By Matt Craig | @MrMattCraig
Editor in Chief of Chirp City
Host of the Ball Hogs Podcast
Member of Ball State Sports Link
College Basketball players had a better Thanksgiving break than you. I’m sorry to admit it, but it’s true.
While I’m not taking anything away from your road trip to rural Indiana and how many margarita’s your aunt drank, most upper-level college basketball players jumped on a plane and flew to a vacation location that would take you ten years of eating nothing but ramen noodles to afford.
Oh, that’s cool, tell me more about the backyard touch football game your family always plays and how your overweight cousin Billy totally laid out Grandma (actually if that happened that’s hilarious and send me the vine), but these guys were playing basketball in front of thousands, with thousands more watching back home on television.
But take heart, my fellow Survivalists, because there is one thing college athletes could not do over the break that you almost surely did. They weren’t allowed to eat the egregious amounts of food you and I did! Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and pie? I say it’s worth it.
Thanksgiving break also gave us “Feast Week,” which is really under rated considering it’s one of the best college basketball weeks of the year. And for all of you who are Cowboys or Eagles fans or owners of fantasy football teams that have been ravaged by injuries, it’s time to hop on board the college basketball train.
We’re in for one of the most fun and entertaining seasons of college basketball ever. There’s a lot of “good” teams, and not a single “great” team, meaning no one has any idea who’s going to win conferences, let alone the national championship.
As we move ever closer to our ultimate goal of robbing Warren Buffet dry (who’s to say like ten of us can’t get perfect brackets and then Ol’ Man Buffet has to dish out $10 Billion?), Feast Week gave all of us Survivalists a chance to see top teams play in tournament action.
Not enough room in the world to roll through every single tournament hosted from here to Tahiti, but we’ll talk about (well let’s be honest, mostly me talking) the top five tournaments from Feast Week. I’ll go ahead and put their locations in parenthesis so you can get really jealous.
Advocare Classic (Orlando, Florida):
Xavier won this whole shabang, but I’m not really impressed. They posted three pretty unimpressive wins over Alabama, USC, and Dayton (none of them are making the Tournament this year), en route to a Golden State Warriors-esque championship run in which all of their major competition fell before they even reached Xavier.
Just as I said about the Warriors, you can’t knock a team for beating the teams in front of them. This Xavier team has posted a win against Michigan this season as well, but I’m witholding judgement until further notice.
The real story coming from this tournament was Monmouth.
Last season, I jumped head first onto the Wisconsin Green-Bay bandwagon, and had them pegged as the cinderella-to-be before they got their slippers caught in the woodchipper that was Valparaiso and didn’t even make it into the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Monmouth has me falling under their spell. With wins already over UCLA, Notre Dame, and USC, they’ve shown they’re not intimidated by a bigger name program. They take care of the ball, they make all their free throws, and they have a legit alpha scorer (something I pinpointed last year as a must for upset teams) in junior Justin Robinson, who’s averaging 24.4 points per game.
Aside from that, they have the best bench in college basketball history. Seriously guys, if you’re reading this, I want in. I’ll get up and transfer and move to Monmouth (wait, where the heck in Monmouth?) right now. You have my undying devotion for the rest of this season.
Not a whole lot else to say about this tournament. Wichita State had two pretty embarrassing losses, but they were playing without arguably their best player in Fred Van Vleet, so I’ll choose to give them a pass. They could slide into an under-rated and under-appreciated role before March, so watch out for that.
FanDuel Legends Classic (Barclays Center, Brooklyn):
Ben Simmons. On national television. Is there anything else I need to say?
Isn’t it kind of messed up seeing “student-athletes” run over a giant logo for FanDuel? College athletes aren’t allowed to play FanDuel, they aren’t allowed to receive any money for the fact that they are being used by others on their FanDuel teams, they can’t even really acknowledge that FanDuel exists. And yet, every time they run down the floor there’s a giant advertisement for fans to go play FanDuel. Seems a little odd to me.
But Ben Simmons and LSU are all anyone cares about here. The game I watched, he had 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists (and about ten more would-be assists that his teammates blew). There’s really no question that he’s the best pro prospect in college basketball.
I am however, a little concerned with the historical comparisons, the “he’s the best college prospect since __(insert great player here)__.” I’ll tell you what he is: he’s the best, most hyped guy since the last best, most hyped guy. How many “next Lebron’s” have we had in the last five years? People forget just two years ago we were crowning two in the same season with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
People aren’t wrong though, this kid is the real deal. At 6’10, he shouldn’t have the coordination and that he has. At 19 years old, he shouldn’t have the basketball IQ and temperament that he has. But I’m hesitant to crown anyone as the next “chosen one.” Simmons isn’t an elite athlete, we haven’t seen a competitive edge that every superstar has, and did he really turn down the chance to shoot the game winning shot TWICE against Marquette?
Does a dominant college season really point to future NBA stardom? The best college basketball freshman player I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched college basketball religiously since the Duke teams of the turn of the century, was Michael Beasley. He was the same size as Simmons, had all of the same instincts and IQ, and he also had the competitive mean streak. Oh, and not to mention he was an amazing shooter, which Simmons is most certainly not.
He averaged 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, and shot 53% from the field. He led Kansas State, a team comparable to this year’s LSU team, to 21-12 and Big 12 wins over Kansas, Oklahoma State, and two over Iowa State.
Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, name any crazy freshman who took the college basketball world by storm. For my money, none of them hold a candle to Michael Beasley. Where’s Beasley now? After being drafted #2 overall, he was a bust and now he plays in China. My point, don’t coronate Ben Simmons just yet.
And the team? They’re 3-3, and they just lost to College of Charleston. They play a ton of freshmen, they have an AAU style of play (I mean that in the meanest way possible), and I’m not sure they have the ceiling that most people would expect them to have by the end of the season because their coaching leaves a lot to be desired.
Maui Invitational (Maui, Hawaii):
Pause from all this basketball mumbo-jumbo for a second. Watching any basketball game called by Bill Walton is my new favorite college basketball fan experience. I literally cannot put into words how entertaining it is.
I have to quote my man Mark Titus once again in order to perfectly sum up “The Bill Walton Experience.” Kids, earmuffs, because he uses a “naughty” word.
Well said, Mark the Shark, well said.
Walton spends the entire game talking about anything but the game. Here was my favorite moment from the Indiana-Wake Forest game:
Walton: “Have you ever been to Winston Salem?”
(His Play-By-Play Guy Jon Schambi): “Yes.”
W: “Ever called a game there?”
*game goes on, Indiana scores*
S: “No I haven’t yet. Nice shot there by Yogi Ferrell.”
W: “Have you stayed at the (so-and-so) Hotel there though?”
*game goes on*
PxP: “No I don’t think I have.”
W: “Well it’s our first game together, so I gotta know these things.”
S: “Actually it’s our second game together.”
Also, Jon Schambi’s level of annoyance at Walton and his shenanigans is hilarious. Schambi just wants to talk about the game in front of him. How about this one:
W: “Do you know how sea turtles tell time?”
S: “Bill, they don’t care.”
Then there’s this:
In addition, all of the video bits they drop in during the game of him doing crazy stuff, called “Walton’s World,” are priceless. From playing the drums for hula dancers, to biking around Maui with Danny Manning, to dancing with Texas Cheerleaders. Seriously, Walton is the best.
No amount of basketball is going to live up to that, but here we go.
Indiana’s defense is so bad it’s embarrassing. But the backcourt duo of Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon can score, so at least they’re fun to watch! That Wake Forest loss was a really really bad loss, and they dropped another one to UNLV later in the week. With how bad they defend, they look really UPSET PRONE to me, at least at this point.
Vanderbilt is HUGE. They make teams really uncomfortable with just the sheer size they put on the floor. Their gameplan is to surround these bigs with shooters, but there’s a catch. The bigs aren’t really dominant enough to command double teams, and the shooters aren’t really good enough to
spread the floor. Their games will be all about tempo, since they don’t have the athletes the play above “old man at the YMCA” speed.
I called it last week, but I will say it again. Kansas is the best team in the country, and the only team in my opinion this year who could become a “great” team. They looked really solid throughout this tournament, and now add in future lottery pick Cheick Diallo to the mix. Wayne Seldon looks like he’s ready to become a stud, Grandpa Ellis is as solid as ever, and the Jayhawks run about 10 deep with athletes when they want to. My national championship pick as of now, and I feel really good about it!
Wooden Legacy (Anaheim, California):
That Ben Simmons kid is pretty good, but you won’t be able to convince me that the two best college basketball players in the country didn’t play in this tournament. The Heisman of college basketball is the “Wooden Award,” and this was the “Wooden Legacy” tournament, is that a coincidence?? Oh it is? Darn that kinda ruins my point.
Arizona may be slipping down and down in the AP top 25 poll, but they are climbing in one set of rankings. The “most disappointing teams of the 2015-2016 season!” It’s a prestigious honor. Now, with Kaleb Tarczewski injured for the next few months, this team could be fighting for their tournament berth.
Michigan State is in a very unusual position. They’re usually that team that’s lurking around, people are under rating them, and then come February they start racking up wins that make you go, “wait what?” Then by March they are one of the best teams in the country and make a Tournament run. But this year, they find themselves maybe peaking too early??
Their coach is still Tom Izzo, who’s never given us a reason to doubt his ability to have his squad ready for March, but if it were anyone else I’d be kinda worried. Most teams that are this good in November and December that aren’t uber-talented tend to cool down by post-season play.
But maybe the Spartans are just a lot better than we’re giving them credit for. Valentine is unbelievable at times, and they don’t make dumb mistakes or waste possessions. Enjoy the ride Sparty!
Finally, Providence. They’ve creeped into the top 25 now and I can no longer claim them as being a sleeper or underdog pick. But wow I’m a believer. If I were picking one player to start a team with out of every college basketball player, I’d pick Kris Dunn.
He’s a stat sheet stuffer, a great floor general, and can score at will when he wants to. At 6’4 he’s the ideal size for an NBA point guard, and I can’t figure out why he’s only in the high teens on most NBA mock drafts. In five years we’ll look back and argue who’s the best player from this draft, between him and Ben Simmons, he’s that good.
More importantly for our purposes, he’s the type of player who can will his team to a couple NCAA Tournament victories, so whatever you do DON’T SLEEP ON THE FRIARS! (great mascot)
Battle 4 Atlantis (Nassau, Bahamas):
For the full Battle 4 Atlantis recap, check out my boy Seth Davis’s “Hoop Thoughts.” He called all the games from the tournament, and has an in-depth look at all eight teams.
For a couple paragraphs on nonsense, stay right here!
Gonzaga has the best frontcourt in the nation, but they’re going to be matchup dependent all season. Their backcourt is really weak, and hasn’t even been playing well enough to sink into the background. More importantly, they are the ugliest team in college basketball, and most of their roster is foreign. How can you root for these guys?
Gonzaga also brings us to THIS WEEK’S COACH DOPPELGÄNGER!!
Gonzaga coach Mark Few as Kevin Bacon!! Has there ever been a closer comparison in the history of coach doppelgängers?? I’m not entirely certain that these two people aren’t actually the same person.
All of Kevin Bacon’s good performances came before 1999, the same year Few took the Gonzaga job. Hmmmm….seriously hats off to Kevin “Mark Few” Bacon, who was able to star in “X-Men: First Class” in the same year he guided Gonzaga to 26 wins and a conference championship. Props, bro.
Syracuse is eligible for the NCAA Tournament this year, so we need to pay attention to them again. But even though they won this tournament, Jim Boeheim himself has really done nothing but tell us why we shouldn’t trust this team.
“If we can’t make outside shots we can’t beat anybody.”
“You can’t go through a whole season with six guys.”
“We’ve got some real issues”
If that’s what the coach is saying, I feel like we have to listen to him. It is hard to believe they could continue to play Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije for close to 40 minutes each game and expect their stellar performances to continue all year.
I’m really concerned with both Michigan and Connecticut. With the new rules and the state of college basketball, you have to be able to score in order to win. Michigan depends on hitting the three, add to the mix an inability to get stops, and you have a recipe for an upset prone team. Everyone’s favorite white kid Spike Albrecht is still recovering from a hip injury, so maybe he’ll be able to save the season (ha).
Connecticut is one of those teams that looks so good while they’re losing. They pass the eye test, then you look at the scoreboard and they’re down fifteen points. This is a team that I could see improving throughout the season, but as of now they have a lot of issues to iron out.
Next week we’ll be talking about the ACC-Big 10 challenge, as well as the returns of studs Cheick Diallo and Marcus Paige!
Until then, stay strong and stay vigilant my fellow Survivalists!
By Matt Craig
Please leave comments and thoughts below!