If you follow me on any platform, my writing here, the podcast, my Twitter feed whatever, you know that I’ve spent the last week hyping “Feast Week” as the most underrated year on the college hoops calendar.
There really is nothing better than 12-or-more hours of college hoops, pretty much every day from Monday through Saturday, all while eating delicious food and drinking entirely too many cold beverages.
Still, despite the fun of it all, Feast Week also is an important barometer on the college hoops calendar, a chance to get to see just about all the elite teams, against other elite teams, over a one-week stretch. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising that after spending seven days watching “Feast Week” I really do feel like I have a better feel for just about every team in college hoops than I did a week ago.
So now that we are removed from that wild week of college hoops, what did we learn, and what does it mean for the entire college hoops season as a whole?
Here is what I learned during Feast Week:
Michigan is the Real Deal
One of the more underreported headlines from the college hoops off-season was the departure of former Michigan head coach John Beilein to the NBA. Beilein was considered one of the best pure X’s and O’s coaches in all of college hoops (if not the best), the guy that could mold a team full of three-star recruits into a Final Four contender year in and year out.
And everyone wondered how life would look without him in Ann Arbor.
Well, so far so good.
Even before Feast Week, Michigan looked like they hadn’t missed a beat from last year (I tweeted about it after their win over Creighton back in mid-November) and that was only proven even more so during Feast Week. That’s when the Wolverines went to the Battle 4 Atlantis – the toughest field in Feast Week – and absolutely dominated, beating North Carolina and Gonzaga to claim the title.
In the process, new coach Juwan Howard proved that – while it’s early – he might actually be the perfect coach for this team. Howard was considered himself a brilliant X’s and O’s guy from his time as an assistant in the NBA, and to his credit, he has seemingly done the best thing possible at Michigan: He has kept all the things that were already working in place, while tinkering some things that needed adjusting. In the process it has made these Wolverines the best version of themselves possible.
This team was already an insanely smart, well-coached team that executed at an elite level, and now they’ve taken things a step further. That’s especially true on the offensive end, where just a season after averaging just 72 points per game, they’re now averaging 83 per contest. It’s obviously early. But that’s a massive jump. Especially after losing their top three players early to the NBA Draft.
Michigan will obviously have another monster test as it gets set to face Louisville on Thursday.
But win or lose, the Wolverines are here to stay as a legit contender.
Staying in the Bahamas: North Carolina is More Than Cole Anthony
Again, if you read my stuff this off-season you know that I was high on Cole Anthony coming into the year, but down on the rest of North Carolina’s roster. That’s actually why I picked Anthony as my preseason National Player of the Year. Outside of him, I wasn’t sure that the Tar Heels had anyone capable of playing at a high-level in the ACC.
So far, part of that prediction has been proven true, and part false.
On the one hand, Anthony is as good as advertised, but on the other, he has more around him than I initially thought. Garrison Brooks has emerged into a real, All-ACC caliber player down low averaging 13 points and eight boards per game, and Armando Bacot (the other big-time freshman in this class) has been better than we thought, averaging 12 points and nine boards a contest. That included 23 and 12 in the third-place game against Oregon in Atlantis.
North Carolina is still probably one more perimeter scorer away from being a real contender in the ACC, but they are further along than many (myself included) expected.
With even more room to get better.
Dayton Will Become The “Story” of the College Basketball Season
The great thing about college basketball is that no matter how bland a season might look on paper coming in, stories always end up emerging as we get to this time of the year. Last year it was Zion Williamson and Duke, the year before it was Trae Young, one year it was Kentucky’s pursuit of an undefeated season, and at others it was Jimmer Fredette, John Wall, Kemba Walker, you name it.
This year, that team and that story is going to be Dayton. I can promise you that.
To their credit, the Flyers took the Maui Invitational by storm last week, absolutely laying waste to Georgia (more on them coming) and then crushing Virginia Tech (which had just beaten Michigan State the day before) before the title game, where they outplayed Kansas early, before running out of juice late.
In the process, they proved that they are a real team that is absolutely for real.
For starters, they have a legit National Player of the Year candidate in Obi Toppin, a 6-9 forward who is currently averaging 23 points and eight boards per game this season. Even better, they have pieces that perfectly fit around him, as this team basically plays four guards at all times and is averaging over 10 made three-pointers a game.
Point being, that this will be a team that – whether you planned on it or not – will be worth following all season long. If the Maui Invitational is any indication, this is a club that could absolutely stay in the Top 15 all season, win around 30 games and compete for a Top 4 seed come NCAA Tournament time.
The Flyers are for real!
You Know Who’s Not For Real? Georgia
Listen, I know Tom Crean has a reputation that precedes him around these parts. And I swear I’m not trying to be critical, just for the sake of being critical.
But still, I can’t deny what I saw last week, which is this: Tom Crean is about to waste Anthony Edwards one year at Georgia.
Frankly, this is what I feared in the preseason when I saw some prognosticators predicting the Dawgs to be an NCAA Tournament team: Yes, Edwards is a star. But did he have enough pieces around him? And heck, if he did have those pieces, did Crean even know how to use them?
Well, the answers appear to be “maybe” and “no.”
That’s because on paper, Georgia does have talent. Sahvir Wheeler was another big-time recruit coming in, Donnell Gresham a respected grad transfer, with Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump returnees expected to help around Edwards. The problem is Crean, who took a game-and-a-half to figure out that his best lineup was with Wheeler and Edwards on the floor together, and even then, still almost lost to Chaminade in the seventh-place game in Maui.
Yes, you read that correctly: Georgia almost lost to Chaminade.
What’s most disappointing of course is just how good Edwards is, and just how much his talent is being wasted at Georgia.
This was a guy who put on the single most electric performance of the season against Michigan State with 37 points, including 33 in the second half. And if he can put up 37 against Michigan State, it means he can put up 40 against anyone else.
It also means that unless something changes with Crean (and after all these years, we all know it won’t) Edwards will be putting up those 40-point efforts in half-filled gyms and in losses.
It’s a bummer, because this is a guy that – on a legitimate team – could take over the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, he’ll almost certainly be watching it from home.
Auburn, Not Florida Is the Team That Will Compete With Kentucky for An SEC Title
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Georgia is Auburn. Unlike the Dawgs, Auburn is insanely well-coached, with Bruce Pearl getting the absolute most of a young and improving club. And after an off-season where we spent so much time discussing “Kentucky vs. Florida” for the SEC regular season title, it looks as though this will end up as a battle of Kentucky vs. Auburn.
It’s funny really that a school which is coming off an SEC tourney title and Final Four run was overlooked, but in our defense, it was hard to see this coming. The Tigers lost three of the most important players in program history in Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke and Bryce Brown, and yet somehow haven’t missed a beat. They are now 7-0, with their last four wins coming in absolute blowouts. That included a 25-point over a really talented New Mexico team last week at Barclay’s Center, and a 14-point win over Richmond, which already has wins over Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and Boston College this year.
There really is nothing else to say other than the Tigers are rolling right now, and are absolutely a contender to win the SEC.
Duke Lost to Stephen F. Austin
Not sure if you heard, but Duke actually lost to Stephen F. Austin last week.
This game doesn’t need any more analysis, I just wanted to remind you, in case you forgot.
That yes, Duke lost.
To Stephen F. Austin.
As a near 30-point favorite at home.
Again, to Stephen F. Austin.
Again, just wanted to make sure you’d heard.
DUKE LOSES AT THE BUZZER!!! WOWWWWWW!!! pic.twitter.com/XCvnD3wj3L
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) November 27, 2019
Whatever You Think About Penny Hardaway, The Guy Has Himself a Ball-Club
It’s no secret that a lot of people don’t like Penny Hardaway, and trust me, I get why. But no matter what you think about him, or how some of his players may have, umm, been “recruited” to campus, he does deserve credit for this: At least right now, he is getting his guys to play hard and as a team.
That’s because on Thanksgiving Day Memphis went to Barclay’s Center, and absolutely dominated a good NC State team. The final score was only five, but Memphis led by 16 at halftime and by as many as 19 in the second half, before NC State went on a run late.
Even more impressive is that they did it without James Wiseman as well as arguably their best perimeter player Lester Quinones, who is out with a hand injury. Instead, others stepped up with Boogie Ellis dropping 21 points and Precious Achiuwa adding 15 points. DJ Jeffries has played well in Wiseman’s absence as well.
It will be interesting to see how Memphis handles minutes and roles once Wiseman and Quinones return, but right now he has this team rolling.
Arizona’s Freshmen Are Real, And Spectacular
Living on the West Coast you don’t always get to see the best college hoops (thankfully Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State are coming to Vegas in a few weeks!) but one team I did get to catch in person this week was Arizona. And trust me when I tell you, their freshmen are real. And they’re spectacular.
That’s right, after one down season, Sean Miller reloaded with one of the best recruiting classes in the country, and I’m telling you, the Wildcats once again look the part of a team that can win the Pac-12 and advance to the second weekend of the tournament (insert your own, “Yeah but he can’t make the Final Four” comments here).
It all starts with Nico Mannion at point guard, who I’m telling you, is an absolute star. The kid has a little Steve Nash to his game, with an ability to basically get anywhere he wants to on the floor, score from all three levels, and get others involved.
Seriously, check out these highlights
Mannion – who basically hit a buzzer-beater this weekend, and also had 24 points in another game – is the star, but I was just as impressed by the other freshmen. Josh Green is a West Coast kid I’ve written about before and is developing into the lottery pick so many projected before the season. Meanwhile I was also impressed during my first look at Zeke Nnaji, a defense, effort and energy big guy down low who had a couple big games this weekend.
In the end, there are concerns about Arizona. They lost one player to transfer (Devonaire Doutrive) and another (Brandon Williams) to season-ending injury this fall, so the depth isn’t there. And behind Mannion they really don’t have a playmaker at point guard.
But if they can stay healthy, this will be one of the most entertaining teams in all of college basketball to watch this season. And one that can again, make a deep run.
Because this article is going long, here are some quick hitters before we wrap:
- Gonzaga is another team I was wrong on in the preseason. Even despite losing two first round draft picks (Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke), another player currently in the G-League (Zach Norvell) and a fifth-year senior at point guard (Josh Perkins) this team seemingly hasn’t missed a beat. If Killian Tillie – their best player – can stay healthy, he could end up an All-American.
- Two weekends ago, Baylor went down to Myrtle Beach and beat Villanova for the title. I’m just telling you right now, this team is good enough to knock off Kansas and win the Big 12. They are also a team that I believe is good enough to make the Final Four. The thing that stands out to me: In a sport where so many teams struggle to score, the Bears regularly have five guys on the floor that can get buckets at any given time.
- Maybe it’s my UConn homer-ism kicking in, but I truly believe we’re seeing the rebirth of the Huskies’ program in front of our eyes. After three straight losing seasons, UConn already beat Florida at home, and took Xavier to double-overtime in a loss. In a season where Cincinnati and Houston haven’t looked as good as advertised in the AAC, the Huskies are legitimately a team that can make the NCAA Tournament. I’m saying they will. But they can.
- Seton Hall is really going to regret not closing out the games they should have so far. This is a team that led Oregon by 19 and ended up losing, and also had Michigan State on the ropes before falling to them. Look, no one is saying that this is going to miss the tournament or anything. But those are the kinds of wins that could vault a team to a No. 1 seed. I truly believe they will regret those losses as the season goes on.
Now, a few more thoughts before I go:
Now That Kentucky is Healthy, They Are Just Fine
I’ll be the first to admit that following the loss to Evansville and narrow-win over Utah State, I had some not nice things to say about Kentucky. Which you can read here.
It wasn’t until the day after I sent that tweet that I realized that – while it’s never OK to lose to Evansville or play Utah Valley close – this team was a lot more banged up than I noticed. It’s a group that at the time was without EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley, with Ashton Hagans at less than 100 percent. That was, quite literally, their top three returning contributors either at less than 100 percent or not playing at all.
That’s also why I probably shouldn’t be shocked that once the Wildcats got those three back close to full-strength, they now look more like the team we expected in the preseason. Obviously, Nate Sestina’s injury is disappointing, but with Montgomery and Quickley back in the lineup the Wildcats have now won three in a row, two of which were complete blowouts.
Maybe most importantly: For the first time in a long time, EJ Montgomery looked like the player we all thought he’d be in the preseason.
Sure, it was only UAB, but that 16-point effort from him is hopefully a sign of things to come.
I’m Not Ready to Say “There Are No Great Teams in College Basketball This Year”
Finally, it’s a comment that everyone in college hoops media is spitting out right now: There are no great teams in college basketball this year.
And frankly, I’m just not sure if I’m buying it.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s false.
But let’s remember that at this point last year, both Kentucky and Michigan State lost at the Champions Classic, Duke lost in Maui and North Carolina lost during Feast Week as well, and all four ended up just fine.
That’s why this year I think it’s entirely too early to say anything definitively. Off the top of my head, I think that Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina and Villanova all have the chance to be really good at the end of the year, and I think Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State and maybe Seton Hall could be as well.
Still, we’ll start to get some more answers in the days, weeks and months ahead.
The one thing I do know: We are coming off one of the best weeks of the college basketball season.
With so many more great games to come.