By: Nate Gatter, KCOU Sports
First things first, I love a good charge. Taking a charge requires traits I most admire and desire in a basketball player: grit, determination, intelligence, physical toughness, defensive commitment, and a team-first mentality.
Flopping requires none of those.
Flopping, embellishment, and exaggeration have always existed in sports. After all, whether or not a foul occurs is irrelevant; the only relevant question is whether an official perceives a foul. But flopping has only recently become widespread across all of basketball, most blatantly in the NBA. In college basketball, flopping is most commonly seen when a defensive player slides underneath an offensive player driving to the hoop and proceeds to crumple to the hardwood in an effort to sell the official on the perception of a charge. And this season, officials are buying in bulk.
It’s easy to criticize players who flop as “weak” or “soft.” In reality, as long as flopping is in the best interest of their team, those players are making smart plays. The onus falls on officials to reward only legitimate charges with calls. Once flopping is no longer rewarded, players will quickly abandon the practice and restore defensive integrity to basketball.
Most Surprising Teams
- Notre Dame
Everybody saw senior guard Jerian Grant’s (16.7 ppg, 6.4 apg) coming after his terrific first half of last season before he was sidelined by academic issues, but the rest of the Irish squad has impressed along with him. Senior guard Pat Connaughton (13.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is proving to be one of college basketball’s most versatile players as his team’s second-leading scorer, top rebounder, and best 3-point shooter at 43.6 percent. The Irish rank second in the nation in field goal percentage (52.8) and fourth in fewest turnovers per game (9.1). That’s a recipe for continued success.
Mark “The Surgeon” Turgeon was given his nickname for his ability to carve up defenses while playing at Kansas. Now, as Maryland’s head coach, he’s living up to the moniker by methodically carving up the Big 10. The Terps’ point guard, freshman sensation Melo Trimble (16.1 ppg, 3.0 apg), leads them on the stat sheet, but Turgeon’s roster also boasts plenty of experience in junior forward Jake Layman (14.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and senior swingman Dez Wells (13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), a Xavier transfer. Moreover, the Terrapins are shooting only 44.4 percent from the field as a team so far this season, a success rate that is sure to rise as Maryland grows even more dangerous in the latter stages of conference play.
The Indiana Hoosiers—and their fans—are not known to wait long for success. Luckily for Tom Crean, IU is within a 3-point shot of the top 25; and the Hoosiers tend to knock down their 3-pointers. Notre Dame (8.9) is the only team—in a Power Five conference—that makes more 3-point shots per game than Indiana (8.6). The perimeter attack is led by sharp-shooting freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. (16.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and diminutive junior point guard Yogi Ferrell (15.4 ppg, 4.8 apg), while explosive sophomore forward Troy Williams (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) patrols the interior. The Hoosiers promise to be a bracket nightmare come March Madness, easily capable of pulling an upset on a hot shooting night or being upset if their shots don’t fall. Beware when filling out your bracket.
Most Disappointing Teams
When the Wolverines lost back-to-back games against New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan, you probably thought it couldn’t get worse in Ann Arbor. Well, it got worse. Star junior guard Caris LeVert (14.9 ppg, 3.7 apg) will miss the remainder of the season with an injury to his left foot, effectively ending Michigan’s relevance to the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Steve Alford simply isn’t a good coach. As would be said in baseball, athletics directors have put too much stock in “the back of the bubblegum card” when evaluating Alford’s prospects as a head coach. Yes, he ranks among the most decorated college basketball players of all time. Unfortunately, scoring a lot of points at Indiana more than 30 years ago doesn’t count for anything when coaching against Kentucky, as the Bruins brutally discovered in their humiliating 83-44 loss. Alford has talent at UCLA. Freshman forward Kevin Looney (13.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and senior guard Norman Powell (15.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) can both play, and Alford’s son, Bryce (15.7 ppg, 5.7 apg), is a future All-American. But please, don’t let Bryce coach.
The Gators were hailed as the only Southeastern Conference foe standing between Kentucky and an undefeated regular season slate. As it turns out, Arkansas might be the SEC’s last stand, and Florida is left hoping for a ticket to the Big Dance. Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and junior guard Michael Frazier II (13.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) are having solid seasons, but the Florida offense lacks playmakers and its bench lacks depth. Perhaps Billy Donovan will find some magic in March, but so far, the Gators look more like bait.
The Top Ten
The race for No. 1 is closer than you might think. Don’t laugh; Calipari’s team has shown weaknesses. Unfortunately for other contenders, the Wildcats have yet to show any of those weaknesses against good teams. Right now, it seems all that stands between UK and an undefeated regular season is its own inability to play its best against inferior opponents. Hopefully for Calipari and his staff, Kentucky’s blowout of Missouri is a sign of things to come for Big Blue.
I love Virginia basketball. Tony Bennett has built a winning culture in Charlottesville, and, after making a cameo on the national scene last season, his work is coming fully to fruition this season. If—or when—Kentucky and Virginia battle in the tourney, the two sides might not eclipse 100 total points; but it will be on account of tremendous defense. Moreover, the ’Hoos will be far better prepared for a March matchup after navigating the minefield of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Another of my favorite teams this season, Jay Wright’s squad is among the most experienced in the nation. Considering college basketball’s average age decreases each year, that experience will prove even more valuable with every passing March. Villanova is also well-rounded. Five Wildcats average 10 points or more per game. To make that statistic even more impressive, junior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono—the team’s leader in minutes per game—is not one of the five averaging double digits. Villanova will always have an experienced, capable player to pick up any slack from a teammate having an off game.
I still don’t trust the Dukies. I never denied the Blue Devils’ talent, and their resume is strong; that’s why they’re ranked fourth. These rankings, however, are not a measure of the teams most likely to win the national championship, but rather the strongest bodies of work to this point in the season. Freshmen Jahlil Okafor (18.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg), Justise Winslow (11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and Tyus Jones (9.4 ppg, 5.1 apg) are spectacularly talented, but I hesitate to put faith in any team that relies so heavily on first-year players.
Gonzaga reaches No. 5 without a high quality win, but its only loss came in overtime time against Arizona. Despite the fact that the ’Zags have not beaten any current AP Top 25 team, it’s hard to fault them for winning. Junior forward Kyle Wiltjer (16.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), a transfer from Kentucky, is fitting right in with the Bulldogs’ terrific outside shooting. Gonzaga shoots 40.6 percent from 3-point range as a team, which ranks 12th in the nation. Unfortunately for your bracket, Gonzaga won’t face a high quality opponent for the remainder of the year. Good luck deciding where the ’Zags are eliminated.
The Badgers suffered an embarrassing loss to Rutgers, but they were without star senior forward Frank Kaminsky (17.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg). If Kaminsky’s importance to his Wisconsin team was doubted before, it shouldn’t be after the loss to Rutgers. Senior guard Traevon Jackson (9.4 ppg, 2.9 apg) has had injury issues of his own and has yet to find his touch on the offensive end. But Bo Ryan’s group is experienced; expect the Badgers to be ready for the tournament.
- Iowa State
“The Mayor of Ames,” Fred Hoiberg, has his Cyclones playing terrific basketball in the loaded Big XII conference. After taking down Kansas at home, Iowa State is primed to face one of the most difficult closing schedules in college basketball: Seven of ISU’s 14 remaining opponents are ranked in Week 11’s AP Top 25. Junior forward Georges Niang (14.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) wasn’t fully healthy for last season’s tournament run, but he appears ready to lead Iowa State into late March this year.
Arizona has struggled in true road games, going 2-2 so far. But at home and neutral sites, the Wildcats have thrived. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson (14.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has lived up to the hype while senior point guard T.J. McConnell (9.1 ppg, 5.7 apg) orchestrates the attack. It remains to be seen whether the Wildcats can take the last step to the Final Four, one that has proved tricky for them in the past.
Louisville is not a championship contender. While the Cardinals don’t have a bad loss yet, their best win came over a middling Ohio State squad. Junior forward Montrezl Harrel (14.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg) is outstanding, but the Cards’ guard play has fallen short in big games. Louisville maintains a spot in the top 10, for now; but the rest of its ACC schedule, specifically a trip to face Virginia in Charlottesville, should be quite revealing.
- Notre Dame
The Irish were mentioned previously as the most surprising team of this season, and they now find themselves squeaking into the top 10. Although Notre Dame could have launched itself even higher with a win over Virginia in South Bend, that victory proved elusive. The exploits of senior guards Grant and Connaughton were covered above, but those two have had help from sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (13.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) and junior forward Zach Auguste (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Mike Brey, one of the most underrated coaches in the country, has yet to find significant success in the tournament. This may be the year he and the Irish break through.
Midseason Final Four Picks
Your 2015 Final Four:
Kentucky, Wisconsin, Villanova, and Virginia
National Champion: Virginia Cavaliers