Sent twice weekly so you can stay on top of what’s good in sports.
In Week 14, all of the games that took place were played in the month of February, which is very close to March. For college basketball reasons, that's great news.
Coming into the season, UNC was ranked #1 after returning basically every meaningful player from a team that went to the national championship game last season. Duke was boasting a #1 recruiting class (again) and a new post-Coach K energy. Both teams came into November with expectations to play for a national championship.
The problem is, it turns out they actually kind of suck.
How they suck, particularly in UNC’s case, defies logic. The Tar Heels have a 15-9 record and are on a three-game losing streak. Duke has a slightly better 17-7 record, including a win over UNC last Saturday that was quickly forgotten following an 81-59 thrashing at Miami on Monday. As it stands now, both teams are looking more and more like they’ll be on the bubble come March.
The Blue Devils and Tar Heels fit right in with a truly unremarkable ACC this season. Louisville and Notre Dame have three conference wins… combined. Syracuse is bad, and Boeheim is bitter. Virginia is fine but loses to average teams. The conference that had the biggest say in the national title conversation last decade is all but irrelevant this year.
UNC was underwhelming all of the regular season last year before making their run in March, so we can put a pin in this for now.
Zach Edey is a certified baller and a great Canadian. We all know this. But he also revealed himself to be a pretty decent human being after Purdue's loss to Indiana last week, stepping in to defend a teammate who made a critical turnover. He went viral for the right reasons.
That's great leadership and is almost as impressive as his shot chart from the game, which defies logic:
Nevada doesn’t quite fit the traditional Cinderella narrative. They’re just a straight-up good program. They have three players currently in the NBA. Two of those are the Martin brothers (Caleb and Cody) and then JaVale McGee. What a legacy. They should create a YouTube channel. But in general, the University of Nevada isn’t top of mind when it comes to college basketball conversation, lurking in the shadow of their seedier in-state twice divorced stepfather UNLV.
But this year, Nevada can BALL. It’s a fascinating roster brought to you by the magic of the transfer portal. The Wolfpack’s best player is sharpshooter Jarrod Lucas, a transfer from Oregon State with experience playing in the Elite Eight. Keenan Blacksheer and Will Baker (also both transfers) give them three reliable scorers who all seem to be improving. Baker in particular is intriguing as a former five-star recruit who plays center and has the ability to shoot from deep.
They’re coached by Steve Alford. Yeah, that’s right, UCLA Steve Alford. He’s actually been coaching at Nevada for like, 3 years. Who knew? Not me!
The team started off the season a little slow but seems to be picking up steam with multiple Top 25 wins in the past month. They also rank top 5 in free throw percentage, which is a stat I love for post-season play. If they finish strong, it seems likely they’ll earn an at-large bid to the tournament and they have enough talent and coaching experience to give any higher seed a scare.
Another reason I love them is because of this week's…
To upset New Mexico in The Pit (what they call their arena, which is objectively great).
The college basketball landscape is looking pretty wide open these days, so let’s take a stab at a long shot this week.
So here’s the deal, you know how Gonzaga is just the best team from the West every single season and wins their conference in their sleep? That’s not happening this year. Saint Mary’s, which has been quietly nipping at the Zags’ heels in the WCC for close to a decade, appears to be the best team in the conference this year. And I think they might actually be one of the best teams in the nation.
The Gaels are 21-4 on the season and have lost one game since December. They also just defeated Gonzaga at home. The question of course will be about their strength of schedule but it’s worth noting St. Mary’s was extremely competitive in a five-point loss to #1 Houston earlier this season. They also advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last year, so there’s plenty of experience.
As a team, they play outstanding defense, ranking third in the nation, giving up just 57.7 points per game. And they have great outside shooting, with four different players shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc. Straight up, they suck to play against.
If I was spending $5 on a future bet today, I would lay in on Saint Mary’s and feel pretty good about them staying competitive against any other team in this wide-open field.