After finishing all of my finals this week, almost limitless free time is officially upon me. Now I can freely watch as much ball as I want, so I’m basically living the American dream. Even with finals this week I managed to watch plenty of college basketball, but I didn’t have time to write another post this week. I will get back to putting out two per week this upcoming week. Now let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the world of college basketball lately.
Coming into this season I had heard Utah was going to be a good team, and that they had some guy named Delon Wright who was pretty good. I had never seen him play before as Utah has been a non-factor on the national stage ever since Andrew Bogut left. Utah moved into the Pac-12 only a few years ago mainly because of their football pedigree. Their football team has fared decently well in the conference so far, but their representation in the conference for basketball largely has gone unnoticed. All of that is going to change this year, and Wright is the main reason why.
Delon Wright is the 6’5″ brother of NBA player Dorell Wright, and he plays PG for the Utes. I could describe what he can do on the basketball court, but I think it would be quicker if I told you what he can’t do because it feels like this kid does everything. He averages 16 PPG, 5 RPG, 5 APG, 1 BPG, and 2 SPG all while shooting nearly 60% from the field. That is absurd. Not only does he stuff the stat sheet, but he does it efficiently. He is literally everywhere on the court. He is factored in nearly every offensive play that results in a bucket, and it feels like he is at the center of every defensive stop.
Offensively he makes smart choices and looks to find his teammates. He is the complete opposite of selfish as sometimes you find yourself wishing he would even be a little more aggressive getting to the basket. The only knock on Wright last year when he was 1st Team All-Pac-12 and on the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team was that he couldn’t shoot. He shot 22% from the 3-point line last year, but so far he has raised that up to 35% this year.
Defensively he is a magnet to the ball as he is involved on nearly every steal or deflection. He wreaks havoc in the passing lanes and always finds a way to get his hands on the ball. He had 4 steals on Saturday against Kansas and led Utah to an impressive defensive performance in the second half holding the Jayhawks to only 24 points.
In Utah’s game against Kansas, Wright was the best player on the floor. Normally that isn’t too surprising to hear, but Kansas has multiple future NBA players on their roster with Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and Kelly Oubre, and Wright outshined them all in a losing effort. Wright’s supporting cast isn’t fantastic, but they just might be good enough to push Utah to the top tier of the Pac-12 this year. Utah will be one of the most improved teams this year, and they will go as far as Wright can take them.
I have already addressed the fact that I didn’t like Villanova too much last year because I felt they were highly overrated after competing in the below average Big East. I feel completely different this year. I love Villanova this year, and it makes me uncomfortable.
Villanova is playing great team basketball this year. No one averages more than 13 PPG, and seven players average over 7 PPG. Now that is balance. They don’t have a star, yet are capable of being a top 5 team in the country. There aren’t many teams like this throughout the country. The current top 5 teams all have identifiable stars: Kentucky-everyone, Duke-Jahlil and Tyus, Arizona-Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley, Louisville-Montrezl Harrell, Wisconsin-Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. If Villanova manages to crack the top 5 this year, you won’t be able to say that. They have several very solid players in JayVaughn Pinkson, Darrun Hilliard, and Ryan Arcidiacono, but they have no clear star. Dylan Ennis is their highest scorer, but he was a bench player last year. He is having a fantastic year so far, but not on the same level as any of the stars on the other top 5 teams. This team is a true anomaly, and it is fantastic to watch them play as this anomaly.
Villanova won’t have an easy time in conference play unlike last year as the entire conference appears to have collected itself after last year’s debacle and stepped its game up. Georgetown, Butler, and Xavier appear to be clear contenders. St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Providence look a little frisky and could possibly emerge as contenders. This conference will be a battle night in and night out. So far Villanova appears to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference a legitimate contender for the Final Four. Villanova and the Big East are back, and it feels good in a way to say that again.
Incarnate Word, NJIT, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Washington, North Florida, Saint Peter’s. This isn’t a list of teams that strolled into Big Ten arenas and were beaten badly before collecting their checks. This is a list of teams that have beaten Big Ten opponents in the first month of the season. Let that sink in. The Big Ten, which is traditionally one of the best conferences in college basketball, has dropped six games to low major competition in just one month. What is wrong with the Big Ten???
These losses were spread among five teams: Nebraska lost to Incarnate Word, Michigan to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Indiana to Eastern Washington, Purdue to North Florida, and Rutgers to Saint Peter’s. This isn’t a case of a conference having a punching bag at the bottom that just drops games to everyone and brings the prestige of the conference down with it. This is a problem that spans over 1/3 of the conference. Dropping games to low major teams happens early in the year, but it shouldn’t happen this frequently in such a prestigious conference. The Big Ten is better than this.
Michigan State isn’t ranked either. Tom Izzo is used to his strength of schedule enabling his team to soar to the top of the polls early in the year, but he is experiencing the other end of the stick this year. The Spartans have dropped three games so far in this young season while playing a very difficult schedule. Two of their losses have come to Final Four contenders in Duke and Kansas, so Michigan State is better than their record indicates, but they still remain unranked for the first time in quite a while.
The Big Ten has no need to worry as most of these teams will bounce back by conference season. The conference is still strong, but its clear that it isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years. Conference play will still be a grind just like it is every other season. These teams will beat up on each other, and everyone will suffer a few blows and have a couple losses by the end of the season, but will the Selection Committee let these losses pass like they have in past years when the conference was stronger? If not, the Big Ten may have a few less teams in the tournament than they are used to.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Austin Nelson