@Phil__Baker | @ESPN680
We’re just two weeks away from the start of the NCAA tournament. And we still have some legitimate questions about a few squads, right?
Well, here are eight teams that you shouldn’t trust yet:
North Carolina: The Tar Heels made some great plays to finish Notre Dame in a 63-61 win on Monday and extend their winning streak to 12 games. But they entered the second half with a 14-point lead against a Fighting Irish team with a 6-12 record in ACC play. That’s just North Carolina basketball. That stretch illustrated their entire season. Always up for the top dogs, always vulnerable against the rest. This team might show up and make a remarkable run in the Big Dance. But don’t be surprised if they don’t get past the first weekend, either.
Texas: The truth about Texas is that Rick Barnes’ program has been overachieving for months. The Longhorns have lost three of their past four, although all three losses came on the road against ranked teams. This is a squad that’s hovering around the 50s in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. The Longhorns have had issues with turnovers.Javan Felix is enduring a tremendous 16-for-48 slump. Isaiah Taylor looks like a freshman. But Texas has wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and Kansas because it has found ways to play to its potential in tough matchups. Texas is a good team on its best nights and a really sloppy, poor-shooting, turnover-prone assembly on its worst nights.
Oklahoma State: In its past four games, Oklahoma State has been reborn. This four-game winning streak (victories over Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas and Kansas State) has been orchestrated by a desperate team that’s making a strong push for an at-large bid. If the Pokes make the field of 68, they’ll be only the second team since tourney expansion in 1985 to reach the Big Dance after enduring a seven-game losing streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Remember that losing streak? Remember the Oklahoma State team that struggled for about three weeks? Maybe everything is different now with Marcus Smart back. Travis Ford’s program has played well in recent matchups. But let’s see if it lasts.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati possesses one of America’s most impenetrable defenses. Only 11 of its 29 opponents thus far have scored 60 or more. There’s just one problem. The Bearcats (129th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) can’t score. Sean Kilpatrick is a dynamic player, but it’s clear that he’s also Mick Cronin’s only reliable scoring option in clutch situations. When he’s on, Cincinnati usually finds enough offense to compete with the best teams in the country. When he’s off (18-for-60 in the team’s past three losses), Cincy is an unstable operation. Can the Bearcats beat the best teams in America? Yes, they’ve proven that. But few teams rely so heavily on one player’s production to reach their ceiling.
Wichita State: This is probably unfair. Wichita State’s limited competition in the Missouri Valley Conference and throughout its nonconference slate (BYU, Tennessee and Saint Louis are its best wins), however, demands it. The Shockers were in the Final Four last year, and this team seems equally capable of making another run. Fred Van Vleet is one of America’s best point guards. Gregg Marshall also has Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and a bunch of glue guys. That’s a good formula for a repeat. But the naysayers can’t be dismissed. Wichita State, in terms of national perception, still has something to prove in the Big Dance. A run in the NCAA tournament would add another layer of validation to Wichita State’s 31-0 record. But beyond that, we need to see Wichita State face an opponent that’s in the top 50 of the RPI because the MVC (Indiana State is 74th) doesn’t have one outside Wichita, Kan.
Iowa: Which Iowa will show up in the NCAA tournament? It’s not clear. Fran McCaffery clearly has his best roster in Iowa City, but he also commands a program that can’t seem to get out of its own way in critical moments. Roy Devyn Marble & Co. have already proven their worth in wins against Ohio State and Michigan, but the Hawkeyes also have looked like the same team that hasn’t been able to finish tight games in recent years. And their defense hasn’t been impressive in weeks. This stretch of three losses in four games has created some suspense about the Selection Sunday fate of a team that should be a unanimous lock for the NCAA tourney by now. The Hawkeyes should get into the field, but they haven’t exactly looked like a squad that will do much if they do secure a berth.
Saint Louis: Jim Crews’ squad has been a defensive force all season. The Billikens are fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. And they’ve only lost four games this season. It’s not like teams are praying that Saint Louis ends up in their region, but in these past two games, losses to Duquesne and VCU, the Billikens have committed 33 turnovers combined. They’ve recorded turnovers on nearly one of five possessions (18.4 percent, 169th, per Ken Pomeroy) this season. For a team with a mediocre offense, its margin for offensive error is slim. And that’s what we’ve learned in the past week about Saint Louis. Definitely a dangerous team. But it’s also a program that could be hindered by its offensive inconsistency and questionable ballhandling.
Kentucky: Well, this didn’t work. Kentucky entered the season as one of the most hyped squads in college basketball history. The Wildcats had everything, it seemed. Julius Randle & Co. were supposed to be another great Kentucky team. Now look at the Wildcats, who lost to South Carolina over the weekend. You definitely can’t trust them. But this is still a team with a bunch of guys who could be NBA millionaires in a matter of months. Yes, a win over Louisville is the only major accomplishment on Kentucky’s resume. The Wildcats are ranked only because they’re the Wildcats. Who have they defeated? And yet, no coach in America wants to play this disjointed group of talent that might figure it out in the Big Dance.
@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker
@ESPN | @Phil__Baker
Paul Biancardi of ESPN U appears on the Bob Valvano Show weekly to talk college hoops, recruiting on a local and national landscape... Be sure to check Paul out on ESPN680 | ESPN 105.7FM | ESPNLouisville.com Podcast Center.
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.
The Louisville Cardinals have an outstanding class coming in next season -- the Cardinals are No. 5 in our class rankings.
Quentin Snider will be the point guard of the future. He combines quickness with good decision-making abilities, as he navigates well in ball-screen actions. Chinanu Onuaku is an inside physical presence who rebounds, alters shots and scores on put-backs. Jaylen Johnson brings athletic ability and versatility to the front court. Perhaps the most talented in terms of potential is Shaqquan Aaron. He is the Cardinals’ highest-rated prospect No. 33 and is extremely long with excellent ball skills. He desperately needs to get stronger, but can stroke it from deep and create his own shot inside the arc. There is also Norwegian center Matz Stockman.
I expect Aaron to have a strong influence on next year’s team. His ability to score, shoot, and finish with length will make him hard to guard.
Snider and Onuaku are ESPN 100 prospects who should contribute right away. Snider will back up and play alongside current point guard Chris Jones. The Cardinals will need size next year, so Onuaku will have a chance to play right away if he is ready. This group is talented and athletic, with plenty of room for growth.
@ESPN 680 | @Phil__Baker
After his Kentucky team dispatched of Ole Miss, Wildcats coach John Calipari was asked an innocuous question about the re-emergence of Willie Cauley-Stein.
Otherwise you have teams that certainly could win a national title -- the NCAA tournament is as much about survival as anything -- but an awfully big group who are still trying to fit their jigsaw puzzle together in the eleventh hour.
@ESPN680 | @Phil__Baker
Via ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WKYT)
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WKYT) - Kentucky football's main recruiting target Matt Elam says he will attend the University of Kentucky.
The five-star defensive tackle out of John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown was deciding between UK and the University of Alabama.
Recruiting Elam was a big push by UK football Coach Mark Stoops and his staff as the teenager was one of the biggest recruits both literally and figuratively in the state of Kentucky in a decade.
"He's deciding between Kentucky, his home school, and Alabama, arguably the best program in the country," said Kentucky Sports Radio announcer Matt Jones before Elam's announcement. "Mark Stoops has gone toe to toe with one of the best programs in America for one of the state's best players. And if he gets him, it's a huge step in what they're doing."
The announcement follows consecutive 2-10 seasons for the Kentucky Wildcats.