Top talent is more evenly spread than ever.
The historic blue blood programs of college basketball will always find success, but this year has been different.
John Calipari, coach of the No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats, begged fans on Twitter to show up to the team’s matchup with No. 15 Tennessee on Tuesday; they lost.
We need you Tuesday to be at your best from the tip to the finish. If we’re going good, ride it and push us to make the lead unbearable. If we’re struggling some, encourage us and bring us back. The last eight minutes of the game, do not sit down! We need you more than ever now!— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) February 4, 2018
No. 10 Kansas has three losses at home, more than any year since the 1998-99 season. Then-no. 4 Duke and no. 1 Villanova both lost to St. John’s within five days of each other.
St. John’s had lost eleven games in a row. Then…— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) February 8, 2018
Saturday: Beat No. 4 Duke
Wednesday: Beat No. 1 Villanova pic.twitter.com/QxElSI4UAz
No. 19 North Carolina lacks any sort of offensive identity besides Joel Berry II and has been upset several times, including an inexplicable loss to Wofford.
These teams are obviously still bigtime contenders with the pieces to make a run at the title, but it’s not as definite as it used to be. As the blue bloods falter, new teams are establishing themselves in the upper echelon of college hoops.
The emergence of new powerhouse teams partly has to do with increased recruitment. The ESPN 100 list of recruits is more diverse than ever, showing over 50 different schools for the second consecutive year. The University of St. Louis even managed to grab two top-100 recruits from the 2017 class. Clearly, distribution of talent is leveling out.
Of course, the historic programs will always draw talent. (Sadly) Duke has already locked up the top three recruits in 2018, but the overall distribution of top players is trending in a new direction: Vanderbilt and LSU, both currently in the cellar of the SEC standings, have added three top-100 recruits apiece.
This trend signals a key reason why the historic programs are having a less-than-stellar year: players are increasingly signing to non-traditional programs, and these teams are challenging the powers that be; or, rather, becoming the powers that be.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC)
A perfect example of this is the number 12 team in the nation, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Gonzaga has earned 19 straight tournament bids, a mark that few teams can match. The Bulldogs reached their first Final Four and national title game in 2017, proving that they can play with the best despite their weak conference.
With wins over Ohio State, Texas, Creighton and Washington this year, the Bulldogs are yet again proving they are more than capable of beating major-conference talent. With increased exposure and success, this team will be good for years to come.
Virginia Cavaliers (ACC)
The Virginia Cavaliers have taken over the ACC this year, suffering only one loss to a consistent top-25 West Virginia squad. The Cavaliers allow a measly 52.4 points per game, the best rate in the nation. They rank fifth in turnover margin (5.0), and their deep bench allows their starters to rest without any real decline in quality of play.
The Cavaliers will lose two seniors after this season, but Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have established that this team isn’t going away anytime soon.
Texas Longhorns (Big 12)
It’s no secret the Texas Longhorns have not been the most consistent team this season, but they are emerging as a major Big 12 powerhouse. They’ve defeated TCU, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma this season thanks to freshman Mo Bamba (13.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and junior Dylan Osetkowski (14.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
The Longhorns are also one of the few teams this year to slow down Oklahoma’s freshman phenom Trae Young, and their defense has been all-around solid this year.
Although Bamba will leave for the NBA, the return of Osetkowski and the addition of forwards Gerard Liddell and Kamaka Hepa (both 2018 ESPN 100 recruits) will bolster the frontcourt. The Longhorns will return their whole backcourt, making Texas a threat both now and in the future.
The Longhorns are on the up-and-up without a doubt, and pose a real threat to Kansas.
Auburn, historically a football school, has established itself this year as the best team in the SEC. Guards Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron have made the Tigers one of the best offensive teams in the country, scoring 85.8 ppg, the seventh-highest clip in the nation.
Although recently suffering a loss to Texas A&M at home without the help of Brown in the second half, the Tigers have a good shot to win the SEC and earn a two-spot in the NCAA tournament.
They don’t have a senior in the starting lineup, which is a blessing for the future. The returning starters will have experience and cohesiveness, making up for a sub-par recruiting class. Watch out Kentucky, the SEC isn’t yours anymore.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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