Welcome to the first Sunday Stock Watch of the 2020-21 college basketball season! We have been able to watch four days of near-nonstop basketball, and people are already beginning to identify teams, players and conferences that could be separating themselves from the pack.
This series will take five popular takes from the previous week and attempt to determine if fans should buy or sell the proverbial stock. While it is still early in the season, the takes so far have been pretty wild, but a few have been almost universally discussed on Twitter.
Now, buckle up and enjoy the ride as we commence the first stock watch of the year.
The National Championship race is Gonzaga vs. The Field
Through two games, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have done nothing but prove that they are deserving of college basketball’s number one ranking. Their success has been driven by their historically good offense, which scored a combined 192 points against Kansas and Auburn.
The Zags dominance of two high-major opponents has sent college basketball talking heads into a frenzy including our own Brian Rauf:
Other writers like Stadium’s Jeff Goodman and Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo shared similar sentiments about Gonzaga’s early success.
So, is this early success just a blip on the radar, or can the Zags make a season-long run similar to the 2017-18 Villanova Wildcats?
Well, if you dive into the numbers, the prospects for the Zags look excellent. On the offensive end, the Zags have been the best in the country, ranking No. 1 in offensive efficiency per KenPom, Haslametrics and T-Rank. This performance has come against a Kansas team that should be one of the best defensive teams in the country, and an above-average Auburn team. The team is shooting 58.5 percent from the floor, with five players recording 8 points per game or better and just one regular rotation piece shooting under 50 percent individually.
On the defensive end, the Zags have given up quite a few points, but this appears to be more about tempo than actual defensive capability. The Zags defense still ranks 11th per KenPom, 5th per Haslametrics and 10th per T-Rank, despite giving up 78.5 points per game. These numbers are bound to continue adjusting as the preseason analytics are played out of the calculation, but they are still indicative of a Gonzaga team that should be able to win games on both ends.
So how should we view Gonzaga compared to the rest of the country? Well, I was adamant in the preseason that Gonzaga was the one team without any real holes, and that appears to be more truth than bias. Looking at the rest of the Top 5 teams so far: Virginia and Villanova have lost convincingly to unranked teams, Baylor will be without its projected starting center, and Iowa hasn’t looked better than the Zags against worse competition. Most other presumed title contenders have seen rough stretches that brought up questions needing answering. Gonzaga, despite small runs by Kansas and Auburn, have not only looked like the best team in the country, but have not really brought up any concerns that would spell doom for its title aspirations.
San Diego State belongs in the Top 25
Last season, the San Diego State Aztecs were the final unbeaten team and would have been one of the top National Championship contenders had the NCAA Tournament been played. This season, the loss of Malachi Flynn and KJ Feagin caused many writers to doubt their strength entering the year. In fact, they received just six total points in the AP poll (37th) and 23 points in the Coaches Poll (31st) during the preseason.
In their two games this season, the Aztecs have made all of us look like fools for ever doubting their ability to play basketball at a high level. Brian Dutcher’s squad opened the year with a 73-58 victory over No. 22 UCLA before beating UC Irving 77-58 on Friday. The team has six players averaging between 6.5 and 13 points per game, and they look as disciplined as ever.
But the question remains: Does San Diego State belong in the Top 25 after less than a week of tape? Well, considering the struggle that a lot of teams in the Top 25 have experienced, San Diego State’s victories over two preseason conference championship favorites should not go unrewarded. In fact, it would be a surprise to see them rise closer to the Top 20, as teams in that range continue to drop bad games while figuring out their rotations.
Josh Pastner is on the hottest seat in the country
As impressive as Gonzaga and San Diego State have been, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have been equally disappointing, losing two straight home games to Georgia State and Mercer. With such bad losses this early in the year, and zero NCAA Tournament appearances in his first four seasons, it is easy to understand why Tech fans are eager to see the team move on from head coach Josh Pastner.
However, the answer to this question isn’t as simple as “Josh Pastner is bad.” First off, Pastner is coming off his best season in Atlanta, which saw an 11-9 ACC finish and high expectations for this season. He also has one of Georgia’s best recruits ever coming in as part of the 2021 class, which could be reason enough to give him one more mulligan year.
It is also telling that Georgia Tech’s issues so far this season have been centered on ball security, instead of anything inherent to its offensive or defensive capabilities. The Yellow Jackets have turned the ball over 35 times in their first two games, and while their first game included four overtime periods, 21 turnovers is still concerning. Turnovers were an issue for the team last season, but their defense was better able to limit their opponents’ scoring efficiency on the other end. If Pastner can use the next week off to better prepare his team to play the defense that led to their success last year, we won’t even be having this conversation in March.
But I just have one question for those that are saying Pastner is on the hottest seat: Did Shaka Smart already get fired?
Virginia isn’t a top 10 team right now
Why is it always Virginia that appears to suffer completely unexpected losses at the hands of mid-major teams when nobody pays attention? It may be its style of play or its often underwhelming offense, or both. Whatever it is, the issues are not gone this season, despite high hopes for an improved Cavalier offense.
After dropping its second game of the season to San Francisco, Virginia has plummeted from the consensus No. 4 spot in the nation. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cavs fall out of the Top 10 in Monday’s AP Poll. Whether this is an accurate representation of the team’s current level or an overreaction to one seemingly bad loss, the writing is on the wall.
So is this drop deserved or will the Cavs work their way back into the Top 10 soon? First, we have to discuss the loss. On one hand, Virginia had a clear advantage on paper and has one of the best coaches in the country in Tony Bennett. On the other, San Francisco is one of the best perimeter teams in the mid-major ranks, with an up-and-coming coach in Todd Golden who could find himself coaching at the high-major level in the next five years. Both of these together would spell trouble for most high-major teams. Virginia’s slow, low-scoring style of play only served to set the stage for a hot Dons team to take over and win.
Virginia is still likely a Top 25 team — probably even Top 20 — but ira offense still has some issues that need to be worked out before we can consider them a Top 10 squad again. Do I think Virginia shoots 25 percent from deep a lot this year? No. Do I think the Cavs still have one of the best defenses in the country? Absolutely. Do I think Virginia is still a contender for the Final Four? Yep. But right now, there are at least 10 teams in the country playing better.
The NCAA Tournament will be cancelled again
Yes, there are still those people who feel the need to comment on every college basketball tweet or Facebook post saying that the season will not be played to completion due to COVID-19.
This is only exacerbated by the constant stream of updates regarding canceled or rescheduled games, positive tests, or program activities being suspended. With teams scrambling to fill their schedules under the assumption that future games could be canceled due to COVID protocols, it may seem obvious that the season isn’t going to last long.
Despite the seemingly bleak picture, it must be acknowledged that a majority of scheduled games have taken place as planned, and teams have found a way to play even with positive tests within the program. As we figure out how to continue scheduling and playing games, we will reduce the affect, even if we can never have zero cancellations.
The NCAA Tournament has been moved entirely to Indianapolis, and the amount of money that the event generates in TV revenues is too much to lose two years in a row. While the Ivy League won’t be the last group of teams to remove themselves from the college basketball season, and we may even see high-major programs make similar decisions, the NCAA Tournament will happen at some point this year, in some way, shape or form.
Connor Hope is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB. He is also co-host of Hope & Rauf presented by HeatCheckCBB, a college basketball podcast. His content has been featured by Bleacher Report and FanSided, among other publications. Hope is a current Rockin’ 25 voter.