A lot of people who talk about men’s Division I college basketball usually say they don’t follow it until “the tournament.” While most people know about March Madness and the NCAA Tournament that crowns a champion, it’s really not a sufficient amount of time for people to really know how good teams are and how capable they are of making it to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four. Sure, there are ranking systems, but as we often see—particularly early in this year’s season—a lot of upsets occur as the rankings shift around.
In no big surprise to anyone, University of Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are off to a blazing start again this season. They are 7-0 and, most notably, grabbed a win against last year’s champs: Duke University.
Despite losing seven players to the National Basketball Association Draft, the Wildcats are definitely a team to watch out for. Whether or not they can be as good as last year’s squad remains to be seen, but with the reputation Kentucky has had surrounding their team, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Duke is another obvious team to watch. As the 2014-2015 champion, Duke showed the world that they were the best team come March. Even with the loss to Kentucky, they are still ranked seventh. Their season has not involved many games that really showcase how good they are as a team, however, with the exception of the Kentucky loss and a close win over unranked Georgetown. With the loss of star center Jahlil Okafor to the NBA, the Blue Devils could have a tough time trying to rise to the same level of play they were at last year. Despite this, however, I think it’s clear to see that they will at least be close.
Syracuse University is the team that is surprisingly 6-0 and ranked 14th. Syracuse was not as good as they have been in recent years last season—they were unable to make it to the tournament last year due to disciplinary action by the NCAA. After losing big man Rakeem Christmas to the NBA, the team has looked to find scoring and defense in other players.
Despite still having seniors—guard Trevor Cooney and forward Michael Gbinije—SU was perceived by many as not being able to have the same level of play that head coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange are typically associated with. They have gotten off to a 6-0 start, however, with notable wins against Texas A&M University and the University of Connecticut. This is due to two freshmen stepping up to the plate: guard Malachi Richardson and forward Tyler Lydon have been huge for Syracuse.
If they can continue to play the way they have, Syracuse could be very successful this season. The only thing that is stopping me from endorsing them as a serious contender is the lack of a serious test for the Orange so far.
Overall, this season of NCAA basketball has been both as expected and a little strange. As one might expect, Duke and Kentucky are great. Syracuse, however, is also great—which most didn’t expect. These are only three teams, but this pattern continues through the nation. Only time will tell which team really is the best.