Breaking down the first couple of weeks in NCAA Basketball

Christopher Gibson, Courier Staff


The NCAA basketball season is a couple weeks in and there have already been some major upsets, the type of upsets expected during March. A couple of conferences have looked strong, while others have failed to live up to expectations. Let’s take a look at the action through the first couple of weeks.

The conference that not a whole lot of people were talking about before the season but has sneakily had teams slide into the most recent rankings is the Pac 12. Oregon and Arizona are the top dogs in the conference, with Oregon having come into the season with great expectations. The Ducks were hot last season and finished in the Sweet 16 last year, losing to the eventual National Champions Virginia. They are looking to make it all the way to the championship this year and it’s not a far-fetched goal. They have some imposing big men in Francis Okoro and Shakur Juiston that can really impact the game. Look for them to make it far this season. Arizona wasn’t really expected to be as good as they have been so far through the season. The Wildcats were projected to do well enough to make it to the Big Dance, but not make it much past the second round. However, they have looked amazing so far through their eight games. The main reason for this success is the freshmen. Arizona was able to recruit three freshmen that have looked like juniors so far. Josh Green, Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji have shot the ball efficiently and effectively, while not turning it over. This is something that most freshmen take almost a third of the season to adjust to when making the leap from high school to college, but the trio has done just that. This is a squad that I think could make a run come March. Overall, the Pac 12 has four teams in the top 25 and I’d expect those four to make the tourney in March.

The Big Ten came into the season with four, maybe five top teams and the rest were going to be fighting it out for bragging rights over the rest of the bottom teams. This expectation has been lived up to for the most part with Michigan State leading the way in the conference. Tom Izzo’s team has certainly impressed so far with Cassius Winston heading the charge. Winston has looked impressive so far this season, averaging 17.9 points and six assists and leads the team in both categories. This is even more impressive considering that his brother passed away after the first game or so. This is a team that should make the Final Four come March. Another team that came into the season with high expectations was Maryland. Led by guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and forward Jalen Smith, the Terrapins are undefeated through their first seven games and are ranked fifth in the nation. This is a team that, if they are hot at the right time come March, could give a lot of other teams some big trouble. A sneaky dark horse from the Big Ten are the Illinois Fighting Illini. Brad Underwood’s team had trouble last season with experience and size, but this season has fixed both of those items. They returned all but one from last year’s team and added four star center Koffi Cockburn, who has gotten a double-double in every game so far this season but one. If this team can pull off some big wins in the conference, they could make a deep run.

The ACC, known for their abundance of great basketball schools, has done well so far this season. However, there have been some major bumps. The most notable was Duke losing at home to Evansville, making it the first time since 1992 since Duke has lost a non-conference game at home. Even with that slip-up, the Blue Devils are in a good spot and will be a team that a lot of people will pick to make the Final Four. Also in the ACC is Virginia, the defending National Champions. Virginia is undefeated so far on the season and currently sit at the seventh spot in the national rankings. If they can beat the big dogs in the regular season, it could help give this team a major confidence boost come the tournament.

Overall, the first couple of weeks have been wild. Both Duke and Kentucky have lost to schools that shouldn’t have beaten them, which can be a huge confidence booster for smaller schools come March. There is still a lot of time left before it comes time for the tournament and a lot of things can happen. Hopefully there will be some new faces in the Big Dance and who knows, maybe Western will be dancing this year as well.