Daily Word: Finding the most intriguing teams
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Which non-Champions Classic team will be the most intriguing to keep an eye on over the next two months as we head toward conference play?
Andy Katz: Florida. The Gators have been hit by injuries and suspensions this fall. Florida lost at Wisconsin and was without Scottie Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith, Will Yeguete, Damontre Harris and Eli Carter. The Gators still have to play host to Kansas, play at UConn and play against Memphis in New York City. Plus, the Gators might ultimately be the only team capable -- if whole -- of beating Kentucky in the SEC.
Dana O'Neil: The obvious answer is Louisville. Now that all of the personnel issues appear to be settled -- save the official return of Kevin Ware -- it's time to see just how good the defending national champions are. The Cardinals will play one tough game, a likely matchup with North Carolina on Nov. 25 at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, before The Game against Kentucky at the end of December. Until that is settled, nothing is really settled on the state of Louisville.
Eamonn Brennan: I'll take Oklahoma State. In all the talk about those magnificent freshmen, we risk losing sight of the fact that, hey, that Marcus Smart dude is pretty good -- and Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash, Phil Forte (and sharpshooting freshman Stevie Clark) are looking vastly improved over what was already a quality group of a year ago.
2. Arizona and San Diego State play Thursday night. What will people be talking about after this one?
Katz: Arizona's speed, diversity and toughness to name a few. And then there is the Wildcats' thrilling freshman Aaron Gordon. Winning at Viejas Arena, regardless of season, is one of the toughest tasks possible. But Arizona should be too experienced for the Aztecs in what will be one of the harder matchups for the Wildcats, outside of likely playing Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off final in New York later this month.
O'Neil: How much they wished they were in either city? Hey, it's cold everywhere else. Going with the early theme of the season, why wouldn't they be talking about freshman Aaron Gordon? In two games, he's averaging a double-double (13.5 points, 10 boards).
Brennan: I'll take Aaron Gordon, too. Tuesday night was America's introduction to Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle; Thursday night should serve the same purpose for the No. 4-ranked player in the 2014 class, the most freakishly talented player on a Wildcats team full of them.
3. Which potential NCAA tournament team has suffered the most surprising loss so far?
Katz: UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels got run out of their own building by UCSB by 21 points on Tuesday. The Rebels gave up 86 points, took poor shots and were out of sync. UNLV needs to get its act together with Illinois and a road game at Arizona still to come.
O'Neil: I'll give that to UNLV, not just because the Rebels lost to UC Santa Barbara but because they were absolutely demolished by the Gauchos. Granted, Dave Rice has a lot of new pieces to mix together, but UCSB shot 62.5 percent. That's AAU ball bad.
O'Neil: No one entered this season thinking Oregon State was a likely tournament team, but still: The Beavers should be much, much better at this point in Craig Robinson's tenure. Instead, they opened the season with a 78-73 loss at home to Coppin State -- which finished a whopping 320th in adjusted efficiency in 2012-13. Yikes.
Games To Watch
OK, it's probably not realistic to expect Shabazz Napier to go for a triple-double again, like he did against Yale on Monday. But the senior guard has had at least 7 rebounds and 7 assists to go with double-digit scoring in each of his first two games.
Texas Tech has won its first two games, beating opponents it should in Houston Baptist and Northern Arizona. Alabama, meanwhile, started the season with a loss. But at least the defeat came against a big-conference foe, Alabama falling 82-73 against Oklahoma.
Talented freshman Aaron Gordon and Arizona get their first test. And it's a test. The Viejas Arena is rarely friendly to opposing teams. But Gordon and the Wildcats have looked solid in two games; Gordon is averaging 13.5 points and the Wildcats have won the two games by an average of 21.5 points.
They Said It
ESPNU Basketball Podcast
Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg check in with newsmakers from around college basketball.