This week's college basketball stock report looks at teams who could find themselves outside the NCAA tournament picture if they don't turn things around, plus a pair of SEC teams who have been on the upswing and the latest trend in a crowded Big Ten.
Nick Richards and Kentucky
Once a five-star-recruit-turned afterthought who labored through a reserve role in his first two years at Kentucky, Nick Richards has officially arrived. The junior big man played a starring role in the Wildcats' big win over Texas Tech in a raucous environment in Lubbock, scoring a career-high 25 points with 14 rebounds, four blocks and no turnovers. He was everything UK needed him to be to earn that victory and had his way with Red Raiders big man TJ Holyfield, who scored just five points and eventually fouled out.
Richards has now scored in double-figures in eight straight games, a crucial development for a Kentucky team short on strong frontcourt options. Sophomore EJ Montgomery is still too inconsistent, while transfer senior Nate Sestina's biggest contributions come on the offensive end from the perimeter. If Richards weren't developing the way he is as a junior, the Wildcats' ceiling could be a lot lower, despite all of its backcourt and wing talent. With the seventh-lowest three-point rate in the country, Kentucky is a team that will rarely look to beat you from the outside. That makes the play of Richards all the more important over the next two months as UK looks to climb back into the mix for a top-three seed in the Big Dance.
The Tigers, who lead the SEC at 6-0, have perfected the Houdini act during their eight-game win streak. LSU's last six wins were by a combined total of 15 points, with none of the six coming by more than four. This is pretty unheard of, as illustrated through this stat via KenPom:
Considering Will Wade's team has held a double-digit second-half lead in its last four games, it's a little concerning that all of them have gone down to the wire. But it's hard to argue with eight straight wins, and the fact that the Tigers have had control of many of those games suggests they will either get even better by learning to close things out or start getting burned from playing with fire.
LSU is primarily an offensive-driven team this season, with its offense sitting at No. 4 in KenPom's adjusted efficiency and its defense sitting way down 139th. That extreme disparity isn't common, and the Tigers' offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider that they're a pretty mediocre three-point shooting team. But they're ferocious on the offense boards and sixth nationally in two-point percentage to make up for it.
Big Ten Road Teams
The Big Ten home-court hex took a hit last week. After the home team won 42 of the first 49 conference games—an astounding number—road teams actually went 8–5 over the last seven days. In other words, Big Ten road teams got more wins in the last 13 conference games than they got in the previous 49 combined. Two of those eight in the last week belonged to surging Illinois, which won at Purdue and Michigan to put itself in a tie with Michigan State atop the Big Ten. Another two belonged to Maryland, which got its first road wins of the season by storming back to beat Northwestern before winning a thriller at Indiana. The other four: Penn State (at Michigan), Minnesota (at Ohio State), Michigan State (at Minnesota) and Ohio State (at Northwestern). This conference continues to beat itself up, but a whopping 12 teams remain in the NCAA tournament mix, and adding road wins to résumés will only help its chances of sending a potential record number of teams dancing.
After a promising start to the season, the Tigers' stock is plummeting. Memphis has lost four of its last six games, including a shocking 40-point thrashing at the hands of Tulsa last week and a home loss to SMU over the weekend that saw the Tigers squander a 12-point lead with seven minutes remaining. Penny Hardaway's team is still 14-5 on the season, which looks fine on the surface, but the résumé underneath isn't pretty. Memphis only has two Quadrant 1 wins, and one of those (vs. NC State on a neutral court) will fall to a Quad 2 if the No. 50 Wolfpack drop one spot in the NET rankings.
T-Rank gives the Tigers just a 23.4% chance of making the NCAA tournament at this point, and missing it would be a bitter end to a season that began with such promise. Memphis obviously lost James Wiseman, who only ended up playing three games in college, but the offensive firepower just hasn't been there. The team has failed to crack 1.0 points per possession in five of its last six games, including an absolutely brutal 0.55 output against the Golden Hurricane.
The wheels could be close to falling off for Juwan Howard and the Wolverines, who have not only lost four straight (and five of their last six) but also saw Isaiah Livers get hurt again on Saturday and just announced that senior point guard Zavier Simpson will miss at least Tuesday's game at Nebraska for a violation of team rules. That game feels like a must-win for Michigan, which is now 2-7 in the Big Ten and can't afford what would be a Quad 3 loss.
T-Rank still gives the Wolverines a 63% chance of making the NCAA tournament—a testament to their non-conference slate, when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis and also picked up a home win over Creighton—but that could change in a hurry if things spiral from here. Michigan largely hasn't been getting blown out, and even though it dropped two at home in the last week, a course-correction is well within reach. It starts with an improved defensive effort, with the team ranking dead last in Big Ten play in efficiency, a far cry from the defensive prowess we'd come to expect in recent years.
Big East Bubble Teams
Collectively, the Big East is having a strong bounce-back season, and five teams (Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler and Marquette) look like NCAA tournament locks or near-locks. But a clear chasm has emerged between those five teams and the five below them (Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, Xavier and DePaul), and that line might just be the NCAA tournament.
Providence, the only one of those five with more than two league wins at the moment, is playing catch-up after a brutal non-conference showing, which included losses to Penn, Long Beach State, Northwestern and Charleston. Alas, the Friars' NCAA chances are grim barring a run through the Big East tournament. St. John's notched an impressive pair of wins over West Virginia and Arizona in non-conference, but has yet to beat a Big East team not named DePaul. Speaking of the Blue Demons, at 1-6 in the Big East, they've given away the goodwill of a surprising 12-1 start. Then there's Georgetown, loser of five of its last seven, and Xavier, one of the biggest disappointments of 2019-20 despite an 11-2 start to the season. Unless one of these teams gets hot down the stretch or wins the conference tournament, the Big East is looking like a five-bid league.