Writer roundtable: What's next?
Originally Published: December 7, 2011ESPN.com
Our writers go around the country to answer five big questions about what's next in college basketball:1. What will be the next currently unranked team to emerge nationally? Eamonn Brennan: Keep an eye on Kansas State. The Wildcats are sneakily undefeated, got a few votes after a solid win at Virginia Tech on Sunday, and have two impending games -- versus West Virginia on Thursday (in Wichita) and at Alabama on Dec. 17 -- that are both winnable, provided the Wildcats keep playing the staunch defense that appears to be the trademark of this team. John Gasaway: Purdue. The Boilermakers missed a great opportunity for a big road win at Xavier over the weekend, but the fact that they were able to build a 19-point lead on an opponent as good as the Musketeers indicates that Robbie Hummel and his mates have some serious potential.
Andy Katz: San Diego State. Even after losing four starters, the Aztecs have already knocked off two prime Pac-12 contenders (Cal, at Arizona) and have wins over two very dangerous mid-majors (Long Beach State, UCSB). The only losses were on the road at Baylor and at home to Valley favorite Creighton. No shame in that. Jason King: It wouldn't surprise me to see Virginia in the national rankings soon. The Cavaliers already have a nice win over Michigan and they should have success during what will be a down season overall for the ACC. Diamond Leung: San Diego State will be difficult to keep out of the rankings considering it should be 14-2 heading into its Mountain West opener against UNLV. The Aztecs have surprised with their reworked roster and should be a contender for the Mountain West title with UNLV and New Mexico. Myron Medcalf: Michigan State's moment is coming. The Spartans have won six in a row since falling to North Carolina and Duke in their first two games. When they win at No. 22 Gonzaga on Saturday night, they'll be back on the national radar. Dana O'Neil: When Steve Fisher said recently San Diego State was the best team in the West, I laughed. That's sort of like being the tallest dwarf. But Fisher could be on to something. The Aztecs just beat Cal and had already topped Arizona, UC Santa Barbara, USC and Long Beach State. That sounds like a pretty good sample size to me. 2. Who will be the next player to break out and become a national name? Brennan: Georgetown's Henry Sims. The big man has been fantastic thus far this season. Per KenPom.com, Sims' offensive rating of 126.5 is the third-best in the country among players who use at least 28 percent of their team's possessions. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson get a lot of attention for the Hoyas, and rightfully so. But Sims, whose passing out of the high post is the key to JT3's Princeton system, may soon get the credit he deserves. Gasaway: Mike Moser of UNLV. The UCLA transfer may not be on the national radar yet, but with the way he's draining shots and crashing the boards, that will change. And besides, last season proved a Mountain West player can spark quite a national fuss. Katz: Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He had been the quiet member of the vaunted UK freshman class, not getting as much pub as Anthony Davis or even point guard Marquis Teague. But Kidd-Gilchrist might be the one who has the best chance to become a superstar. King: Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom is well-known in the Big East, but the senior guard will work his way into All-American conversations if he continues to play at such a high level. He is averaging 19.9 points and shooting 50.5 percent from the field for the Golden Eagles, who are 8-0 after Tuesday's victory over Washington. Leung: Haven't heard of Weber State's Damian Lillard yet? Get with it. The national scoring leader is averaging 28.2 points per game and showing no signs of stopping. He's an NBA prospect who has the ability to dominate a game, making the Wildcats the favorites in the Big Sky. Medcalf: Illinois center Meyers Leonard. The 7-foot-1 sophomore's coming-out party in Saturday's 82-75 win over Gonzaga (9-for-11, 21 points, 6 rebounds) proved that the Illini, not the Wolverines or Badgers, might be Ohio State's biggest threat in the Big Ten. O'Neil: The truth is, Doug McDermott ought to be a national name already. But when you play for Creighton, these things sometimes take longer than they ought to. The coach's son is the not-so-secret reason for the Bluejays' success, averaging 23.7 points and nine boards. That includes a 25-point outing in his team's monumental comeback at San Diego State. 3. Who will be the next coach to really feel the heat? Brennan: South Carolina's Darrin Horn. He picked up a nice win at rival Clemson on Sunday, one that might help a little among the faithful. But the victory merely moved the Gamecocks to 3-5, with losses to Elon and Tennessee State. There will need to be serious progress before Horn will be able to avoid the murmurs.
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziChase Tapley has doubled his scoring output (17.2 ppg) from last season as SDSU just keeps rolling on.
Gasaway: Darrin Horn, South Carolina. This is Horn's fourth season in Columbia, and to date he's 21-27 in SEC play, with another sub-.500 finish likely in 2011-12. Even in the football-crazed SEC, that will attract some heat. Katz: Rhode Island's Jim Baron is having a rough season. He's got a young team, but the Rams are now 1-7 after back-to-back losses to Brown and Maine. Baron has been a hard worker, but still has never been to the NCAAs in his decade in Kingston. King: South Florida is regressing under Stan Heath. The Bulls couldn't even beat Penn State and were annihilated 69-46 by a rebuilding VCU squad. Talented forward Augustus Gilchrist hasn't developed at all. Barring a miracle in Big East play, this should be Heath's final year in Tampa. Leung: Ben Howland better turn things around or he could be on the hot seat. He once led the Bruins to three straight Final Four appearances, but if this UCLA team doesn't improve, Howland will become the first coach since Wilbur Johns in the 1940s to coach the Bruins to three sub-.500 seasons. Medcalf: Ben Howland coaches a 2-5 Bruins squad and Reeves Nelson is serving his second in-season suspension. Forget the Final Fours. That's the past. Howland is in charge of a popular program that's stuck in a sinkhole on and off the floor. And that might be a fireable offense. O'Neil: I'd say we're near inferno on Ben Howland. UCLA is 2-5 with losses to LMU and Middle Tennessee, which is unforgivable in and of itself. Mix in Howland's wishy-washy handling of Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith's shape -- or lack thereof -- and you've got the makings of a catastrophe in Westwood. 4. What's going to be the next big upset? Brennan: Hey, why not -- I'll go with Harvard-Connecticut, Thursday night's big game. Sure, the chances seem slim, especially in Storrs. But the newly ranked Crimson are playing very well, the Huskies are still figuring things out if a few things go Harvard's way, well, you never know. Gasaway: Court, prepare to be stormed: Indiana stuns Kentucky. Sure, the top-ranked Wildcats are the superior team. But the Hoosiers will be playing at home, the crowd has waited for a game like this for three years, and Tom Crean's team will sink enough 3s to win a close one. Katz: Don't be shocked if Murray State upsets Memphis at the FedExForum on Sunday. The Tigers had a solid win at Miami on Tuesday, but the Racers are cruising at 9-0 after winning the Great Alaska Shootout and crushing Dayton. Murray has the confidence and the experience to hang with the Tigers, even on the road. King: It wouldn't be a huge upset, but I won't be shocked if Mississippi State beats Baylor in Dallas on Dec. 28. The Bulldogs are one of the few teams with a frontcourt that can match up with the Bears' trio of Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. Leung: Indiana could very well surprise No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday. The Hoosiers are undefeated behind a strong start from freshman Cody Zeller and the crowd is sure to be a factor against the rival Wildcats. Medcalf: Indiana over Kentucky. Tom Crean's Hoosiers are due for a huge win. Assembly Hall will be buzzing like Times Square on New Year's Eve for this matchup. That atmosphere will fuel an emerging IU's upset over the Cats. O'Neil: Washington beats Duke in New York on Saturday. The Huskies have lost two heartbreakers in the past week -- a last-bucket loss to Marquette and an OT loss to Nevada. So they're due. And while I'm sure Mike Krzyzewski has turned the Ohio State game film into a Zapruder tape, breaking down every missed assignment and miscue, there's no doubt that dose of humility is playing on the Blue Devils' minds. 5. What's going to be the next great conference race? Brennan: From the looks of it, the Big 12 is shaping up to be rather fascinating. Baylor is insanely talented. Kansas isn't vintage, but it is still more than capable of winning the league. And Missouri just keeps looking impressive. Throw a healthy Texas A&M team into that mix and you've got yourself a pretty intriguing league with quality teams but no clear favorite going forward.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesDarrin Horn's Gamecocks have already dropped games to Elon, Tennessee State and Providence.
Gasaway: The new-look West Coast Conference is primed to have an outstanding three-team race between Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and new kid BYU. Get used to it. These three programs might hog WCC wins for the foreseeable future. Katz: The Missouri Valley. Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State have all represented the league very well so far. All four could find a place in the NCAA tournament in some form, either by getting an at-large or winning the conference tourney. All are capable. King: It won't be great basketball, but the quest for the Pac-12 championship should be exciting. At this point, I'm not sure I could name a favorite. Washington, Arizona, Cal and Stanford could all be in the mix. One thing's for sure: You can write off UCLA. Leung: The SEC might be closer than people think, and without divisions, the league is up for grabs even as Kentucky looks like the nation's best team. Florida is the defending champion and the Gators haven't dropped off much, if at all. Mississippi State and Alabama also look dangerous. Medcalf: The Pac-12 hasn't lived up to its preseason hype thus far, but that might be a good thing for the league's race. The parity will make things interesting. Stanford, Cal, Arizona, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon could all be contenders for the inaugural Pac-12 title. O'Neil: Call it the off-Broadway edition, but the Missouri Valley should be intriguing. Creighton is in the top 20, Wichita State just shellacked UNLV and Northern Iowa is 8-1 and owns the home state, with rather easy wins against Iowa and Iowa State.
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallJake Koch and UNI have been better than expected in what should be a stellar MVC race.