Mail: Is it time to crown Gonzaga as No. 1?
- Should Melo Trimble return for his senior season or enter the NBA draft?
- Will Coach K's return save Duke, or will the Blue Devils suffer a meltdown?
- Which sleeper teams could be national title contenders?
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Trolls not included. Questions may be edited for clarity.
So it was kinda, sorta a big night in college hoops on Tuesday. With three of the top four teams in the AP poll going down to defeat, it appears voters like me have a decision to make. My Twitter mentions reflected that.
Who is the No. 1 team now? — Sportguy (@Ironspot1975)
How you gonna deny my Zags now?! — HoopsfanAB (@ydfished)
How many other teams have to lose before you will rank Gonzaga No. 1? — Geoff Folsom (@GeoffFolsom)
Do you think that Gonzaga is worthy of being a potential one seed in the tournament? — Ethan Carter (@EthanCarterSP)
Yes, it appears we have reached our Gonzaga Moment. I’ve been saying for a while this was coming, but I didn't realize it would happen so soon. For all the great achievements of Mark Few’s program, one thing it has never done is gone through the nonconference portion of its schedule undefeated. Once that was accomplished in November and December, the Zags put themselves in position to be the nation’s last undefeated team. Given that the teams ranked in front of them all play in tougher conferences, it was only a matter of time before enough of them lost to enable Gonzaga to rise to the top of the polls.
But should that be the case? On my most recent AP ballot, I ranked the Zags sixth behind Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, Arizona and UCLA. Gonzaga beat Arizona, but that was before the Wildcats had sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, and before they thumped UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. Should I lift Gonzaga to my top ranking just because it hasn’t lost yet? Do I really believe on a neutral court, or in a seven-game series, that Gonzaga is better than the teams I have ranked above it?
Then there’s the question of what all this should look like in terms of NCAA tournament seeding. I have always tried to point out the difference between a poll ranking, which is a totally subjective exercise undertaken voter by voter, with the process of seeding the tournament, which should be a reflection on what a team has accomplished rather than a projection of what would happen moving forward. If you take the idea that a loss shouldn't automatically take away the No. 1 ranking from a team, and combine it with the argument that a voter should assemble his or her ballot based on where that voter thinks the teams actually belong, instead of being a slave to a recent results, then Gonzaga’s argument for a No. 1 ranking loses its oomph.
Kansas lost convincingly at West Virginia, and the Jayhawks have been flirting with defeat for a while now. You’ll recall they needed a last-second bucket courtesy of a travel that wasn’t called to knock off unranked Kansas State at home two weeks ago. But what if the Jayhawks win at Rupp Arena on Saturday? Is that not a convincing argument that they should remain No. 1? Villanova lost a close road game to a league opponent, Marquette, on Tuesday night. So what? Kentucky also lost by two to an unranked conference foe on the road. So shouldn’t it come down to the question of whether I really think Gonzaga is better than, say, Villanova? Or should Gonzaga move to No. 1 simply because it hasn’t lost yet, even if I believe the Zags would probably lose at some point if it played in a better conference?
If it sounds like I haven’t made up my mind yet, it’s because I haven’t. Fortunately, we still have a few days left in this week to let it all sort out. Regardless of what I do, it appears that my fellow AP voters are going to install Gonzaga as the nation’s new No. 1 team on Monday morning, assuming Gonzaga doesn’t lose at home to San Diego this weekend. It also appears likely that Gonzaga will finish the regular season undefeated, which means it will remain at No. 1 for the duration of the season. And that means Gonzaga will almost certainly be rewarded with a No. 1 seed, and possibly the No. 1 overall seed, by the Selection Committee even though the Zags will probably have just five or six top-50 RPI wins on Selection Sunday.
So it’s safe to say the Gonzaga Moment will last longer than a moment. Let the debating begin.
Should Melo Trimble stay for his senior year to work on his jump shot, or is there really no reason for him not to declare? — Drew F (@Schneideur)
I try not to get too deep into NBA draft talk, but Trimble is an interesting case study. He made a huge impact at Maryland as a freshman, averaging 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 41.2% from three-point range. He was a well-regarded recruit but he didn’t come in with a huge amount of hype, so he wasn’t wired to be a one-and-done player. Plus, he’s not real big (he is listed at 6' 3", so you can assume he’s at least an inch shorter) and he’s not a freak athlete. So he made what I thought was a wise decision to come back to school.
Trimble played just O.K. as a sophomore. The main problem was his three-point shooting, which plummeted to 31.5%. This time, he really had no choice but to come back. While Trimble is shooting it better as a junior (36.9% from three, 45.1% overall) while leading a young team into the top 25, I am not sure there’s much of a clamor for him to enter the draft. The website draftexpress.com projects him to be the next-to-last pick in the second round.
On the other hand, it’s hard to see Trimble drastically changing his draft situation by returning to College Park for his final college season. If a player is going to be a lottery pick, or at least a surefire first-round pick, then I am trained to assume he will take the money and run. In a case like Trimble’s, the decision is not so clear-cut. So it will come down to a personal preference. How much does he like college? How badly does he want to get his degree right away? If those things are important, then he should come back and take a bow. There’s nothing like being a senior in college. However, since most players in Trimble’s position dream of being a professional more than anything, I would guess that he would try to make a go of it.
Any chance the MVC gets two teams in the Big Dance? — Dwayne (@DeiterE73)
I might not have thought this a month ago, but as of now, I’d say there is an excellent chance of this happening—for two reasons.
First, the SEC is enduring another rough season. Right now, there are only three teams that appear in good shape to make the tournament—Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. Yes, it’s possible a fourth will sneak in (Arkansas looks like the best shot right now, with Georgia and Tennessee up next), but if the SEC does end up only sending three teams, that means there will be some bids to be had elsewhere. After all, we have to get to 36 at-large teams in somehow, right?
The second reason is that the Valley got a very important result on Jan. 14, when Illinois State beat Wichita State at home. As of now, the Redbirds are undefeated in league play at 8–0, and they are ranked 17th in the RPI. That means they are in better position at this moment than Wichita State, which is 69th in the RPI, to get an at-large should they fail to win the conference tournament. And both these teams very much pass the eye test.
Often times, these matters depend on results falling into place in exactly the right manner. If Wichita State returns the favor and beats Illinois State at home on Feb. 4, and then if neither team loses another conference game, and then if they meet in the tournament final at Arch Madness, then there is a high probability that both teams will play in the NCAA tournament. But neither is operating on a whole lot of margin for error.
Will this Duke team have similar meltdown/outcome to the last time Coach K took a "leave"? — Aaron Landon (@Coach_A_Landon)
Just when you thought we were going to get through a Twitterbag column without another question about Duke! At least this one wasn’t about Grayson Allen who, for all his mistakes, has prompted a remarkable reaction across all levels of media. I'm not sure we've seen anything like this since Johnny Manziel's antics at Texas A&M. After Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell slapped Allen in the forehead during a scrum, I saw a headline that night that read “Allen gets slapped.” NC State guard Terry Henderson put an elbow in Allen’s neck as Allen walked past the Wolfpack bench on Monday night, and Allen later got tackled on a breakaway layup, and in both cases he kept his cool. Besides getting scrutinized in the usual social media spaces, those exchanges prompted my good buddy Seth Greenberg at ESPN to assert on Twitter that Allen should quit playing the rest of the season to address his issues. Seems kind of drastic, no?
But I digress. If ever a program had the right to feel snake bitten, this is the one. Not that anyone is feeling sorry for Duke, of course, but interim coach Jeff Capel is in an impossible position while Mike Krzyzewski recovers from back surgery. If you’ll recall, the same thing happened last year to Mike Hopkins at Syracuse while Jim Boeheim served his NCAA-mandated suspension. It’s hard enough to succeed a Hall of Fame coach in one of these jobs, but a temporary position is the ultimate lose-lose situation. The difference between this situation and the one that Aaron is referring to in the mid-1990s is that Coach K will be coming back. That, however, will not happen for another couple of weeks. By then, it may be too late to right the Good Ship Duke.
Incidentally, for all the tumult over injuries, Coach K’s leave of absence and the Grayson Allen mess, Duke’s main problem is much more simple: This team does not have a point guard. The Blue Devils can try to mix and match with guys who bring up the ball and make plays, but it is very hard to survive in college basketball these days without a defined point guard—and an excellent one, at that. In fact, these days you almost need two points guards to survive, given the new rules and the way the games are being officiated. That is the one thing that is definitely not going to change.
Sleeper to win the national championship? — Jake Rosen (@JakeInThePaint)
No, I couldn’t get through a Twitterbag without making a list and checking it twice. It’s hard to define the term “sleeper”—Outside the top 10? Outside the top 25?—so I’ll go with the old definition that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart gave when it came to pornography: I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.
1. Butler. I’m not sure anyone is really taking these Bulldogs seriously, but the program has played in two NCAA championship games, and this team has that kind of talent. Freshman guard Kamar Baldwin is emerging as a legit superstar, and we all know the Bulldogs play tough defense and rarely beat themselves.
2. Wisconsin. The Badgers are ranked 15th in this week’s AP poll, but they are rolling through the Big Ten. They dominate through steady, unspectacular consistency, slowing the pace and rarely turning the ball over. No, there’s no Frank Kaminsky here, but sophomore center Ethan Happ is doing a pretty darn good impression.
3. Purdue. To be a national championship shocker, you need to have a player who can put a team on its back and carry it through the bracket. Sophomore big man Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan is that type of player, because he can dominate in all facets of the game, including outside shooting and passing. He’s also top 15 in the conference in free throw shooting.
4. Cincinnati. Once again, Mick Cronin’s group is quietly piling up wins—the Bearcats are 17–2 this season. They can grind with the best of them, but they have some legitimate offensive standouts in junior forward Kyle Washington and sophomore guard Jacob Evans.
5. Northwestern. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?