Hoop Thoughts Stock Report: Time to buy, sell or hold these top teams
The calendar has turned. The new year has begun. The holidays are over, the work week has resumed, and the college basketball season has kicked into higher gear.
You know what that means, Hoopheads. It’s time to take stock.
This is an invaluable exercise, as long as you know where to find value. It’s easy to draw a line from the point where a team started to where it is now. Tracing that arc into the future, however, is a mysterious endeavor.
In that vein, I present the annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. There is no mystery here. All questions will be answered, all doubts erased. With this report, I happily bestow my precious prescience. All you have to do is heed my sage advice, and you are guaranteed to turn a tidy profit.
You know how this works. I have assessed more than 50 teams below based on their win-loss record, their ranking in the AP poll (if they have one), and on that hard-to-discern-yet-critical-to-consider animal called buzz. I then peer into the future to determine whether each team’s “stock” will rise, fall or remain steady. Hence the ratings: Buy, Sell or Hold.
You are a regular visitor to this space, which means you possess prodigious intelligence. So you understand that the purpose of this report is to project where a team is headed relative to its current station. In other words, just because I rate Team A as “Buy” and Team B as “Sell” doesn’t mean that I believe that Team A is better. Got it?
Here, then, is the much-anticipated, long-celebrated, carefully annotated Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. No need to send me a commission, or even a thank you. Just follow my instructions and pocket the difference. Happy shopping.
Baylor (10-3) — SELL
I’ve been pretty bullish on the Bears for much of the season, but I have cooled of late. They played three road games this season against good teams and lost them all, to Oregon, Texas A&M and Kansas. Against the Aggies (final score, 80–61) and Jayhawks (102–74), Baylor wasn't even competitive. The Bears do have my reigning All-Glue captain in Rico Gathers, however, which means they are an outstanding offensive rebounding team, but they are not good enough defensively and do not get enough production from their guards to be able to grind out a lot of wins in such a difficult league.
Butler (11–3, AP: No. 18) — SELL
Perhaps this is an overreaction to the Bulldogs’ consecutive losses to Providence and Xavier last week, but this team, which has been ranked in the top 10 the last two weeks, appears to be in the midst of a market correction. Butler does not have great size, and it is only ranked 165th nationally in defensive efficiency. So if the shots aren’t falling, there is not much of a Plan B. Nor does the league schedule get any easier, with games against Villanova and at Providence coming up in the next two weeks.
California (12–3) — BUY
The Bears fell out of the AP rankings after they lost to San Diego State and Richmond in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving, but a team that depends on freshmen was bound to hit some speed bumps in the early going. The road has looked a lot smoother lately. Two weeks ago, Cal almost won at Virginia before falling in overtime, and last weekend it opened up Pac-12 play with convincing home wins over Colorado and Utah. As Cal’s freshmen like forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb continue to get comfortable, I expect the wins to keep coming, possibly putting the Bears in position to win the conference.
Cincinnati (11–4) — BUY
This is a great time to buy Cincinnati. The Bearcats had five challenging nonconference games. They picked up two wins (George Washington and VCU) and suffered three close losses (Butler, Xavier and Iowa State). Then they lost last week at home to Temple, which not only knocked their stock down a few ticks, but also provided an opportunity for coach Mick Cronin to send a firm message to his guys. The players responded by thrashing Tulsa at home over the weekend, and now they have a golden opportunity Thursday night at SMU. If they win, this stock will go through the roof. If they lose, it won’t drop at all.
Colorado (12–3) — BUY
No, the Buffaloes don’t have a classic, playmaking point guard. They do, however, have an effective (if slightly built) senior power forward in 6'10", 245-pound Josh Scott (17.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg), a bevy of three-point shooters (CU is second in Pac-12 in three-point percentage and made threes) and a roster full of versatile, long-armed defenders. This will be an even better purchase if senior swingman Xavier Johnson, who tore his Achilles’ tendon over the summer, rejoins the team in the next couple of weeks. He is considering taking a medical redshirt.
Connecticut (10-3, No. 23) — SELL
It might surprise you to see me rate the Huskies a Sell, since I have consistently ranked them higher than most of my fellow AP voters. But the loss of 7-foot junior center Amida Brimah, who will be out another six weeks with a broken finger, is devastating. He was one of the nation’s top shot blockers and was evolving into a passable offensive threat. Moreover, it seems as if the reserves, particularly freshman point guard Jalen Adams, have regressed over the last couple of weeks. UConn did well to take care of business by beating Ohio State at home on Dec. 12 and earned a good road win at Texas on Dec. 29, but it was unsettling to watch the Huskies struggle on the road against Tulane over the weekend. This is one of the strongest brands in college basketball. My sense is that the public assumes this team has more potential than it actually does.
Dayton (11–2, No. 25) — BUY
I almost rated the Flyers a Buy-Plus, so that should tell how you bullish I am on this stock. They got blown out by Xavier on a neutral court on Nov. 29 and got tripped up at home by Chattanooga by two points on Dec. 12. Still, Dayton has four solid wins (Iowa and Monmouth on a neutral floor; Vanderbilt on the road; and Arkansas at home), and the Flyers just got back their leading returning scorer, 6'6" senior forward Dyshawn Pierre, who missed the first semester while he was suspended following allegations of assault. The Atlantic 10 is a little down this season, and coach Archie Miller has already shown his mettle by taking this team to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 the last two years when it had no business being there. This is a can’t-miss stock if ever there was one.
Duke (12–2, No. 14) — BUY
This is a pretty easy call, since it has been quite some time since Duke’s stock price was this low. The Blue Devils were dominated in the first week by Kentucky and then they lost in overtime to Utah in Madison Square Garden in December. The greater loss, of course, was senior forward Amile Jefferson, who remains out indefinitely with a broken foot. Jefferson will probably be back at some point this season, but that is not guaranteed. Even so, no coach is better than Mike Krzyzewski when it comes to adapting to adversity and putting his players in position to succeed. He still has two of the nation’s top scorers in 6'9" freshman Brandon Ingram and 6'4" sophomore Grayson Allen. He’ll figure something out.
Florida (9–4) — SELL
The Gators had some respectable moments in the nonconference season, but they still camp up empty in the three tough games they played (on the road at Miami and Michigan State and on a neutral court against Purdue). Furthermore, the Dec. 29 home loss to Florida State indicated that this team has a very low ceiling. Florida is ranked dead last in the SEC in field goal percentage (42.2), three-point percentage (28.4) and free throw percentage (62.1). It’s hard to see how the Gators are going to carve out enough wins (especially on the road) to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga (12–3) — SELL
I realize this stock isn’t worth much right now, so if you want to hold onto it for a while, I won’t try to talk you out of it. But I suspect that this could be the year the Zags finally miss out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Even though all three of their losses were to quality teams (Texas A&M, Arizona and UCLA), their only good win came over UConn in the Bahamas. The bigger problem is that Gonzaga lost senior center Przemek Karnowski for the season because he needed back surgery. Not only does that mean it will be harder to beat good teams without him, but that lone decent win over the Huskies is virtually negated because it happened before Karnowski went out. So the Bulldogs will likely have to win the West Coast Conference’s automatic bid to get back to the NCAAs, and after watching them experience close shaves at Santa Clara and San Francisco last week, I am not convinced they can pull that off.
Indiana (12–3) — BUY
I probably overrated the Hoosiers to start the season, but they look underrated to me now. Panic set in when they fell to Wake Forest and UNLV in Hawaii, but those losses don’t look nearly as bad in retrospect. Their only other loss was at Duke. Yet somehow, those three games plummeted Indiana’s stock price. The Hoosiers used the end of December to tune up their defense against some weaker opponents, and while they still need to develop that killer mindset, you can at least see things coming into focus. They opened Big Ten play with road wins against Rutgers and Nebraska, and while those are admittedly two bottom-tier teams, those victories served as further indication that Indiana is on the upswing. The one lingering concern is the right knee injury suffered by sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. that kept him out of the two league games. It's not clear yet when he is returning.
Iowa State (11–2, No. 13) — BUY
The fact that the Cyclones have lost two of their last four games only makes this a better purchase. This team is simply too skilled, experienced and competitive to fall far. I don’t like their lack of depth, but I do like that senior forward Georges Niang has the ability to make a run at national player of the year. Junior point guard Monte Morris runs this team as well as any point guard in the country. (He has 98 assists this season to just 19 turnovers.) And the coaching transition from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm has gone as smoothly as could be expected. I also like that Iowa State has one of its toughest league road games (a loss at Oklahoma last Saturday night) in its rearview mirror.
Kansas (12–1, No. 1) — BUY
The Jayhawks just took over the AP's No. 1 ranking and is just beginning a rigorous league schedule. So why would I rate them a Buy? First of all, I think they will beat No. 2 Oklahoma at home on Monday night. Moreover, I believe Kansas has staying power because it has a tough, veteran core, and one of the best leaders in the game in point guard Frank Mason. Most of all, I still don’t believe Bill Self gets enough recognition for having won 11 straight regular season conference titles. If the Jayhawks get number 12—which I believe will happen—then this will be a strong stock to have in your portfolio, regardless of how high a price you paid in early January.
Kentucky (11–2, No. 9) — BUY
A team with this record and rank would normally indicate a high stock price, but things are rarely ordinary in Lexington. The Wildcats’ Nov. 17 win over Duke feels like ages ago (it's actually been less than two months). Their two losses—on the road UCLA and on a neutral court to Ohio State—deflated their price significantly. And all the talk about freshman center Skal Labissiere’s inability to live up to his preseason hype has created the impression that this team is worse than it is. In the end, this is still the team to beat in the SEC, and whether or not Labissiere really does play like a NBA draft lottery pick, you have to assume he will improve as the season goes along. I could envision a scenario similar to 2014, when Kentucky lost six conference games, earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and still ended up in the NCAA championship game, where it lost to Connecticut.
Louisville (11–2, No. 16) — BUY
The main question I’ve had about Louisville wasn’t so much the soft schedule but how long it would take its freshmen to grow up. That question might have been answered on Sunday night, when Rick Pitino gave 6'3" freshman guard Donovan Mitchell his first start of the season, and Mitchell responded by going for 18 points and eight rebounds in a gritty win over Wake Forest. I also like the way the ACC schedule sets up for the Cardinals, starting with a bunch of road games against bottom-tier teams and then featuring back-to-back home games against Virginia (Jan. 30) and North Carolina (Feb. 1).
LSU (8–5) — BUY
Quick! Scoop up a few shares before the Tigers play at home against Kentucky on Tuesday night. Their price plummeted when they dropped a few nonconference games, but the last two (at Houston in overtime, at home to Wake Forest) don’t look so bad in retrospect. We all know Ben Simmons is gonna Ben Simmons, but the real reason LSU is prepared to right the ship is because it now has the services of two older starters—6'4" senior guard Keith Hornsby, who missed the first seven games because of a sports hernia, and 6'9" redshirt sophomore Craig Victor II, who became eligible on Dec. 16 after transferring from Arizona. Any team that relies so heavily on three freshmen is going to suffer some inconsistency, but there is just too much talent on this roster for the Tigers to keep sinking.
Maryland (13–1, No. 3) — BUY
I love this stock. I voted the Terrapins as my preseason No. 1 team, and if anything I feel better now about their chances of winning the national championship than I did then. Some people see the turtle shell as half empty when they see Maryland struggle to win at home against teams like Rider and Penn State, but I see it as filled to the brim. Why? Because the Terps won those games when they were ripe to be upset. I also love the fight they put up in their only loss of the season, which came at North Carolina by eight points on Dec. 1.
Maryland is loaded with talent, including freshman forward Diamond Stone, who had 39 points and 12 rebounds against the Nittany Lions on Dec. 30, and sophomore Melo Trimble, who is the second-best point guard in the country behind Providence’s Kris Dunn. Aside from maybe the Tar Heels, I don’t see another team in the country whose ceiling is quite this high.
Memphis (9–4) — BUY
This is a low-risk, high-reward purchase. Nobody thinks the Tigers are an NCAA tournament team, so their stock is dirt cheap right now. Yet, none of their four losses were awful (they only lost to Oklahoma at home by six points, and they gave undefeated South Carolina a good run on Saturday before losing by 10 on the road). Memphis’s problem, as usual, is that it is a horrendous shooting team. But that can improve over time, especially with better shot selection. In the meantime, the Tigers lead the nation in offensive free throw rate, and they have a dynamic talent in freshman forward Dedric Lawson. If he takes a few leaps forward, Memphis could make some hay in the AAC and sneak into the tournament. In which case ... ka-ching!
Miami (12–1, No. 12) — SELL
Funny how this “buzz” thing works. The Hurricanes’ lone loss came at home to Northeastern by a single point back on Nov. 27. If they had avoided that hiccup, they would be undefeated and their buzz would be off the charts. Their best wins came on a neutral court over Utah and Butler in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, and they won their ACC opener at home on Saturday over Syracuse after sleepwalking through the first half. I do like this team, what with its veteran scoring guards like Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, and its inside stud in Tonye Jekiri, but the ‘Canes have a daunting schedule the next couple of weeks. They have three straight road games (beginning Tuesday at Virginia) and then host Wake Forest and Duke at home. I don’t think they’re going to fall far, but they’re much more likely to come down a few pegs than to continue this rise unabated.
Michigan (12–3) — SELL
I wasn’t that high on the Wolverines to begin with, but there is a lot of cause for concern right now with the uncertain fate of Caris LeVert. The 6'7" senior guard has had two surgeries on his left foot, and he missed the second half of last season. He sat out last Saturday’s win over Penn State with what coach John Beilein is cryptically describing as a lower leg injury. It is encouraging that the Wolverines finally appear to be getting some post scoring with the recent improvement of 6'9" sophomore Mark Donnal, but that will not make up for the loss of one of the nation’s most versatile scorers—especially now that Michigan is headed into the teeth of a very strong Big Ten conference.
Michigan State (14–1, No. 5) — HOLD
It might seem like this is a good time to buy Michigan State because it just got knocked from its No. 1 perch, but I think everyone understands that the Spartans are a much different team without Denzel Valentine. So the stock didn’t drop much, especially since Valentine should be back in another week or so from the knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last month. This might be the best offensive team (and is certainly the most aesthetically pleasing team) Tom Izzo has had in East Lansing. Defensively, the Spartans are efficient (ranked 11th nationally) but not disruptive (322nd in steal percentage). Clearly they belong on the short list of national championship contenders, but this team has spent most of the season at the top of the polls, which means that if I rated this stock a Buy, I’d be saying they are the clear favorite to win the title. And this is just not that kind of season.
North Carolina (13–2, No. 6) — BUY
When you’re shopping for stocks, you should cast your eye upon the ceiling, and no team has a higher one than the Tar Heels. The fact that they got clipped a couple of times (at Northern Iowa and at Texas, by a total of six points) only makes this a better purchase. I also like that North Carolina has experience playing without starting point guard Marcus Paige, who missed the first six games with a wrist injury, and power forward Kennedy Meeks, who is out another one to two weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. That means other players (most notably 6'9" senior forward Brice Johnson and 6'0" sophomore guard Joel Berry II) have been forced to have a deeper impact. I still worry about this team’s toughness, particularly when it comes to rebounding, and this is certainly not the best defensive team coach Roy Williams has ever had. But when the Tar Heels are clicking on all cylinders, they are a fine, fine machine.
Oklahoma (12–0, No. 2) — BUY
This is a no-brainer—as long as you buy this stock this very instant. If the Sooners win Monday night in Allen Fieldhouse, their price will be at an alltime high. But even if they lose, it won’t drop. Hoopheads like us know just how good this team is, but now that college football season is over, the more casual hoops fans will start getting hip to Oklahoma, too. And as the Sooners keep winning and maintaining their position near the top of the rankings, they will become a really big story, what with their charismatic, Bahamian player of the year candidate (Buddy Hield) and their understated, bookish coach (Lon Kruger) who has won everywhere he has been. Oklahoma is no fraud. It is an upperclassman-led team that proved its mettle during a challenging nonconference schedule.
Pittsburgh (12–1, No. 24) — BUY
Once again, Pitt has spent the first two months of the season beating up on weak opponents—although in Jamie Dixon’s defense, he did schedule a game against Gonzaga in Japan, but that game was canceled at halftime because the court was unplayable. At any rate, the Panthers have won a lot of games without their stock price going too high, so I think it’s worth picking up a few shares. Pitt has yet to play a true road game, but it has four coming up in a six-game stretch beginning Jan. 9 at Notre Dame. I do think there are some pretty good players on this roster, beginning with point guard James Robinson, who ranks in the top 10 of the ACC in assists (5.2), steals (1.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (6.3). My gut tells me the Panthers are an NCAA tournament team, but there’s no way to tell for sure until they hit the road and play some decent teams.
Providence (14–1, No. 8) — SELL
This is a timing play. If the idea is to buy low and sell high, then this is the perfect time to unload the hottest stock in America. The Friars beat Arizona on Nov. 27 ... but the Wildcats were without their starting center. They gave Michigan State a tough time two days later ... but lost. They had an inspiring win at Butler on New Year's Eve ... but it required shooting 9-for-12 from three-point range in the second half. And they are two weeks away from having to run a difficult gauntlet on their Big East schedule. I do think Providence has some staying power, and Kris Dunn is looking more and more like the national player of the year. But the bench is a little thin, and the league is a bear. A market correction is looming.
Purdue (13–2, No. 20) — SELL
It’s too bad I couldn’t get this report to you a few days ago, because this stock took a huge hit over the weekend. The Boilermakers blew a 19–point lead at home to Iowa and lost by seven—an incredible 26-point turnaround—but even if Purdue had fended off the Hawkeyes, I would have urged you to sell. Two things about this team have been sticking in my craw from the get-go. First, its two best players are its two 7-foot centers, A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, yet Matt Painter almost never plays those two at the same time. The bigger issue is suspect point guard play, which really got exposed in the second half when Iowa turned up the fullcourt pressure. Now that that fatal weakness has been exposed, I expect more teams to exploit it. Purdue is a good team that will probably stay in the rankings for most of the season, but trust me, this stock has topped out.
South Carolina (13–0, No. 22) — SELL
This is the easiest call on the board. The Gamecocks haven’t had this good of a record since ... wait for it ... 1934! Unless you think they are going to stay unbeaten for a while, or at least finish in the top two of the SEC, then you have to sell this stock. Kenpom.com has South Carolina's overall strength of schedule ranked No. 303 in the country, and this team's two best wins were at home over Memphis and on a neutral/home court against Clemson. So it’s tough to judge how good the Gamecocks really are, but it’s also fair to say that if they had played even a moderately challenging nonconference schedule, they would not be one of the nation’s last three undefeated teams.
SMU (13–0, No. 15) — BUY
Leave it to Larry Brown to be coaching a Final Four-caliber team that is ineligible for postseason play. And get ready for a slew of stories pointing this out, because the Mustangs appear to be on their way to being the nation’s last unbeaten team. The AAC is having a down year, which means if SMU can get by Cincinnati at home this Thursday, it could be unblemished well into February. The Mustangs have an intriguing blend of old and young, big and small, and they can really defend when they are locked in. They also appear to be motivated, not deflated, by their postseason ban, and that is very bad news for the rest of the AAC.
Syracuse (10-5) — BUY
Another basement bargain. Sure, the Orange are struggling, but can they really be that bad? It’s hard to know how much of their struggles are attributable to Jim Boeheim’s suspension, but his team should get a substantial lift when he returns on Saturday. His first game back will be in the Carrier Dome, and the opponent will be North Carolina. It’s not impossible to imagine an emotional upset that night, but even if it doesn’t happen, Syracuse has enough talent (albeit with zero depth) on its roster to string a few wins together and at least stop embarrassing itself. That alone would mean turning a modest profit.
Texas (8–5) — SELL
I would probably have recommended this rating anyway, but losing senior center Cameron Ridley to a broken foot is a killer blow for this team. Ridley had worked very hard to lose weight and become a dominant force in the middle, and without him the Longhorns will have to rely even more on its inexperienced perimeter players, not to mention a point guard in Isaiah Taylor who can’t shoot. Combine that with the difficulty of the Big 12 and I foresee a difficult two months ahead. The good news is that if Texas is a bubble team, that win over North Carolina will help.
Icon Sportswire via AP
Texas A&M (11–2, No. 21) — HOLD
This team is a good example of the need for constant evaluation. The Aggies jumped into the rankings because they beat Gonzaga by a single point at the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, and their seven-point loss to Syracuse the next afternoon was forgiven because the Orange were thought to be a really good team. Today, neither Gonzaga nor Syracuse is ranked, and while the Aggies did beat Kansas State and Baylor, both of those games were at home. When they had to play their only true road game against a mediocre Arizona State on Dec. 5, they fell flat, losing by 13 points. So we’re left with a good team that has a few good scorers and shares the ball really well, but one that does not have the requisite guard play to ascend to greater heights. My gut tells me the holding pattern will continue for a while.
UCLA (9–6) — HOLD
The Bruins opened Pac-12 play with a pair of losses at Washington and Washington State, but that’s no reason to dump them. They have shown they are capable of beating good teams, but they are also capable of losing when things don’t go their way. That pretty much describes every team in the country. Bryce Alford is clearly an all-conference caliber guard, and I love the progress that 7-foot sophomore center Thomas Welsh is making as a baseline scorer. UCLA will lose a few more games it probably shouldn’t, but I would be shocked if the Bruins didn’t get back to the NCAA tournament.
Utah (11–4) — SELL
The Utes have one of the top big men in the country (and a surefire future pro) in sophomore 7-footer Jakob Poeltl, and they had a nationally televised win over Duke in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19 that created a lot of buzz. However, if you look under the hood, you'll find some real problems. The main issue is that Utah's guards are not disruptive enough defensively. It ranks 350th out of 351 teams nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Nor do the Utes score enough from the perimeter or foul line to alleviate the pressure on Poeltl. So if he is defended well or gets into foul trouble or just has an off night, this team is very vulnerable. The Utes looked outclassed in losing at Stanford and Cal over the weekend, and with the rest of the league schedule looming, I don’t see them winning enough big-time games to get back into the top 25.
Vanderbilt (8–5) — SELL
The Commodores don’t have any terrible losses, but their eight-point defeat at home to a struggling LSU team last Saturday confirmed that they are unlikely to live up to their considerable preseason hype. Vandy finished strong last season and has an exciting prospect at center in Damian Jones, but he did not improve significantly over the summer. That has made Vandy’s lack of playmakers on the wing an even more glaring deficiency. Keep in mind that 7'1" junior center Luke Kornet is due to return later this month from a knee injury, but in the meantime, it looks to me like this stock is going to head lower before it turns back up.
Villanova (12–2, No. 11) — BUY
The Wildcats were everyone’s pick to win the Big East at the start of the season. They got embarrassed by Oklahoma in Hawaii, and they played Virginia tough in Charlottesville before losing by 11. Somehow, that led them to tumble down the rankings, but they reasserted themselves last week with a 31-point win over Xavier. They may lose a couple of games in this very difficult league, but I still expect the ‘Cats to finish on top. (I’m not making any promises for March, though. That month has not been kind to Villanova in this decade.) The Wildcats have a core of tough, veteran guards (anyone notice what Josh Hart is doing lately?), and I suspect they have cured themselves of their early tendency to be overly reliant on three-point shooting—although when they are making long-range shots, they are nearly impossible to beat. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, 6'11" senior forward Daniel Ochefu has evolved into a legitimate scoring threat in the post.
Virginia (12–1, No. 4) — BUY
This team is an absolute joy to watch. They have talented players—I love teams that have two scoring point guards as the Cavs do in Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes—but they also maximize their potential as well as any team in America. This is especially true on the defensive end, which is why I have repeatedly said that Tony Bennett is the new Brad Stevens. The Cavaliers win with their efficiency (third overall per kenpom.com) and their style (they are ranked 350th in the country in tempo), and those are elements that can be replicated away from home. A third consecutive ACC regular season title is well within the realm of possibility.
Wake Forest (9–4) — BUY
You don’t have to be an expert to see that this is a program on the rise. And you don’t have to have an overactive imagination to guess that the Demon Deacons could be headed for a program-establishing win on Wednesday night, when they host Duke in Winston-Salem. The Deacs are anchored by a pair of seniors (6'9" forward Devin Thomas and 6'3" guard Codi Miller-McIntyre), but beyond that coach Danny Manning is giving heavy minutes to freshmen and sophomores who are growing up fast. This team already has neutral court wins over UCLA and Indiana plus a road win at LSU. If Wake reaches the tourney after a five-year absence, then this purchase will pay off big-time.
West Virginia (12–1, No. 17) — HOLD
The thing I like most about the Mountaineers is that they don’t have to shoot the ball well to win. They were 3-for-20 from three-point range on Saturday, yet they still won a tough road game at Kansas State because their defense was so overwhelming. That aside, there is not much on their résumé to justify their current pricing. Until last weekend, West Virginia's best win came on a neutral court over San Diego State in late November. In the one chance they had to prove themselves on a big stage, the Mountaineers got embarrassed by Virginia in Madison Square Garden. They have Kansas and Oklahoma coming up in back-to-back games, but even if they lose them both, their stock won’t drop too much. Right now, you’d have to say West Virginia is pretty firmly on the second tier of a very good league, which means it will have a chance to pick up some pretty good wins between now and the postseason.
Xavier (13–1, No. 10) — HOLD
I’m a believer in the Musketeers, and I’ll even give them a pass for their 31-point loss at Villanova because they lost their starting point guard, Edmund Sumner, in the game’s opening minutes. But once a team reaches its highest rank in school history, as Xavier did when it reached No. 6 last month, its stock has pretty much maxed out. It’s also unclear how long Sumner will be out. He is going through concussion protocols and is considered day-to-day. On the other hand, the Musketeers are moving into the easier part of their Big East schedule, so if you want to buy them now and then dump them before the challenging home stretch—which includes games against Butler, Providence and Villanova—I won’t try to talk you out of it.
Ten sleeper stocks
Hawaii (11–2). Sure, going to Honolulu is not an easy trip for opposing teams to make, but that shouldn't devalue the Rainbow Warriors' home wins over Nevada, Northern Iowa and Auburn. They also gave Oklahoma a scare before losing by three.
Houston (12–2). If there were any doubts the Cougars could compete in the AAC, they were erased when Houston opened conference play with road wins at South Florida and Temple (the latter by 27 points, no less). They have the league’s top scorer in 6'2" sophomore guard Rob Gray Jr. (18.8 ppg).
Iona (6–6). Monmouth has gotten all of the love (and deservedly so), but coaches inside the MAAC will tell you that Iona is still the team to beat. The Gaels have already won their first three league games.
Little Rock (12–1). Led by a pair of upperclassmen guards in junior Marcus Johnson Jr. and senior Josh Hagins, the Trojans won their first 10 games, including road victories at San Diego State, Tulsa and DePaul.
Louisiana Tech (12–2). Mike White left to coach Florida, but he also left behind some really good players—most notably 6'4" senior guard Alex Hamilton, who leads Conference USA in assists (6.1) and steals (2.1) and is fourth in scoring (18.0).
Northwestern (13–2). The Wildcats played a weak nonconference slate, but they only lost once (on a neutral court to North Carolina). They got blown out at home by Maryland in their Big Ten opener, but if they can steal enough wins in the league and make the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, you’ll look like a genius for buying their stock now.
Saint Joseph’s (11–2). DeAndre Bembry is the best player you’ve never heard of. The 6'6" junior forward ranks in the top 11 of the Atlantic 10 in assists (4.2), rebounds (7.8) and blocks (1.15) while averaging 16.3 points per game.
Saint Mary’s (13–1). The Gaels’ lone defeat came by four points at Cal. They are 19th in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings and are emerging as the team to beat in the WCC.
Valparaiso (11–3). The Crusaders lost a couple of head-scratchers to Ball State and Belmont, but they have a talented stretch four in Alec Peters. The winner of their game at Oakland on Friday gets the early inside track in the race for the Horizon League crown.
Yale (7–5). The Bulldogs got plenty road tested during the first two months. They lost at SMU by two points and at Illinois by four. With Harvard having a down year, Yale is the favorite to win the Ivy, which would put it in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1962.
Five to dump (if you haven’t already)
Missouri (7–6). The Tigers beat every bad team they’ve played, but they lost to every decent team they’ve played. Unfortunately, there are no bad teams in the SEC.
Nebraska (8–7). The Cornhuskers’ nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 307th in the RPI, yet they still found a way to lose five times, including at home to Samford.
Rutgers (6–9). The most dysfunctional athletic department in America has a basketball team with the lowest RPI rank (237th) of any team in a Power Five conference. Shocking.