Who's trending upward and downward in college basketball? Our latest stock report looks at the teams and conferences standing out, whether for good or bad reasons.
The conference continues to impress after an uncharacteristic 2018-19 and looks strong top-to-bottom after another big week for its members. Villanova knocked off No. 1 Kansas at home, adding a marquee win to its résumé as league play awaits. Butler is 11–1 after beating Purdue at the Crossroads Classic, with its only loss coming by one on the road to No. 7 Baylor. Seton Hall upset then-top-10 Maryland without Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili last week, while St. John’s moved to 11–2 after a big win over Arizona.
Even DePaul is 12–1, Georgetown has won five straight despite a rash of transfers and Creighton, Xavier and Marquette all look capable of contending for the conference title. Then there's Providence, which has disappointed so far in 2019-20 and already has six losses, but picked up a much-needed 22-point win over Texas over the weekend.
Still sitting outside the AP Top 25, the Shockers might be the team flying under the radar the most nationally right now. Gregg Marshall’s team looks like it has righted the ship after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011 last season, and it now sits at 10–1 after beating VCU by 10 on Saturday. While it lost its lone game to date against a KenPom top-25 opponent (to West Virginia), Wichita State has three wins over top-50 teams, plus a November rout of a South Carolina team that just beat Virginia.
Six Shockers players are averaging at least nine points per game to make up a balanced scoring effort, with sophomore guard Erik Stevenson leading the way with 13.5 (he also adds 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals). But it’s Wichita State’s defense that powers the way, with the team sitting eighth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. It’s built around an interior defense that’s been limiting opponents’ looks at the rim, forcing them into an above-average amount of two-point jumpers instead.
The WCC’s Multi-Bid Chances
In the last five seasons, the WCC has alternated between sending one or two teams to the Big Dance. Gonzaga, of course, has been a mainstay, with Saint Mary’s joining the Bulldogs in 2017 and 2019 (the latter as the WCC autobid) and BYU earning an at-large in 2015. With non-conference play almost over, the league has to feel optimistic about its chances of being a two—or even three—bid conference this March.
Barring a collapse, Gonzaga has all but locked up its annual trip to the NCAA tournament, even if it loses again in the WCC tourney. Then there’s Saint Mary’s (No. 29 on KenPom, No. 37 on NET) and BYU (No. 35 on KP, No. 34 on NET), who are both likely to be in the at-large conversation in the months to come. The Gaels could be hurt by an opening-week loss to Winthrop, but they’ve amassed a solid collection of four wins over top-100 KenPom opponents, including a recent demolition of Arizona State in Phoenix. BYU, meanwhile, does already have four losses, but only one came with star big man Yoeli Childs, who had to sit the Cougars’ first nine games due to an NCAA paperwork error. The selection committee will consider that, and wins over Houston, Virginia Tech, Nevada and Utah State all make a difference.
The most encouraging news about the WCC having four top-40 teams, though, is that its chances of earning marquee wins aren’t done. Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU will all have more opportunities than usual to strengthen their résumé in conference play—as long as they take care of business elsewhere.
Despite a few bumps, the Terps sailed through their first nine games of the season and looked like they were rounding into form as their first two Big Ten games approached. Since then, they’ve gone 1–2, with the one win coming on an improbable comeback in the final minute at home against Illinois. That game foreboded what was to come—an uninspiring effort in a road loss at Penn State before a putrid showing in Newark against a Seton Hall team that was missing its two top players.
The connecting theme throughout all three games has been a disappearing offense for Mark Turgeon’s group. After scoring at least 1.0 points per possession in each of its first nine games, Maryland hasn’t cracked it in its last three, and managed just 0.72 against the Pirates—the program’s lowest output since 2013. Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins have seen their outside shooting nosedive as sophomores, taking away what was one of the Terps’ strengths in 2018-19. Even more, in its pair of losses, Maryland shot a combined 20 for 65 (30.8%) from two and turned it over 37 total times, with just 15 assists. If it weren’t for the Terrapins’ defense, those numbers would usually equal blowout defeats.
The difference between the Cavaliers’ offensive and defensive metrics this season continues to be striking. The Hoos’ defensive efficiency leads the country, and while they’ve yet to face a top-30 offense, they’re actually running notably ahead of where they were at this point in 2018-19. But the offense? Woof.
There are a litany of stats you could pick out to demonstrate just how rough things are for Virginia offensively right now. A choice few: the Cavaliers rank 289th on T-Rank in offensive efficiency when you filter out preseason expectations, rank 347th (out of 353 teams) in three-point shooting at 26.1%, rank 205th in two-point percentage and rank 263rd in turnover rate. Mamadi Diakite, at 13.5 points per game, is the lone scorer averaging double-figures. Point guard Kihei Clark has totaled 10 more turnovers (19) than made shots from the field (nine) in the last four games. It all boiled over in UVA’s second loss of the season on Sunday, a 70-59 home defeat to South Carolina—which became the first team to break 60 on the Hoos this season. While its defense will win it plenty of games this season, Virginia doesn't have the offensive firepower right now to combat opponents who are hitting their shots.
It’s been a lackluster non-conference showing for the SEC as a whole, which has just three teams in the top 50 in the latest NET rankings. Outside of undefeated Auburn and 10–1 Arkansas (the latter of whom lacks a top-100 win), everyone else has at least three losses already, and a number of contenders look less impressive than expected. Kentucky’s struggles have been well documented, and while most college hoops fans have probably learned their lesson about judging John Calipari teams too soon, the fact remains that the Wildcats’ résumé is so weak right now that UK is No. 74 in the NET.
Florida has been disappointing, with an offense that can’t figure itself out despite a wealth of talent, evidenced again in Saturday’s loss to Utah State. Tennessee had a good start to the season but lost senior point guard Lamonte Turner for the year this week, a tough blow that the Vols must try to overcome. LSU fell to both East Tennessee State and USC in the last week, and the rest of the league’s middle tier has been largely inconsistent. It all adds up to a conference that will be lacking in marquee win opportunities, which will do SEC bubble teams no favors come March.