We are now into the 7th week of the college basketball season, and there has been plenty of action. So far, the season has been very fun to follow as there have been many tournaments and challenges pitting Top 25 teams against each other, giving us some great competition. Let’s look at some of the biggest surprises so far, the best players, and possible sleeper teams to keep an eye on.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Boy, the Sun Devils have been the story of college basketball so far. Following the lead of stellar play of Tra Holder and surging coach Bobby Hurley, ASU has gotten off to a 10-0 start, the first in school history. These Devils do not look like a joke either, as they stomped a #15 Xavier team at a neutral site and beat the #2 Kansas Jayhawks by 10 in Kansas.
This is a team that was picked to finish 6th in the Pac-12, which was considered high for them (they have not been picked to finish top 6 since the ’10-’11 season). I hope these Sun Devils keep playing the way they are as they are a fun team to watch and have the talent to make a deep run in March.
The Wildcats have been surprising in the opposite way that their rivals in Tempe have. This is a team that was coming off a 32-5 season and preseason ranked #3 in the nation with a great freshman class coming in. Arizona returned 4 starters and replaced the lost starter with a top-3 freshman in the country in DeAndre Ayton.
This looked like a team headed for a great season with aspirations to get to Sean Miller’s first Final Four. But after a few cupcake wins, the Arizona Wildcats traveled to the Bahamas and lost 3 straight in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The Arizona Wildcats looked lost and without an identity and dropped all the way out of the Top 25. Many people lose faith, but since then they have had some good wins against Texas A&M and Alabama. They had a rough start, but the return of Rawle Alkins makes them look more like the team they were once thought to be.
Many people in the sports world saw Duke dominating at the beginning of the year and wondered if they would ever lose this year. With the combination of unbeatable bigs Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, stellar freshmen Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr., and veteran Grayson Allen, Duke looked primed for a National Championship run that would not face many tough challenges.
They had great wins against Michigan State and Florida (who has since gone downhill) and were sitting on top of the world. Then they ran into a 6-3 Boston College team in Newton and just could not get the job done. This was not a terrible team by any means, but Duke should have run all over the Eagles. The Blue Devils will be fine, but their first loss came much too soon.
TCU Horned Frogs
Texas Christian’s basketball team has been fun to watch recently. They are currently one of four undefeated teams with an 11-0 record and have the longest win streak in the NCAA at 16, stretching back to last season when they won the NIT.
The Horned Frogs are currently ranked #15 in the nation and have some challenging games coming up (vs #17 Oklahoma, at #18 Baylor, vs #14 Kansas), but they should definitely compete hard in each of them. Coach Jamie Dixon has TCU playing very well with wins over a good Nevada and SMU teams. The Horned Frogs have been a pleasant surprise this season.
There are a numerous amount of electric players in the NCAA this year, but I picked 5 that I have watched and been consistently impressed by over the first couple weeks.
Trae Young, Freshman G, Oklahoma
28.8 PPG, 8.9 APG, 3.6 RPG
Plain and simple, Trae Young has been the best player in college basketball this season. He has shown his ability to score like no other with a 43 point game against Oregon, and he has only scored less than 28 points in 2 games this season.
He also dishes out tons of assists while continuing to score prolifically. In his last game, he led an unranked Oklahoma to a win over #3 Wichita State with 29 points and 10 dimes.
Marvin Bagley III, Freshman F, Duke
21.3 PPG, 1.5 APG, 11.3 RPG
Marvin Bagley is a great player and a lock for the top-5 in the upcoming NBA Draft. He is a great scorer down low and has the ability to knock down a 3 (33% from range). Bagley is unbelievably athletic and knows the game well.
Marvin also has a knack for being in the right place to grab boards as he has tallied 10 double-doubles in 12 games (it doesn’t hurt that he is 6’11”). He really is a special player who is going to make an immediate impact next year in the NBA.
DeAndre Ayton, Freshman F, Arizona
19.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 12.0 RPG
Most of the things said about Bagley are the same for DeAndre Ayton. He is an athletic freak who knows how to score and grab rebounds as well as anybody who you can pencil in the top-5 for the draft.
Like Bagley, Ayton is a double-double machine (9 in 12 games). Other than being able to manhandle defenders in the post, he has a beautiful mid-range stroke and can pretty much score at will. Just like Bagley, he will have an immediate impact when he arrives in the league.
Collin Sexton, Freshman G, Alabama
21.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.6 RPG
Collin Sexton has helped Alabama gain a little national relevance in basketball. He is such a fun player to watch and is a fantastic scorer. His best performance of the year was against the #14 Minnesota Golden Gophers in which he dropped 40. Not only that, but he played 3 on 5 for 10 minutes because his entire bench got ejected! He still managed to score 23 of his 40 after the ejection.
He also had 30 points against #23 Arizona in a tough loss recently. Sexton has as much heart as anybody in the nation this year and should be a top-10 pick come June.
Tra Holder, Senior G, Arizona State
21.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.5 RPG
Tra Holder has been brilliant this year. He has helped ASU get to where they are this year, and he is finally getting the attention he deserves. Unlike the other 4 players, he is a senior and has played fairly well throughout his career.
His best game of the year was dropping 40 points on now #9 Xavier. Another big plus with Holder is his ability to shoot from 3 (45%).
A few others considered:
Grayson Allen, Senior G, Duke – 17.2 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.3, RPG
Miles Bridges, Sophomore G, Michigan State – 15.1 PPG, 2.1 APG, 6.5 RPG
Allonzo Trier, Junior G, Arizona – 22.3 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.2 RPG
Bonzie Colson, Senior F, Notre Dame – 20.4 PPG, 1.3 APG, 9.7 RPG
Possible Sleeper Teams to Make Noise
These are a few teams that have plenty of talent but may not get the love they deserve.
Seton Hall is not necessarily a “sleeper”, but I don’t think they get enough love. They were ranked #15 last week before a tough loss to a gritty Rutgers team. They are now #23 in the nation and have a ton of talent with many chances to prove themselves with games against Creighton, Xavier, and top-ranked Villanova coming up.
Player to watch: Angel Delgado, Senior C – 13.2 PPG, 2.5 APG, 10.8 RPG
UCF is a 7-3 team that not a lot of people know about. They have a good win over a ranked Alabama squad and enough talent to shock some people. Do not be surprised if they sneak up on teams like Wichita State or Cincy and find their way into the tournament.
Player to watch: Tacko Fall, Junior C – 12.3 PPG, 0.3 APG, 7.0 RPG … he is 7’6″!
St. Mary’s is another very good team that does not get much attention. They are 9-2 with both losses by 5 points or less. They are tough and experienced, and I would not be surprised if they work their way into the top 25 sometime soon. They also get to play a ranked Gonzaga twice and always give them a run for their money.
Player to watch: Jock Landale, Junior C – 21.6 PPG, 2.2 APG, 9.5 RPG