A Weekly Breakdown of the NCAA Men’s hoops Top 10
2022 is still in its infancy, but the contenders in the world of college basketball are already emerging. The NCAA basketball season typically plays second fiddle (at least) to football at the end of every year. Now, the college football season is over, and the NFL is into the playoffs. People are waking-up from their College Basketball slumber and turning on college basketball to get up to speed before the tournament.
1. Baylor (15-1)
Baylor finally lost, following 21 straight victories heading back to last season. Given the loss of Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler to the draft, as well as Macio Teague; the Baylor Bears have been extremely impressive so far this season. Their ability to seamlessly transition from a National Championship team, to a rebuilding team off to a 15-0 start, has been astounding. They’re clearly the best-run program in college hoops.
Just as everyone was embracing the idea of Baylor being the undisputed kings of College hoops, they fall at home to the #19 Texas Tech Red Raiders. One surprising factor was the efficient scoring (50.9% FG) and penetration the Red Raiders were able to get on Baylor’s elite defense. On the other end, buckets were harder to come by for Baylor (41%). Tech’s defense was the difference.
Though the loss was by no means a bad one, it gives a blueprint for how to take down the Bears. Baylor faces Oklahoma State next (1/15) and then travels to West Virginia (1/18) next Tuesday.
2. Gonzaga (12-2)
Gonzaga came into the season as the top team. The recruitment of top prospect, Chet Holmgren, was a feather in the cap for a team who has slowly climbed the mountain of College basketball over the last quarter century. Drawing Kevin Durant comps, Holmgren is still very raw, physically. As the season goes on, expect Gonzaga to continue to improve.
Considered the highest ceiling team amongst the field in college basketball, Gonzaga really picked things up after their second loss to Alabama. Since then, Gonzaga handled the tough Texas Tech defense, and has pummeled their last three opponents by an average of 36 PPG. Up next for Gonzaga is conference rival, BYU (1/13). After that, the Zags have a road game at Santa Clara (1/15).
3. UCLA (10-1)
UCLA shocked most of the country last season when the Bruins tore through the NCAA Tournament, losing on a buzzer beater to Gonzaga in the Final Four. Johnny Juzang was the driving force behind that run, but it almost never happened. Following a three-game losing streak to close the season at 17-9, UCLA earned an at-large bid to face another 11 seed to get into the tournament. From there, the Bruins caught fire; only to be stopped by a banked three in OT.
This season, UCLA continued the momentum from the 2021 Final Four run. Though the schedule has been pretty laughable to this point, the Bruins made the most of it. Their only loss came at the hands of Gonzaga, 83-63. This week, the Bruins face Oregon (1/13) and Oregon State (1/15) with a few opportunities to improve their #11 ranking in KenPom.
4. Auburn (15-1)
Auburn is pretty far removed from the Final Four team who lost by one point to the eventual National Champion Virginia Cavaliers. Though it was just three years ago, the cloud of Covid cancelling the 2020 NCAA Tournament reset many of these teams in our minds. Last year’s team was the rebuilding effort, going 13-14 on the season. This season, they’re grown-up fast.
Much of why Auburn was able to reload so quickly was the arrival of Jabari Smith Jr (Projected top pick on most 2022 NBA Draft boards), as well as four key transfers. Wendell Green Jr, KD Johnson, Zep Jasper, and Walker Kessler were able to roll-in and immediately make a major impact. Just last game (a win vs #24 Alabama), Smith Jr led in points, Johnson led in rebounds, and Green Jr led in assists. Next-up for the Tigers is Ole Miss (1/15) and then Georgia (1/19).
5. USC (13-1)
USC was undefeated going into Tuesday’s matchup against Stanford. Following a number of cancellations, Stanford returned to the court with a healthy roster. It turned out to be the difference as the three-point differential (41% to 28%) was the only real outlier in the game. As of now, it’s still very early in the season, but they’re likely going to tumble down the rankings after this one.
Despite Isaiah Mobley serving as the scoring and rebounding anchor to this team, USC has no really impressive wins to this point. KenPom (the Pomeroy College Basketball ratings: a notable and credible measurement of a team’s true rating) has USC as the 18th best team in the nation. So, it’s likely their time on this list may be short. Next-up for USC is a three-day road trip to face Oregon State (1/13) and Oregon (1/15).
6. Arizona (12-1)
Arizona might actually be the best team in the Pac 12 to this point. Their one loss this season was to Tennessee in Knoxville, while their best win was an 18–point stomping of Michigan. Unlike Auburn above them, Arizona has been getting their production from non-Freshmen and transfers (with the exception of Ballo).
Arizona is 9th in KenPom, but it’s really too early to tell whether this team is one we should consider for both a Pac 12 title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have played just one game since their December 22nd loss to Tennessee, but their schedule gets real busy in the next seven days with three games (Colorado, Utah, Stanford).
7. Purdue (13-2)
Purdue is a true national title contender, led by a talented trio at key positions. Zach Edey, Trevion Williams, and Jaden Ivey (projected Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft). The trio are keys on both offense and defense. Offensively, Purdue is the top-rated offensive unit (Adjusted Offensive Efficiency) by KenPom. Defensively, they’re the worst rated defense (defensive efficiency) on KenPom among the top 20 teams overall. The difference is, the offense is so overwhelmingly efficient, it’s enough to put them at 5th overall.
Purdue has three games over the next week. Nebraska (1/14), Illinois (1/17), and Indiana (1/20) will look to build their resumes with a big win over mighty Purdue. The best of their upcoming opponents Purdue need to be concerned about is Illinois (13th overall on KenPom). The Illini are dangerous (currently favorites to win the conference tournament), especially at home against Purdue. Even with the loss of Ayo Dosunmu to the draft, Kofi Cockburn will be a problem inside. The next game against the Hoosiers (23rd on KenPom) will also be a tough away game.
8. Duke (13-2)
The Duke Blue Devils are officially holding the farewell tour for Coach K. It seems like this will be his last rodeo. As with Kentucky and other notable power recruiting schools, Duke has the task of finding chemistry and success with a team based around a prolific Freshman (Paolo Banchero).
Duke’s next game is Saturday, against the NC State Wolfpack. The Wolfpack is having a down year thus far, so it should make for a very comfortable home game for the Blue Devils. After that, they’ll play the the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
9. Kansas (12-2)
The Jayhawks are off to their usual strong start this season. With that, Kansas is returning back to prime form and are still somehow not on probation. I don’t know how they’ve managed to dodge sanctions to this point, but whatever. UNC did worse for over two decades and avoided sanctions, so I suppose that’s just how it goes for the blue blood schools.
Per usual, all but a couple guys are from out of state. If you took the best players from Kansas each year and made them stay in state, you’d get a two-win team in the Big 12. This team relies on program prestige and superior coaching to stay consistently good. Why anyone would want to go to Kansas for academics or the location is beyond me. Regardless, the Jayhawks managed to fund another solid Freshman class this season.
The Jayhawks have two impressive wins so far this season (Iowa State and Michigan State). Aside from that, they’ve been somewhat volatile; beating SFA by just eight and George Mason by nine. This week, Kansas gets West Virginia (1/15) and Oklahoma (1/18).
10. Michigan State (13-2)
Ol’ Sparty is back in the Top 10. It just feels like some balance has been brought back into college hoops. Much like many other teams in the Top 10, Michigan State has not had a very challenging road to this point. They’ve played in three ranked games this season and sit 1-2 as a result. Fortunately, Michigan State appears to be benefitting from recency bias in the polls, as they have not lost since their November 26th matchup with Baylor.
Michigan State has a nice balance of youth and experience. They are getting major contributions from their Freshmen guards (Max Christie and Jaden Akins) each game. As the season wears on, the Spartans should continue to improve, and you always need strong guard play (which they have) if you want to make a run in the tournament.
Best Futures for NCAA Tournament
Team To Make 2022 Final Four: Gonzaga +115
By the time the Tournament rolls around, Gonzaga will be at least -120 for this same bet. Gonzaga is one of the best-coached teams in the country, and their schedule congeals into soft serve ice cream from here on out. There is a good chance this team will run into one or two solid teams prior to the Final Four, but the talent on this team is far too great for us to be concerned about a viable upset.
Take Gonzaga now, while their only threat from here out is BYU. They stand the best chance to have the top seed by March, and a favorable bracket to go with it.