The Bottoms Line: College Basketball Stock Watch

With the season roughly a week old, what better time to make snap judgments and rash reactions to what has happened so far?!

In all seriousness, there are things to be gleaned from these early season matchups when looking both at specific teams and conferences.

Each week throughout the season, I’ll use this stock watch column to highlight the risers and fallers in the college hoops world.  I’ll also be participating in Daily Joust’s weekly fantasy college basketball game and publishing weekly power ratings starting in December, but I think it’s a bit premature to start in on that now.

Stock Up

ACC

Through Wednesday’s games, the 26-0 ACC is the only league without a blemish on its record this year, so I want to give credit where credit is due.

However, outside of Duke’s wins over Belmont and Michigan State and UNC’s Carrier Classic victory, there aren’t any marquee wins on the conference resume. In fact, they are currently the third-ranked league from a Pomeroy perspective behind the Big Ten and Big East.

California

While a couple of the Pac-12 contenders are off to slow starts, that has not been the case for the Bears.  They have won each of their three games by at least 17 points, and many of them weren’t as “close” as the final score would indicate.

Super soph Allen Crabbe is off to a hot start with 16.7 points per game, but perhaps the most important thing for Cal is that players not named Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez, and Harper Kamp are stepping up.

Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs is contributing 9.0 points and 4.3 assists, and fellow guard Brandon Smith is chipping in 7.0 points and 3.3 assists of his own.  Throw in the frontcourt contributions of Richard Solomon (6.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and David Kravish (6.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), and the Bears are looking a bit deeper than expected so far.

Outside of mid-December games against Weber State and UNLV, the schedule is manageable, so look for Cal to start climbing the rankings.

Cleveland State

It would be easy to write the Vikings off after losing star guard Norris Cole, but the team still believes they are the favorites in the Horizon League based on the other talent they have returning.  Their performance on the road at Vanderbilt certainly backed up those claims, as they jumped on the Commodores early and never really let them back in the game.

D’Aundray Brown has come back with a vengeance after a medical redshirt last season with 42 points, 17 rebounds, and 14 steals in two games.  CSU has plenty of depth, and they have really embraced Gary Waters’ coaching style, as evidenced by their toughness on the defensive end.  Their non-conference schedule is also workable, although an upcoming road trip to Kent State will be a challenge.

Indiana

You can call me a homer on this one, but the Hoosiers haven’t won three straight games by over 20 points since December of 2007.  Cody Zeller has been a huge factor with 12.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.3 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game while hitting over 80 – yes, 80 – percent from the field.

Zeller gives IU a different look on offense, but it’s important to note how impressive the defense has been as well. They have been getting tons of deflections, and Victor Oladipo has asserted himself as a lockdown defender as well as a consistent and aggressive contributor on offense.

victor-oladipo-cody-zellerImage credit: Darron Cummings / AP via Times Union

With the Big Ten jumbled in the middle, the opportunity is there for the Hoosiers. Their toughest non-conference stretch starts later this month when they face Butler, NC State, Kentucky, and Notre Dame over a five-game span (with Stetson mixed in).

Long Beach State

I mentioned in my profile of the 49ers the murderer’s row that is their non-conference schedule.  They passed their first test with flying colors by winning at Pittsburgh and breaking the Panthers’ lengthy non-conference home winning streak.  The Beach took the lead for good with about five minutes left in the first half, led by star guard Casper Ware who finished with 28 points and six assists.

Coach Dan Monson boasts one of the most experienced teams in the nation, and while it’s awfully early to start contemplating LBSU’s at-large chances, this win will certainly hold weight with the committee.  The 49ers can’t afford to savor it for too long though with road trips looming to Louisville, Kansas, and North Carolina as well as a home date with Xavier.

Memphis

After picking Memphis to lose to Belmont, I have to give props to the Tigers for their 16-point win.

Three players had over 20 points in the win, led by Will Barton with 23 and Wesley Witherspoon with 22 points including a perfect 8-of-8 from the field.  Throw in 20 points and seven assists from soph Joe Jackson and a terrific 20:9 assist-to-turnover ratio, and you have a pretty impressive performance from the young Tigers.

The only red flag was the fact that they were outrebounded, but part of that had to do with Tarik Black getting into foul trouble.  Still, it displays just how talented this team can be if they can maintain this level of play.  Memphis will certainly have a chance to prove that in Maui next week.

MAC

It seems like Akron and Kent State are always battling things out in the MAC Finals come March, but they seem to be working hard to one-up each other already this season. Akron pulled off a big road win against Mississippi State during the season’s first week, and Kent State knocked off West Virginia in Morgantown as part of the Tipoff Marathon.

Through two games, the Zips have four players averaging at least 11 points and eight guys scoring at least five per contest.  They have non-conference games remaining at home against Detroit and VCU and on the road versus West Virginia, Cleveland State, and Marshall.

The Flashes were led by Carlton Guyton with 17 points in there opener to go with 12 points and eight boards from reigning MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene.  Their toughest non-conference games remaining are home dates with Cleveland State and UAB before a December road trip to the Spectrum to face Utah State.

MVC

The Missouri Valley is always one of the nation’s top mid-major conferences, and they got off to a relatively impressive start once again.

Despite just four points from star Kyle Weems, Missouri State won by 23 at Nevada.  Evansville beat Butler in OT, and Northern Iowa won by double-digits at Old Dominion.  Since then Evansville got dismantled by IU, and UNI played poorly against Saint Mary’s.  However, conference favorite Creighton picked up a nice road win at UAB, and Drake beat Iowa State.

In the end, Creighton and Wichita State are still the teams to beat, but the early season success of the MVC as a whole will pay dividends down the road come Selection Sunday.  All indications are that the MVC will once again be one of the top couple leagues outside of the six major conferences.

Stock Down

Belmont

Before anyone accuses me of being a fair weather fan, hear me out.

The Bruins played really well at Duke and had chances to win down the stretch before eventually losing by one. In their second game, they were overwhelmed by Memphis’ length and athleticism and lost by double digits.  So do I still think they are one of the Top 30 teams in the country?  Absolutely.

The issue, as Ken Pomeroy pointed out on Twitter, is that Belmont has precious few opportunities to pick up resume-building wins from here on out.  They do have a home-and-home series against Marshall, but keep in mind this team won 30 games last season and still finished just outside of the RPI Top 50.  The Atlantic Sun competition will not help that this season, so they are putting themselves in a position where they may have to win the A-Sun Tournament to get into the Big Dance.

Detroit

On this week’s Bottoms Line podcast, I compared Detroit to Vanderbilt in the sense that they have this core group of guys who has been together for a while, but they continue to underachieve in big games.

The Titans had a golden opportunity to pick up an impressive early season win against a Notre Dame team playing without Tim Abromaitis.  Detroit got off to a decent start and led by eight with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game before losing by six.

I realize the Titans were playing without Eli Holman, but their shot selection was abysmal at times.  Instead of jacking up off-balance jumpers, they would have been better served to feed LaMarcus Lowe inside.  Add to that the impressive early performance from Cleveland State, and Detroit’s dreams of winning the Horizon League are starting to look shaky.

Mississippi State

It’s business as usual in Starkville.  Renardo Sidney remains an enigma after playing sparingly in key stretches of MSU’s early games and then attributing some of his struggles to a groin injury, which did cause him to miss the game against South Alabama.

The bright spot has been Arnett Moultrie, who is coming off of a career game that saw him go for 28 points and 13 boards.  Through three games, Dee Bost has more turnovers than assists, and the team is shooting under 30 percent from long range.

The Bulldogs have the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic over the next couple days, so it will be interesting to see how they respond against major conference foes.

Nevada

In what was expected to be somewhat of a down year for Utah State, Nevada seemed like the favorite to win the WAC.  So much for that theory. They were blown out at home by a Missouri State team picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the MVC, then fell behind by as many as 18 against UNLV before a late rally fell short.

It’s an understatement to say that the team has really struggled with their shooting. Dario Hunt averaged 12.4 points last season but is just 2-of-16 from the field so far. Guard Malik Story was expected to lead the team in scoring, but he is now 8-of-28 from the field following his 6-of-20 debacle against UNLV.  Shot selection is certainly a factor there, and there seemed to be no recognition that fellow guard Deonte Burton was the only one in any kind of offensive rhythm against the Rebels.

Some of these issues will get better, but Hawaii, New Mexico State, and even Utah State will be right in the mix with Nevada atop to the WAC.

Pittsburgh

Long Beach State deserves a ton of credit for how well they played against Pitt, but don’t forget that the Panthers also struggled with Rider for a while in their second contest. Defensively, Pitt allowed 1.32 points per possession against LBSU, which was the worst ever under Jamie Dixon (h/t @RunTheFloor).  That’s pretty alarming for a team known for their defense and toughness, as is the fact that the 49ers outrebounded them.

The other red flag is the complete lack of bench production, as evidenced by just two bench points against Long Beach State.  Part of this can be attributed to a youthful team, and ultimately I think Dixon will get things turned around.

UCLA

I don’t recall the last time I saw a team implode so quickly, and the Bruins have quickly ascended to the top of the dumpster fire spectrum.

First, the Bruins were upset by Loyola Marymount in their opener last week, and they promptly got dumptrucked by 20 against Middle Tennessee State.  The guard play has been incredibly poor, with their main backcourt players combining to go 18-of-63 (28.6%).  As a team, UCLA is shooting 17.1 percent from deep.

Meanwhile, Josh Smith, or West Coast Renardo as I have taken to calling him, is still woefully out of shape, but he still found time to tweet about the “bums” he lost to.  Reeves Nelson was also suspended for a game for his attitude but has already been reinstated as the team heads to Maui. Given the field as well as the way they are playing, the opener against Chaminade might be the only game they win there.

Ultimately this team lacks a leader who can help pull them out of this, and based on what I have seen so far, I don’t see one emerging either.

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Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

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For those of you have always wished that you could parlay your college basketball passion and knowledge into fantasy glory, now you can. Daily Joust has weekly fantasy college basketball games, including periodic freeroll tournaments. Jerod and I will be participating, and we invite you to as well. (Click here)

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About the Author

Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms