By Riley Saxon
Midway Point Surprises and Disappointments
We’ve reached the halfway point of the entire college basketball season, and while there isn’t a true frontrunner for champion, we definitely have a clearer picture of which teams are true contenders, pretenders and everything in between. Things can still shift as teams recover from Covid, gel together better, or experience controversy, but it’s the perfect time to take stock of the true surprises and true disappointments of the season:
In Week 5, the surprises were Arizona, The WCC, Iowa State, and USC. Arizona has continued their hot start and is undefeated in conference play, but the rest of the the surprises have returned to normal: The WCC pecking order remains unchanged (although a 4-bid-WCC is still in play), Iowa State is 2-5 in conference play and USC is very, very good, but not quite elite.
Arizona has only lost one game – on the road and on some questionable calls. They are firmly in the top 5 of every poll, a 1 seed on most bracketology and in a great position in the Pac 12. Tommy Lloyd should win coach of the year as the rebuild at U of A is years ahead of schedule.
The Hurricanes have seemingly single-handedly saved the ACC. They aren’t perfect, and they are technically in second place, but each game they’ve played has solidified their standing as a tournament team and a threat to advance to the second weekend.
The Tigers have taken the mantle as media darling, and currently have a two game lead (and head-to-head advantage) over second place Kentucky. They seem to be the total package and the home court advantage at Auburn Arena is terrific. They are a double-OT loss away from being unbeaten.
In Week 5, the disappointments were the Oregon Schools, Memphis, Michigan, the ACC, and the Pac 12. At this stage, Oregon has dramatically changed the narrative for themselves, and thus helped change the PAC 12’s story for the season. Oregon State, however, remains Oregon State. After Penny Hardaway’s… electric press conferences, Memphis stays on the list. Michigan is ninth in the big 10 and .500 in league play, while like the PAC 12, the ACC has improved their overall standing.
They’re in the bottom half of the American at .500 in league play. The Penny press conferences have become more exciting than their games.
A trendy dark horse pick, Wazzu follows the Michigan and Memphis pattern of being .500 in league play and in the bottom half of the conference. A bounce back second half of the year for the Cougars, plus the continued resurgence of Oregon, could give the Pac 12 a respectable-enough 5 bids.
Most programs would kill to have the players, coach or position that the Boilermakers are in, and they’re well within striking distance of the Big Ten title. But, overall, it’s been a disappointing campaign. Purdue’s weaknesses have been displayed more than their strengths, and since they’re number one ranking, they have a home loss to Wisconsin, a road loss at Rutgers, and a rivalry loss to Indiana. Of course, they are still in a great position and still in the top tiers of championship threats, but given the hype and potential, there is still a sense of disappointment for the season, at least at this stage.
UCLA did what it had to do on the mountain trip: Win. They were really ugly wins, but they were wins. They escaped thanks to quick starts and strong finishes, something that should bode well for the future. Of course, with Arizona next on the schedule, they’ll need to play a complete game just to not get blown out.
Looking at the short term picture, it’s clear that many of the Bruins are still recovering from Covid, the pause and individual injuries: Every starter aside from Juzang (who did not get Covid) has struggled since the return, despite each of them showing flashes of brilliance. The bench has also dealt with injuries and some players clearly aren’t up to snuff following the pause. It should take the bench a little bit longer to catch up.
All this being said, the Bruins still found ways to win at Utah and Colorado. Against Utah, they lost control of the game and stormed back to retake it, while against Colorado, they never trailed (despite being on the brink of losing the lead several times). They hit shots when they needed to, and they played tough defense in crunch time (although they were definitely beneficial of Utah just not being a good basketball team). The long term picture in these regards looks good: as the players get back into game shape, the early barrage of offense and defense against opponents should last longer and, hopefully, continue throughout the second half.
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