BOZICH | Monday Muse: Is SEC basketball overtaking the ACC & Big 10?
It's Opening Week in college basketball and some early number suggest that SEC basketball is on the rise. Game One forecasts from Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s finally Game Week. College basketball will roar on the sports calendar Friday night.
The early view is Kevin Knox is the best of John Calipari’s annual alignment of talented freshmen. Unless you prefer Hamidou Diallo.
Archie Miller will make his debut at Indiana Friday night against an Indiana State team that does not have Larry Bird but did win a closed scrimmage against Illinois. Western Kentucky gets three home games before facing Villanova, which is ranked first in one computer formula.
I’ve already asked David Padgett about George Mason, the team Louisville will open against Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center. Padgett was prepared. He knew the Patriots returned three starters from a 20-14 squad that beat Northern Iowa and Penn State last season. They’ve got a 5-foot-11 point guard (Otis Livingston) who runs and runs and runs, even if they don't have Luke Hancock.
To celebrate the opening of the season, I dedicate this week’s edition of the Monday Muse to college basketball.
1. SEC Positioned To Overtake the ACC?
Will the talent drain at North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville (Rick Pitino and Donovan Mitchell) lead to slight bobble to the heavyweight league ruled by three Hall of Fame coaches?
Ken Pomeroy’s numbers suggest it will happen, dropping the ACC from the nation’s second strongest league to No. 4 this season.
The Big East is one league Pomeroy has overtaking the ACC (with the Big 12 on top). OK. The other is a bit more jarring – the Southeastern Conference.
Major recruiting mojo explains some of it. According to Scout.com, the SEC added 17 Top 50 players from the 2017 recruiting class, six more than the ACC and 14 more than the Big 12.
Alabama and Texas A&M are projected to join Kentucky and Florida as Top 25 teams. Four other SEC programs – Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Auburn and South Carolina – are ranked in the Top 40.
Eight ACC teams are also ranked in Pomeroy’s Top 40. The gap between the leagues isn’t in the Top 40. It’s at the bottom.
Three ACC teams – Boston College (95), North Carolina State (109) and Pitt (121) are ranked lower than the worst SEC team – Louisiana State (91).
Remember: SEC teams went 11-5 in the tournament last season, advancing three teams to the Elite Eight while the ACC finished 11-8, getting more than half of its tournament wins from North Carolina, the national champ. The SEC earned its respect in March last season. This season the league has already earned some in November.
2. ACC Winners and Losers
Pomeroy has six ACC teams ranked higher than those same teams finished 2017 in his formula. The biggest gainers are Boston College (up 78 spots to 95th), Georgia Tech (up 33 places to 44th) and Miami (up 15 to 27th).
It is Year Five for Jim Christian at BC. Time to make a move. Brad Brownell of Clemson is another guy whose program must show improvement.
The biggest losers?
More heartburn for Pitt fans. The Panthers are projected to finish last in Kevin Stallings’ second season, sliding from 79th to 121. Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State squad slipped 29 spots to 55th. Syracuse is also headed the wrong direction.
3. SEC Winners and Losers
Here is more evidence that Pomeroy expects fireworks from the SEC:
Nine of the league’s 14 teams were given a pre-season power ranking higher than their 2017 finish.
Guys like Mike White (Florida), Rick Barnes (Tennessee) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) have upgraded recruiting, even though the gap between Kentucky talent and SEC talent is still considerable.
The biggest gainers are two programs that changed coaches – Missouri, which added coach Cuonzo Martin and prep all-American Michael Porter Jr. and LSU, which recruited Will Wade from VCU. The Tigers climbed from 156 to 75 while LSU moved from 172 to 91. In my mind, the SEC is better when LSU and Arkansas are good.
The two biggest losers – South Carolina (down to 48 from 24) and Arkansas (35 to 56). Frank Martin is not annoyed by that. In fact, I predict he is thrilled.
4. Big Ten Losing Altitude
Five seasons ago the Big Ten ranked as Pomeroy’s top conference. By last winter, the league slid to fourth.
Now, with new coaches at Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana, the league will continue to regroup, sitting fifth in Pomeroy’s pre-season numbers.
The league has one Top 10 team (Michigan State) and two others in the Top 25 (Purdue and Northwestern).
The bigger gainers? Penn State, plus 47 to No. 40 and Michigan State, which climbed 30 spots to No. 10.
The biggest decliners? Illinois tumbled 38 spots to 104 while Indiana dropped 21 to No. 65.
But here is a more telling flashing light: Big Ten programs signed one Top 50 prospect in the Class of 2017 – Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson.
Alarming? Should be.
5. The Big 12 Rules
The Big 12 does not have the sex appeal of the ACC. It does not have the stage of Madison Square Garden like the Big East. It does not lead the nation in attendance, like the Big Ten.
But Pomeroy’s first batch of numbers project the Big 12 will be the nation’s toughest conference for the fifth consecutive season.
One reason: No chum. No Boston College. No Rutgers. No. DePaul. No Washington State.
All 10 Big 12 teams are ranked in his Top 50, led by Kansas at No. 5 with Oklahoma State trailing at 50.
Pomeroy ranks the six power conferences this way: 1. Big 12; 2. Big East; 3. SEC; 4. ACC; 5. Big Ten; 6. Pac-12.
6. Final Four Turnover
In case you’ve forgotten, North Carolina won the national title last season, handling Gonzaga in final. South Carolina (more kudos to Martin) and Oregon made the Final Four.
In an era where guys leave for the pros the first time an NBA Draft projection includes their names, it’s risky expecting back-to-back Final Four appearances. Pomeroy’s formula does not project greatness from any of the four.
Carolina is ranked 13th -- and that was before the Tar Heels announced that senior point guard Joel Berry broke a hand playing video games.
The surprising departure of one-and-done frontcourt player Zach Collins helped drag the Zags to 20th. Oregon must replace a string of starters. The Ducks are ranked 35th and fourth in the Pac-12.
Then there is the South Carolina projection, which is guaranteed to push Martin back to his default scowl. Pomeroy’s numbers have South Carolina ranked 48th, 8th in the SEC.
7. Don’t Forget Sagarin
If you’re a regular reader, you know I respect Jeff Sagarin’s numbers as much as any in the game. His pre-season numbers are also available at this link.
Sagarin has Kentucky No. 5 overall and tops in the SEC. Louisville starts at No. 10, trailing only Duke and North Carolina in the ACC. Indiana starts No. 46, eighth in the Big Ten. WKU is ranked No. 184, seventh in Conference USA.
Here are the opening game projections by Pomeroy and Sagarin:
Louisville-George Mason: Pomeroy likes the Cards by 19, Sagarin says 19.66.
Kentucky-Utah Valley: Pomeroy says UK by 25 while Sagarin says 26.25.
Indiana-Indiana State: Pomeroy has IU by 14 but Sagarin says 15.67.
WKU-Missouri State: Pomeroy has the Hilltoppers losing by four while Sagarin makes it only 3.98.
8. Hold the SEC Hype
Jeff Sagarin will not be invited to the SEC Tournament. His formula is not as bullish on the SEC as Pomeroy’s numbers.
Sagarin ranks Nick Saban’s conference the fifth strongest in the nation, behind the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten and Big East.
For the record, Sagarin is not a graduate of Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State or Villanova. His alma mater is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is a number one seed in analytics but not the pick and roll.
9. The Latest Greatest Phenom
This month the recruit everybody is chasing remains R. J. Barrett, a slashing 6-foot-6 forward that many believe will pick either Kentucky, Duke or Oregon. Over the summer it was Marvin Bagley, who skipped his final year of high school to play for Duke. Bagley took the target from Mo Bamba (Texas) who took it from Josh Jackson (Kansas) who snatched it from Ben Simmons (LSU), who …
But who’s next?
If you’re interested some analysts are already hyperventilating over Emoni Bates, a 6-foot-7 forward who will not be ready to exert his dominance over college basketball until 2022.
Bates is stirring Damon Bailey Hype. He’s an eighth-grader from Ann Arbor, Mich., who has already earned this national story from the Associated Press about his considerable skills.
The story includes a mention of Bates’s love for Michigan State and the University of Kentucky as well as a scholarship offer from DePaul.
Of course, I did say that Bates was from Ann Arbor, where John Beilein has been a fine basketball coach for many years. Beilein is quoted in the AP story. I recommend that you read what he had to say.
10. What's been the primary problem for the Louisville's football team on defense this season?
Coaching 75.2 percent
Talent 20.4 percent
Injuries 3.1 percent
Bad luck 1. 3 percent
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