10 things you need to know about this college hoops season

January 14, 2014

(AP and Getty Images/Express Illustration)

Now that the college football season has come to an end and there’s just three NFL games left, sports fans start shifting their attention to basketball. But if you devoted all of your allotted sports-watching time to the gridiron, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered, and your bracket in March will not suffer from your early-season neglect. Here are 10 things you need to know about this college hoops season.

1. The freshmen: The biggest storyline heading into the season was this highly touted group of freshmen — featuring Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. No doubt they’re talented and headed to long NBA careers, but they have had some first-year struggles as well. Parker and Randle have recently had a drastic decline in production. And Wiggins and Gordon have at times been criticized for a lack of assertiveness on offense. Expect this talented group to get their second wind.

2. Upperclassmen still matter: None of the top 12 teams in the country has a freshman as its leading scorer, and nine of the 12 are led by an upperclassman. While the freshmen dominate the headlines, the older guys dominate the top of the rankings.

3. Conference changes: The biggest change has been the dispersal of college basketball’s best conference — the Big East. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame are now in the ACC, with Louisville coming next year. The football-playing former Big East teams, along with Memphis, Houston, SMU, Central Florida and Temple, are in the American Athletic Conference. And the Big East now consists of the Catholic 7, as well as Creighton, Xavier and Butler.

4. The midseason MVP is … Creighton forward Doug McDermott, who is averaging 25.0 points and 7.3 rebounds a game for the No. 20 Bluejays. For a third straight season, McDermott is scoring more than 22 points a game.

5. Unbeatens: Entering Tuesday night, there were four undefeated teams remaining — No. 1 Arizona, No. 2 Syracuse, No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 5 Wichita State. The Shockers, who made a run to the Final Four last year, probably have the best chance to enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten, although getting through the Missouri Valley unscathed is no easy task.

6. Local teams: Georgetown (11-4, 3-1), led by the backcourt tandem of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, has a good shot at making the NCAA tournament. Maryland (10-7, 2-2), which has lost its past two games by a combined 44 points, might not make the NIT. The best local team, though, has been George Washington (13-3, 1-1), which played VCU on Tuesday night.

7. Chances at a repeat?: Senior guard Russ Smith leads defending champion Louisville (14-3, 3-1), averaging 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. But the Cardinals’ chances at a repeat championship took a hit with the loss of forward Chane Behanan, who was dismissed from the team. Louisville is 0-3 against ranked teams this season.

8. Which is the best conference?: The Big 12 and Big Ten are the two best conferences in the country, with each having four teams ranked in the top 15. The Big Ten is more top-heavy, while the Big 12 is probably a bit deeper. The Atlantic 10 is the biggest surprise, with two top 25 teams and a couple more just outside the rankings. Meanwhile, the revamped powerhouse ACC has only one team in the top 20.

9. Who’s going No. 1?: NBA scouts are drooling over this freshmen class. In addition to the four freshmen mentioned earlier (Parker, Wiggins, Randle and Gordon), Kansas freshman 7-footer Joel Embiid and Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart have a shot to go No. 1 in what should be a really deep NBA draft.

10. Blue bloods overrated: In the preseason AP poll, Kentucky was No. 1, Duke was No. 4 and North Carolina was No. 12. Now, those three storied college basketball programs are outside the top 12 (the Wildcats are No. 13), and they have a combined 13 losses. Duke and North Carolina have struggled since the start of ACC play, going a combined 2-5 in the conference.

Final Four Prediction

Arizona: The top-ranked team in the country is also the most athletic.

Michigan State: Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are a solid core.

Florida: The Gators are loaded with seniors.

Kansas: The young Jayhawks seem to be hitting their stride.

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