- This week's roundtable looks at the ACC race, the Big Ten's NCAA tournament chances, whether Ole Miss's rise in the SEC is real and more.
Welcome back to the Tuesday Shootaround! This week's staff roundtable will go the "fact or fiction" route; that is, we gave our writers six statements and asked them whether they believe it will come true ("fact") or not ("fiction"). The topics ranged from an exciting ACC race to Markus Howard's liklihood of another 50-point game this season, so without further ado, let's get to it ...
Fact or Fiction? Duke will win the ACC
Dan Greene: Fiction. As good as the Blue Devils are, with Tre Jones out indefinitely I think they will be prone to picking up a loss here and there. I think that's enough for Virginia to take the regular season title.
Jeremy Woo: Fact. Even with the fate of Tre Jones’s shoulder up in the air for now, I think Zion Williamson is the differentiator here. Virginia is looming, but Duke’s big three can split ballhandling duties and get it done.
Michael Shapiro: Fiction. The Blue Devils should have enough star talent to compete for the conference crown, but without floor general Tre Jones for extended time, I’ll side with Virginia as the ACC champion.
Emily Caron: Fiction. Both Florida State and Syracuse exposed Duke’s flaws this weekend. Although they scraped by with a win over the Seminoles, I don’t know that the Blue Devils will command the conference as dominantly as was predicted. They’re not as consistent, or as cohesive, as they need to be in a conference like the ACC.
Eric Single: Fiction. The Blue Devils needed a buzzer beater to hold off Florida State on the road and could be in for another loss or two while Tre Jones is out. That on its own might be enough to lose sight of Virginia.
Molly Geary: Fiction. Until Monday night, I would’ve said fact here, but I think losing Tre Jones is a bigger deal than many people may realize. The good news for Duke is that outside of Saturday vs. Virginia, the next few weeks of its ACC schedule isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row. The bad news is that the Cavaliers may be favored this weekend now and could make a real run at winning the league again with only one or two losses. That would leave little margin for error for Duke, even if Jones ends up only out a few weeks.
Max Meyer: Fiction. The Tre Jones injury is major, he's the second-most important player on the team at worst. The Blue Devils will have trouble knocking off Virginia without him, and they may have trouble catching up to the Hoos after that.
The Big Ten will send 10 teams to the NCAA tournament
Greene: Fact. In a year where the Pac-12 may not land any at-large bids and mid-majors may land few as well, the invites have to go somewhere, and the Big Ten looks like it will have a depth of worthy candidates. See: how Ohio State and Nebraska entered the week in a tie for ninth place.
Woo: Fiction. There is going to be some drop-off, and while I think eight or nine is plausible, I'm not buying Minnesota, Ohio State is trending in the wrong direction entering a rough patch of schedule, Iowa didn’t blow me away in non-conference play and Carsen Edwards is dragging Purdue by the collar. Check again in two weeks.
Shapiro: Fiction. This is perhaps the deepest Big Ten in recent memory after sending just four teams to the tournament in 2018. Expect the Big Ten to hit eight or nine bids. Double digits may be a reach.
Caron: Fiction. The Big Ten will get close, but it’s too early in conference competition to use the current standings (which have potentially 11 teams with a chance). The conference boasts tremendous depth, but sending 10–14 teams to the tourney would be insane. A few other teams in smaller or lesser conferences will stand out and snag the last few at-large bids.
Single: Fact. This hinges on Iowa and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes have proven they can play up to top 25 talent, while the streaky Golden Gophers only need a couple more quality wins to solidify their spot.
Geary: Fact. I’ve been a big proponent of the Big Ten’s depth all season and I’m not going to back down now. Weaker-than-usual years for the Pac-12 and Big East will open the door, and opportunities abound for Big Ten teams to pick up notable wins.
Meyer: Fact. This one was tricky because I'm not sure how much I believe in Indiana or Minnesota, but the Big Ten is primed to rack up NCAA tournament bids because of how down a couple other major conferences are this season (Pac-12 and Big East).
Zion Williamson will win National Player of the Year
Greene: Fact. The hype is there and very much warranted given his effectiveness and efficiency across the board for the best team in the country. Although I would like to say if anyone is going to end up being the Jalen Brunson to Zion's Trae Young, my pick would be Grant Williams.
Woo: Fact. I mean, who else should it be?
Shapiro: Fact. There’s been no better spectacle in college sports this year, and Williamson is pretty dominant, too. The Zion hype is earned, and should be paired with a National Player of the Year award.
Caron: Fact. Zion has been unstoppable (aside from an eye poke, but we’ll just leave that alone). He’s been as instrumental defensively as he has offensively for Duke this season, which is probably not what people expected. His unprecedented athleticism has proven to be uncontainable by most teams—even those who can slow down the rest of the Blue Devils have trouble with Williamson. With players like Luke Maye not living up to the preseason expectations, Zion has a pretty good shot at POY honors.
Single: Fact. College basketball’s biggest star has not shrunk from the spotlight and has been Duke’s most important player in moments large and small. Even if Tre Jones’s injury knocks the Blue Devils down a few spots in the rankings, it will only accentuate what Williamson can provide.
Geary: Fact. Zion was already the favorite, and any games that Tre Jones misses will just make the Blue Devils need Williamson even more. Against Syracuse he was up for the task, even if Duke as a whole wasn’t.
Meyer: Fact. Zion mania has exceeded Trae Young levels, and he has an absurd PER (Player Efficiency Rating). He has enough big matchups remaining on TV to sway voters down the stretch if needed as well.
Ole Miss will finish in the top four of the SEC
Greene: Fiction—but mostly because I have no confidence in my ability to sort out the teams after Tennessee in that league. (And now South Carolina is making noise?!) But if the Rebels come out of their upcoming trips to Alabama and Florida looking good, I could look very wrong very fast.
Woo: Fact. They only play Tennessee and Kentucky once (both games are at home), they already beat Auburn once, and they have enough shooting and talent to navigate the schedule despite zero preseason expectations. This team is worth buying.
Shapiro: Fiction. This one will come down to the wire. Tennessee is the top of the conference while I expect Kentucky to find its groove as the season continues. I’ll place more faith in LSU and Auburn at the moment, although the Rebels could register wins over both programs with a victory against LSU on Tuesday night.
Caron: Fact. The Rebels look really good. They’re consistent and they’re finding success in a challenging conference. The top teams in the SEC are all going to be neck-and-neck this season, but I think Ole Miss can do it. Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, and Ole Miss will round out my top-four, with LSU sneaking in for five.
Single: Fiction. Tennessee and Kentucky are safe bets to earn a double-bye, and Auburn and Mississippi State (despite their recent losses to the Rebels) are too talented to not restore SEC West order in the coming weeks.
Geary: Fiction. The Rebels’ big start hasn't likely been a fluke, but there’s a long way to go in a crowded and talented SEC. Their two most recent wins are by far the best of their season, and it will take a few more to fully buy into them as an SEC contender.
Meyer: Fiction. Kermit Davis has done an incredible job in his first season at Ole Miss, but I don't think the Rebels have the talent to finish in the upper echelon of the SEC. In fact, I believe their hot streak ends Tuesday night with a loss at home to LSU.
Markus Howard will have another 50-point game this year
Greene: Fact. He's certainly capable, and where's the fun in believing he won't?
Woo: Fiction. It’s really hard to score 50 points in a game.
Shapiro: Fact. I’ll bet on Howard largely because he’ll have plenty of opportunities for a 50-piece. He’s registered 20-plus shot attempts six times in 2018–19, and with such a high usage rate, don’t be surprised if Howard crosses 50 points again before March.
Caron: Fact. Howard had two 45 points games prior to dropping 53 against Creigton in the Golden Eagles OT win. He’s been absolutely showing out this season and I think another 50+ night is in the books against an easier Big East competitor.
Single: Fact. He may have needed overtime to get the first one, but the Golden Eagles’ offense heats up too fast too often to predict that he won’t get white-hot at least once more in the next six weeks.
Geary: Fiction. Fifty-point games are rare for a reason. Howard clearly has the capability and it wouldn’t surprise me, but it takes a certain set of factors to go right to pull it off.
Meyer: Fact. Why not? College basketball's most dynamic shooter can heat up at any moment and is lethal from the outside. It also helps that Marquette plays in many close games, meaning free throws down the stretch and possibly overtime to help cross him over the 50-point plateau.
Gonzaga won't lose again in the regular season
Greene: Fact. The Zags already survived the hardest test the WCC has to offer this season—a road game against San Francisco—to the tune of a 13-point win. And I don't see a Saint Mary's team that lost at home to Harvard and UC Irvine pulling it off this year.
Woo: Fact. These guys are healthy and trending back upward. As usual, judgment time will come in March.
Shapiro: Fact. Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall’s return from injury adds firepower to a superb Bulldogs squad. Gonzaga should enter the West Coast Conference tourney with losses to Tennessee and North Carolina as its lone blemishes.
Caron: Fact. The Zags have faced all their toughest competitors already this season. The rest of their slate is a cakewalk in comparison to teams like Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Single: Fact. With all due respect to the year San Francisco has had, if the Dons can’t within 10 points on their home court, the Zags don’t have anyone within striking distance of them in the West Coast Conference.
Geary: Fact. Now that it’s past the trip to San Francisco, Gonzaga’s toughest remaining game may be Saint Mary’s on the road on March 2. We’ve seen the Zags surprisingly drop their WCC regular-season finale before, but this time they should get through unscathed.
Meyer: Fiction. Remember the days when we were asking if Nevada would go undefeated in the Mountain West? How'd that go? Gonzaga is a fantastic team (easily a top-three squad IMO), but the WCC is strong and it's tough in college basketball to win on the road.