have the overabundance of NBA talent that teams like Duke and Michigan State possess, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a favorite come March. Versatile small forward Mikal Bridges is skyrocketing up draft boards this season with his play, accumulating per game averages of 18.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. All the hubbub about Bridges has caused many to lose sight of the fact that the Wildcats probably have the best point guard the country in Jalen Brunson. A preseason All-American, Brunson is also putting together a nice season with 17.2 points and 4.8 assists per game. Freshman forward Omari Spellman has acquitted himself quite nicely in the front court. Moreover, any team that can bring Donte Divincenzo off the bench is in good shape. The Wildcats have passed every test so far this season with wins over both Tennessee and Gonzaga. However, I am not yet ready to take them over teams like the Spartans and Blue Devils.
#9) Texas A&M
Texas A&M may possess the best front court in the country. Yet it is still a bit of a surprise how well they have played thus far. Early in the season, the Aggies have the look of a final four team. That all starts with the aforementioned stacked front court. Tyler Davis is stellar back the basket center with an array of post moves and good footwork. Power Forward, Robert Williams, passed up a chance to be a lottery pick in last years. Early indications are that he will not have to pay for that decision, as he’s continued to look like a shoo-in top ten pick. At small forward, DJ Hogg has elevated his game this averaging over 15 points per game and has established himself one of the number one scoring options for A&M. As good as the front court been, this season’s backcourt has been a tremendous improvement from the year prior. Admon Gilder has continued to fill it up at the shooting guard position. But the real story has been the improvement at point guard. Marquette transfer Duane Wilson has stepped in nicely to fill the starting role, while both TJ Starks and JJ Caldwell have provided quality minutes off the bench. The Aggies kicked off the season by battering a quality West Virginia team that was ranked number 11 at the time. In addition to notching double digit victories over Penn State and Oklahoma State, Texas A&M went on to beat #10 USC by 16. But the Aggies’ impressive start to the 2017-18 campaign has been less about who they’ve beaten and more about how they’ve beaten them. Every victory has come by double digits. The only blemish on the Aggie’s record is a 3 point loss to one of the most talented teams in the country in Arizona.
#5) Arizona State
Speaking of surprising teams, the surprise of the season has been the play of Arizona State. In the early part of the year, the Sun devils have put together an undefeated 9-0 record with decisive victories over both #15 Xavier and #2 Kansas, in addition to quality victories over Saint John’s, Kansas State, and San Diego State. If we’re are going strictly by resume, Arizona State may have the best in the country. But currently, the Sun Devils sit at #5 . This is in large part due to the stellar play of senior point guard Tra Holder. Holder is averaging a ridiculous 21.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. But Holder isn’t the only one playing at a high level. Fellow senior guard Shannon Evans is averaging 19 points and 5.2 assists per game as well. Not to mention, freshman forward Romello White is putting up 16.1 points and 9 rebounds per game. As good as this group has been, no one would saw this type of start coming. It will be interesting to see whether or not they can keep this momentum going with games against Vanderbilt and Arizona coming up within the next month.
#8) Miami (8-0) Notable Wins: W at Minnesota
#19) Florida State (9-0) Notable Wins: W at Florida
#14) TCU (10-0) Notable Wins: vs Nevada, vs SMU