Who is the Best Team in College Basketball?
|Josh Hart, Villanova|
Villanova Wildcats (19-2, 6-2 Big East)
The reigning National Champion Wildcats have followed up last year's terrific run with a great year, jumping out to a 14-0 mark before suffering their first loss of the season to Butler. Their loss to Marquette, a solid, but unranked team, is likely to drop them from their perch at No. 1. With that being said, this team still has all the ingredients of a very good basketball team. Guard Josh Hart put his name into the NBA Draft before eventually returning, and the results have spoken for themselves. He is averaging 19 points per game while shooting extremely efficiently and appears to be near the forefront of the Wooden Award race. Joining Hart has been a steady crop of veterans, namely Kris Jenkins (last year's National Championship Game hero is averaging 13.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG) and point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson doesn't get a whole lot of national attention, but the sophomore's growth has been a major reason for Villanova's success in '16-'17, as he has played smarter and with more confidence, while taking over the key role of running the offense from departed Ryan Arcidiacono. While their losses over the past few weeks have shown the Wildcats are far from perfect, this team still appears to be a prime example of a legitimate National Title contender. They have enough depth, talent and experience to repeat as champions of the sport.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-0, 9-0 West Coast Conference)
With plenty of teams losing in front of them, it appears the nation's lone unbeaten, Gonzaga, has a chance to take over the No.1 spot, but do they deserve it? The extremely consistent Bulldogs are up to their usual tricks, bulldozing the rest of the West Coast Conference en route to a 9-0 conference start. They also recorded a healthy amount of solid non-conference victories, including beating Florida, Arizona and Iowa State. Much of their success can be attributed to a number of high-profile newcomers, namely Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss and freshman Zach Collins. Williams-Goss has shown excellent command of the offense, while the youthful Collins is leading Gonzaga in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. Plus, 'Zaga always has gigantic Przemek Karnowski to fall back on, as the 7'1", 300-pound behemoth continues to bully opponents in the paint. Even so, there are a wide number of detractors who don't believe in Gonzaga. Playing in such a weak conference has never helped the Bulldogs gain national respect, and one could argue this team simply doesn't deserve to be called the nation's best team when they are beating squads like Portland as others are battling it out in the brutal ACC or Big 12 every night. I think Gonzaga has their usual fair share of offensive weapons and diversity, but I agree it is hard to get behind a team whose resume is not quite up to snub with some of the other top teams.
Kansas Jayhawks (18-2, 7-1 Big 12)
Like clockwork, Kansas just keeps on churning out successful seasons. The Jayhawks have withstood the losses of guys like Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, managing to look perhaps even better in the process. You could definitely argue Kansas has the nation's best backcourt, with Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham leading the charge. Mason is as good as ever, as the senior is putting up 19.9 PPG with 5.2 APG, while the fearless Graham has proven to be one heck of a complement. When joined by tremendous freshman Josh Jackson and vastly improved Svi Mykhailiuk, you definitely can see the talent on display in Lawrence. Yet, there are also some questions KU has to answer. Key forward Carlton Bragg was just recently suspended indefinitely and his future is very murky, which hurts an already thin frontcourt. Also concerning is the vast amount of great teams in the always-tough Big 12, namely West Virginia and Baylor. Even so, KU has still won 12 straight conference titles, and looks to be clearly very good as we progress through 2017.
Baylor Bears (19-1, 7-1 Big 12)
Even the most optimistic fans in Waco may not have expected the type of season Baylor has had in 2016-2017. The Bears beat Oregon, Louisville and Xavier in the non-conference before a hot start to their Big 12 slate. They reached the pinnacle of No. 1 before a 19-point loss to West Virginia, but have responded with four straight victories, including two road wins over tough Kansas State and TCU. Big man Johnathan Motley has been a major reason for the Bears success, as the productive forward is nearly averaging a double-double (16.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG), while Miami transfer Manu Lecomte has also evolved into an All-Conference player. The big question has got to be who is on the sidelines. Head coach Scott Drew has turned around Baylor's program since he arrived, but has received plenty of criticism for his in-game and situational coaching. Against some of the other powers of the sport, who are just as talented, that could be a serious issue. Baylor still as a significant chance to be the No. 2 team in the polls next week, and a matchup with Kansas on the road could still be very telling on just how good this team is.
Kentucky Wildcats (17-3, 7-1 SEC)
Despite being immensely talented, there was certainly some questions on just how well Kentucky and their youngsters would mesh this season. Although there is still plenty of time left, the Wildcats appear to have silenced any doubters. Their youthful backcourt has been astounding, with wonderful production from freshmen Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe. There was plenty of hype surrounding Monk on to '16-'17, but has smashed expectations, averaging nearly 22 points per game and dominating in a victory against UNC. Also helping out Kentucky's case is the weak conference they play in, which could help them close out the year in a big way. While South Carolina and Florida are okay, there doesn't appear to much competition for the 'Cats in the conference and while there is still plenty of time left, they might not lose another game this year, if they can get past Kansas this weekend.
Arizona Wildcats (19-2, 8-0 Pac-12)
There is no denying how good this Arizona team is when at full strength. After being beat up heavily to start the season, Arizona is flaming hot, flawless in the Pac-12 at the moment, and just beat UCLA. Dynamic forward Lauri Markannen has gone from a unheralded name to an absolute force, and true freshman Kobi Simmons has been extremely productive, and led the way to the upset of the Bruins. Perhaps most important for 'Zona, though, is the return of Allonzo Trier. Trier was suspended after testing positive for an illegal substance but is back, and could take over the duty of being the No.1 scorer on the roster. Meetings with Washington and Oregon State await before a huge clash with the similarly-hot Oregon Ducks, which could play a huge role on not only the Pac-12 scene but national stage.
The Verdict: This has been an interesting season of college basketball up to this point, and things should get even more crazy as conference play continues. There is so much talent and upside on so many different teams, and even teams not mentioned here could very well end the year as National Champs (see UNC, UCLA, Oregon, Florida State, etc.). At this juncture, my pick for the nation's top team: Villanova. It may seem relatively unexciting because they are the defending champs and have been locked up at No. 1 for a large chunk of the season. They have the veteran leadership, scoring punch and versatility needed to beat anybody in the nation, even if they don't have the same flash as say, Kentucky. Yet, there is still plenty of basketball left to be played, and things will change. While the title of "college basketball's best team" is still up for debate some things are not: this will be a season filled with plenty more upsets and a lot more fun before it is all said and done.