If you want to assert college basketball is down this season, Ill buy some of the argument.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Scoring is off, headed to its lowest totals since the early 1950s with teams averaging about 68 points per game. Did you catch Northern Illinois act on Saturday? The Huskies scored four in the first half, made one of 33 three-pointers and fell at Eastern Michigan 42-25.
The game seems to be played at a slower pace with defenses more in control. Offensive skill level has dipped with top underclassmen leaving early and the very best making college a one-season stop. The game could use more Doug McDermotts and fewer 19-16 halftime scores, like Purdue-Iowa on Sunday.
By that measure, yes, college hoops overall seems a bit sluggish.
But in other ways, the game is as healthy as ever, more inclusive and diverse. Unpredictable, especially at the top as the sport prepares to announce its third different top-ranked team in three weeks today. It might even be a split-decision between Kansas and Michigan, poised to ascend after being ranked second in separate polls last week.
The opportunity presents itself because of the loss by Duke. Had the Blue Devils lost at North Carolina by 27, it would have been stunning but accepted as an oddity of the rivalry. But losing by four touchdowns at Miami didnt easily compute even though the Hurricanes have the lone perfect league record, have already won in Chapel Hill and are perhaps the nations most experienced team with 282 career starts among their regulars.
Weve been asleep on Miami all season. Same with Mississippi. The idea of the Rebels as no worse than the second-best team in the Southeastern Conference is difficult mind wrap considering the program hasnt played in the NCAA Tournament for more than a decade. But heres how quickly fortunes can turn: Kentucky visits Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday with the Wildcats needing a confidence-building, signature victory.
If you havent seen Ole Miss play, surely youve heard them, or at least newcomer Marshall Henderson. The 6-2 guard is enrolled at his fourth school in four years, and has unleashed an all-conference game and mouth as he delights in confronting opposing fans. Henderson, who spent a year at Texas Tech but sat out as a transfer, backs it up by leading the SEC in scoring.
TV deals with conferences are set up long before the season, otherwise wed see much more of the Mountain West, which on Sunday had the nations second-best RPI, behind only the Big Ten. Teams from that league, along with others that dont move the needle nationally, make up about quarter of the top 25.
Other factors are playing tricks with the perception of a down year. Some top brands struggling. Kentucky and North Carolina each own 13-6 records and are unranked. But teams that stand second, fourth and fifth on the sports all-time victory list Kansas, Duke and Syracuse are ranked in the top five.
Because of quick roster turnover, college basketball seems to be only sport that can have an up or down year. We dont suggest that because theres no strong draft prospect at quarterback that college football was down last season.
Or that the NFL is down because the Ravens, a 10-6 team that lost three of its final four regular-season games, are in the Super Bowl.
Or that the NBA is struggling because the Lakers and Celtics are aging and fading.
But college hoops gets the bad rap. To me, this season has many teams playing like second and third seeds and not top seeds. Its wide open at the top, with stunning upsets on a regular basis, and March should be as entertaining as ever. If that makes it a down year, Ill take it every time.