Lukas Harkins dissects seven college basketball topics, including the postseason outlooks for Ohio, Towson and the ACC.
Hark’s Remarks is back. There has been a ton of college basketball action over the last couple of weeks, and it’s about time we discuss some of the sport’s main storylines. College football season is now in the rear-view mirror and it is time for hoops to retake center stage.
This week’s Hark’s Remarks dives into items worth monitoring at the high- and mid-major levels. Villanova and Kentucky, for instance, are starting to gain traction as potential national title contenders. Both Wildcats are playing excellent basketball of late and are seeing their star players find their rhythms.
Additionally, a few mid-major stars are blossoming in front of our eyes this season. Florida transfer Ques Glover has clearly found a home at Samford while putting up nearly 20 points per game. Eastern Washington’s new head coach David Riley has also found his star to build around with 6-7 sharpshooter Steele Venters.
That’s enough introduction, though. Let’s dive in.
What is Villanova’s ceiling?
Villanova has throttled back up its engines in recent weeks after suffering back-to-back embarrassing road losses before the holidays. The Wildcats are currently in the midst of a four-game winning streak that included victories over two Top 25 teams. They won three of these four games by double figures. The Wildcats struggled against top competition early in the year, losing three of their four games to teams ranked in the AP top 10. Playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country appears to have prepared them for the Big East.
Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, most notably, are both performing at All-Conference levels and might contend with one another for the league’s Player of the Year award. When those two are playing well together, there aren’t many better backcourts in the entire country. Additionally, undersized big man Eric Dixon is coming into his own as a full-time starter this year. He has been playing much better of late and it makes a major difference.
Villanova has climbed all the way up to No. 4 on KenPom, actually five spots better than in the preseason. They are an elite offensive unit, but one that relies a bit too much on the 3-point shot. On the bright side, though, the Wildcats have returned to being a strong defensive team after three consecutive down years, relative to expectations.
Villanova has notched top 20 ratings in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency in the same season six times under Jay Wright and is doing so again this year. They reached at least the Sweet 16 on four of those occasions and won the national championship twice. Villanova still has room to improve this season but can contend for a deep run.
Kellan Grady discovering his role
Kentucky features arguably the most dominant interior unit in the country. The Wildcats are led by big man Oscar Tshiebwe – the National Player of the Year contender – and it is impossible to ignore their dominant season-long numbers. UK ranks in the top 25 in offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, 2-point offense and 2-point defense. Their successes in the paint raise their floor, but their ceiling is dependent on being able to space the floor.
Thankfully, Davidson transfer Kellan Grady has been discovering his role with Kentucky over the past couple of weeks. He has shot well throughout this season but only recently has seemed to increase his volume. Grady is becoming more of a focal point within the offense and his increased usage – and effectiveness – paints a clear picture.
Grady is now hitting on all cylinders, plus freshman guard TyTy Washington has been deadly as a shooter this season as well. With those two, as well as Davion Mintz spacing the floor, Kentucky has enough shooting around its star big man. As their shooting continues to improve, so will their national championship odds.
Ohio oozes Cinderalla potential once again
Ohio lost Jason Preston to the NBA this offseason, but the program still has its sights set on reaching a second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Not only do the Bobcats have the potential to make the Big Dance, but they could turn some heads if they get there as well.
Head coach Jeff Boals has a new star to build around with sophomore Mark Sears. Last season’s sixth man has blossomed into one of the best players in the country this year. He is averaging 19.7 points per game on nearly 50/40/90 shooting.
Additionally, Ohio’s supporting cast is excellent. Ben Vander Plas is one of the more underrated players in the country while Xavier transfer Jason Carter — who originally started at Ohio — has been superb. Ben Roderick is in the midst of a down season but he also averaged in double figures as a scorer last season. Ohio is 13-2 (4-0 MAC) for the season even with Roderick struggling:
Sears (18-for-41; 43.9 percent) and freshman AJ Clayton (15-for-34; 44.1 percent) are helping to bolster Ohio’s 3-point shooting. Once Roderick finds his rhythm, this team will be all the more dangerous.
How many bids will the ACC earn?
Selection Sunday is still several weeks away, but speculation regarding bids has already begun following nonconference performances from high-major leagues. Most notably, the ACC struggled considerably in the early going and only one team is currently ranked in the AP Top 25: Duke. The Blue Devils are essentially a lock to reach the Big Dance and are likely to remain a contender for a No. 1 seed. However, who else from the league might earn bids?
A “one-bid ACC” is not going to happen, even if it sounds hilarious. There is too much talent in the conference and plenty of teams are already jostling for position along the midseason bubble. While there is certainly time for other programs to rise into at-large contention, these are the ACC teams to monitor most closely: North Carolina, Miami-FL, Wake Forest, Louisville and Clemson. There are also arguments to be made for Virginia Tech and Virginia.
When it is all said and done, the ACC’s down season will be reflected with fewer total bids. Or, at the very least, the lack of more than one highly regarded team will be clear. Based on how the early bracketology conversations are shaking out, it feels likely that the league will land 4-6 bids.
Ques Glover is thriving at Samford
Ques Glover began his collegiate career at Florida but played sparingly over his two seasons with the program. In total, he averaged 3.6 points in 10.8 minutes per game with the Gators. He transferred this past offseason and ended up at Samford in the SoCon. The Bulldogs have not been the most successful program over the year, but Glover has found a home.
He has started all 12 games that he has appeared in and is leading the team in scoring. Glover is averaging 19.3 points per game on the year and is shooting career-highs essentially across the board. While his competition level has certainly dipped, it is clear that he is making the most of his increased opportunities and usage:
Glover appears to be thriving with head coach Bucky McMillan’s up-tempo system. Samford currently ranks 41st nationally in tempo. Samford has leaped out to an 11-4 record and is 9-3 when Glover plays. The 6-0 guard has notched double figures in all but one game. Glover has been one of the biggest breakout players of the year and is a strong example of players who can explode after transferring down and to a new situation.
Could this be the year for Towson?
Towson has not reached the NCAA Tournament since back-to-back appearances in 1991 and 1992. The Tigers have had several strong years since then – including three 20-win campaigns under current head coach Pat Skerry – but have been unable to get over the hump. They suffered a major down season last year but have already more than doubled their win total this time around. Towson holds an 11-5 (2-1 CAA) record, vastly exceeding preseason expectations.
The Tigers ranked 245th nationally in KenPom’s preseason rankings. Thanks to their strong performances to date, they have climbed more than any team in the country: 143 spots to No. 102. While an at-large bid still feels like a long shot, they have arguably blossomed into the best team in the CAA. A recent home victory over Hofstra certainly furthered that hypothesis.
Cameron Holden has been incredible for the Tigers. He is scoring efficiently and guiding one of the better rebounding teams in the country.
Steele Venters is splashing for EWU
Eastern Washington reached the NCAA Tournament last season but looks a whole lot different this time around. For instance, Tanner Groves is no longer manning the middle as an offensive hub. This is also head coach David Riley’s first season on the sidelines after Shantay Legans left for Portland. The Eagles are a solid 9-7 to begin this season and are once again a threat to win the Big Sky. Leading the way for EWU this year is a familiar face in Steele Venters.
Venters, now a sophomore, appeared in 16 games for the Eagles last season and showcased his elite shooting ability by hitting 12-for-26 (46.2 percent) from beyond the arc. Now in his second season with the program, though, he has emerged as a go-to scoring weapon at all three levels. Above everything else, Venters is proving that he is one of the best 3-point shooters in the entire country. He is shooting 41-for-88 (46.6 percent) from three in 14 games this season while leading the Eagles in scoring at 17.7 points per contest.
Of players who have hit at least 40 3-pointers this season, Venters is only behind Foster Loyer (Davidson), Josiah Strong (Illinois State) and Ochai Agbaji (Kansas) in terms of efficiency. Venters is still only an underclassman and is already an elite shooter with superb size at 6-7. His ability to shoot off-movement with his height makes him so hard to stop. Venters is not a future star; he is a star now.