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Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Abilene Christian/St. Francis (Pa.)
No. 8 Houston vs. No. 9 St. John’s
San Jose, California
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Lipscomb
No. 5 North Carolina State vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 14 Belmont
No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Louisville/San Francisco
No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 15 Vermont
No. 7 Indiana vs. No. 10 Creighton
New to the Field: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech is 8-0 and has won every game by at least an 11-point margin, including neutral-site games against USC, Nebraska and Memphis that were supposed to be serious tests.
Chris Beard has to be the early front-runner for national coach of the year, because the Red Raiders are every bit as good as they were last season despite losing star player Keenan Evans and five other key role players.
Jarrett Culver has been predictably great, but it’s the immediate impact of transfers that made Texas Tech so great. St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens is one of the top shot-blockers in the nation, and South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney is leading the team on both ends of the floor with 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
Circle Dec. 20 on your calendars. That’s when Texas Tech gets a chance to make a major statement against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Noteworthy Riser: North Carolina State Wolfpack (No. 9 seed to No. 5 seed)
I don’t understand why the NET loves this resume so much.
NC State’s high KenPom ranking (No. 27) makes sense, because the 8-1 Wolfpack decimated six of their opponents, beating Mount St. Mary’s, Maryland-Eastern Shore, UNC Asheville, Maine, Saint Peter’s and Western Carolina by a combined margin of 227 points. Blowing out bad teams has always been a great way to improve one’s KenPom stock.
But the NET was supposed to mitigate that effect, giving an incentive for margin of victory but capping it at 10 points. And yet, the Wolfpack are No. 18 in the latest NET rankings, even though their only noteworthy win of the season was against Vanderbilt shortly after it lost Darius Garland for the season.
Upcoming games against Penn State and Auburn should provide a more meaningful look into whether this team is actually good.
Noteworthy Slider: West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 4 seed to No. 11 seed)
R.I.P. Press Virginia (2014-18).
After four Jevon Carter-led seasons as one of the best turnover-forcing units ever, West Virginia’s defense is just run-of-the-mill. The Mountaineers still have Sagaba Konate as an excellent rim protector, but they’re giving up a lot of free throws and rarely forcing turnovers.
As a result, they have losses to Florida, Buffalo and Western Kentucky without any signature wins—and unless they win at Tennessee in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge in late January, they won’t have any great nonconference victories come Selection Sunday.
It’s too early to throw in the towel on this team, if only because there are so many juniors and seniors who have played a key part in the program’s recent winning tradition. Things are not going according to plan thus far, though.