This year’s field of 64 is on the verge of looking a lot different
from years past, primarily because many of the so-called lock teams
like UCONN and UNC have had a down year so far. Not only have some
power teams been on the decline this year, but power conferences like
the Pac-10 have also had their struggles. This has allowed conferences
like the A-10 which usually gets only 1 or 2 teams in the NCAA
Tournament the opportunity to get 3 or 4 teams in this year.
I can’t think of a more underrated, underappreciated, and overlooked conference than the A-10. Temple is the lone representative in the rankings for the A-10 conference, sitting at #21. But what the A-10 lacks in respect in the top 25 rankings, it gains in overall NCAA resume recognition. The A-10 currently ranks 6th in overall conference rpi and 7th in strength of schedule, ahead of conferences like C-USA, Mountain West, and the Pac-10. The A-10 also has 6 teams ranked in the top 45 in terms of rpi along with 6 teams ranked in the top 50 in terms of strength of schedule. To wrap up my case for the A-10 lets look at the projected NCAA tournament field as of today. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the A-10 has 6 teams in the tournament. That’s tied for second most by a conference with the ACC and Big East and is more than the Big Ten, SEC, and Mountain West.
The Pac-10 as a whole has been absolutely non-existent this year. Granted the conference did lose 9 of their top players to last year’s NBA draft, but with highly touted teams like Arizona and UCLA and above average teams like Oregon, USC, Cal, and Washington the Pac-10 has almost always recovered from one season to the next. To put into perspective how down the Pac-10 is this year lets look at the rankings. At this time last year the Pac-10 had 3 teams ranked in the top 25, this year the Pac-10 has zero. The Pac-10 also had 6 teams in the NCAA tournament last year and this year according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi the Pac-10 currently has only the automatic bid that is awarded to the team that wins the conference tournament.
Now before I come off as just another UNC hater I would liked to point out that I understand that the Tar Heels lost 4 starters to the NBA draft and obviously that’s a lot of stat stuffing and experience to replace. With that being said, the Tar Heels always bring in 5-star recruits with NBA potential and continue to roll along, but not this year. UNC freshman like Dexter Strickland, the Wear twins, and John Henson have played average basketball at best and pale in comparison to star freshman across the country like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Derrick Favors and others. The Tar Heels and coach Roy Williams are in a downward spiral they’ve never seen before. UNC stands at next to last in the ACC with a 2-7 record in league play and a 13-11 record overall. The Tar Heels have lost 8 of their last 10 games and are currently riding a 4 game losing streak. To make matters worse, star forward/center Ed Davis has a broken wrist and will miss at least a month. Sorry UNC fans, looks like you’ll have to wait ’til next year.
When the topic of player of the year in college basketball comes up everyone immediately thinks of names such as John Wall of Kentucky, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova, Luke Harangody of Notre Dame, Evan Turner of Ohio State, Sherron Collins of Kansas, and Damion James of Texas. But many other players have made a name for themselves this year and deserve to be mentioned in the player of the year conversation. Here’s my list of the best of the rest (in no particular order).
Wesley Johnson (Syracuse) – The Junior transfer from Iowa State has made a huge impact on the 20-1 Orange who are also 7-1 in the brutal Big East. Johnson is averaging 17 ppg along with 9 rpg and is shooting 45% from the 3-point line and 56% overall. The most impressive part of Johnson’s game is that he raises his play against Big East opponents, he averages 18 ppg and 11 rpg in those contests.
Devan Downey (South Carolina) – Downey is averaging 22 ppg on the year while shooting 42% from the field to go along with 3 spg. The stat that puts Downey into the upper tier of college players is the 31 ppg he averaging in SEC play. Downey has carried a mediocre South Carolina team to a 12-8 record overall and a 3-3 record in the SEC along with a win against #1 ranked Kentucky, which was the first win against a #1 ranked team in Gamecock history. If Downey wants to be in the player of the year conversation he will need the Gamecocks to continue to win big games.
James Anderson (Oklahoma State) – Anderson has led the Cowboys to a 15-4 start to the season and 3-2 Big 12 record. He is averaging 22 ppg and 6 rpg overall and 24 ppg in Big 12 play.
Jon Scheyer (Duke) – Scheyer was overshadowed by all the hype surrounding Kyle Singler in the beginning of the season, but now that Singler hasn’t lived up to the preseason player of the year hype, Scheyer has stepped up as the leader of the Blue Devils. Scheyer has been impressive scoring the ball as he is averaging 19 ppg and shooting 38% from the 3-point line overall, but Scheyer’s most impressive statistic is his 6 apg and his 4:1 assist to turnover ratio.
Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State) – Varnado is a defensive force who is averaging 5.3 bpg which is second in the nation and 11 rpg. Varnado can also put the ball in the basket as he is shooting 59% from the field and averaging 14 ppg. Varnado also has 10 double-doubles and 1 triple-double on the year. The triple-double came in a win against Arkansas in which Varnado had 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocks.
DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky) – The big-time low post player from Kentucky has had a brilliant freshman season so far. Cousins is averaging 16 ppg and 10 rpg overall while shooting 55% from the field and 18 ppg and 10 rpg in SEC play. Cousins has 11 double-doubles on the year and has had a double-double in 3 of Kentucky’s 5 SEC games.
Players on the Rise
Quincy Pondexter (Washington) - 20 ppg, 8 rpg, 45% from 3-point range, 7 double-doubles, 55% shooting overall
Luke Babbitt (Nevada) – 22 ppg, 10 rpg, 41% from 3-point range, 14 double-doubles, 53% shooting overall, hasn’t scored less than 14 points in a game so far this season