The tournaments in the early part of the season are an opportunity to watch elite teams in matchups that we likely won’t see until late in March. It’s also an opportunity for these teams to get experience in what is the closest thing to postseason basketball, playing three games in three or four days. Here are some takeaways from that very congested few days in college basketball.
Notre Dame is Final Four caliber
The last three NCAA Tournaments have seen Notre Dame go to two Elite 8s and if the way they played at the Maui Jim Invitational is any indication of how they will play in March, then they may be poised to take the next step. The Fighting Irish beat Chaminade and LSU by a combined 66 points before facing Wichita State in the final where they overcame a 15 point second half defecate to claim the title.
Bonzie Colson has more than lived up to his preseason ACC player of the year hype averaging 19.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He led all scorers with 25 in the Maui Jim invitational final, and forms the best point guard-center tandem in the country with Matt Farrell.
Analysts always talk about how important guard play is in March and Matt Farrell looks like he is made for tournaments. He does all the things one would want from a point guard, getting 4.7 assists per game, getting 1.6 steals and shooting well from three-point range at 42.6%, but more than that he always seems to make the right decision and perform in the clutch.
He stole the ball down by 3 with 14 seconds left in the game to give Notre Dame a chance to win and it’s plays like that which make me think this team can go far in the postseason.
Wichita State will be fine
Not exactly a hot take I know. I don’t think anyone who picked Wichita State to win the AAC or make it to the Final Four is suddenly changing their minds because of a one-point loss to Notre Dame.
What I mean is that giving up a 15-point lead in the second half isn’t indicative of how they will play in March. They are still waiting for Markis McDuffie to return from injury in December. He will give an already exceptional team a huge boost. He scored 11.5 points per game last season and will be their best and tallest perimeter defender.
Duke is never out of a game
After winning the Motion Bracket of the PK80, Duke became the unanimous number 1 ranked team in the AP poll. They won the tournament after coming back from second half deficits in all three of their games. They trailed in the second half by as much as 16 against Texas and as much as 17 against Florida, but were able to come storming back because of the play of Marvin Bagley III.
The Freshman who reclassified so he could come to college a year early is Duke’s leading scorer (22 ppg) and rebounder (11.2 rpg). No team has been able to find an answer for him yet this season. His career low for scoring was 4 points against Michigan State, a game in which he only played 10 minutes because of an injury. It looks like Duke will have a chance in any game, no matter the score, as long as Bagley is on the floor.
Florida is the best team in the SEC
I was convinced it was Texas A&M after they dominated West Virginia on a neutral floor while missing two key players, but after the PK80 it looks like Florida is the SEC’s most formidable team. They are the best offense in the country, scoring 99.5 ppg and shooting 46% on three pointers as a team. And they may seem undersized on paper, playing what is basically a four guard starting lineup, but any one of their guards, especially Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen, can finish in the paint almost at will.
There is work to be done in Tucson
Arizona went into the Battle for Atlantis ranked 2nd in the AP poll and then went 0-3 in the tournament, losing to NC State, SMU, and Purdue. Arizona has extremely talented stars with Alonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton both averaging more than 20 ppg, but seem to lack any significant role players. Only five players on the team average more than 5 ppg and only the two I previously mentioned are averaging double digits.
Their 13 turnovers per game ranks them 114th in the country, which isn’t terrible, but has definitely been a factor in their run of defeats. They had 20 turnovers against SMU, a game that was ultimately decided by just 6 points.