As with anybody else doing these things, it’s an imprecise “feel” test to one degree or another. I think it always has to be some combination of resume and “eye test,” and I’m no different in that regard. Based on what I’ve seen and what teams have done, this what I’d go with…
1. Michigan State – The resume is undeniable…there’s a reasonable chance MSU has defeated 4 NCAA Tournament teams already and that’s not including Florida in that group. They’ve won a tournament, beat a Top 5 team on a neutral court, beaten 3 of the top 11 teams in adjusted defense nationally per Ken Pom, and gotten blow outs in all their mismatch games. Top 15 nationally in adjusted offense and defense. The only thing MSU hasn’t done so far is won a true road game…they’ll get their first chance for that next Saturday at Northeastern. MSU is #1 for a lot of good reasons and there really aren’t any reasons to *not* have them first.
2. Xavier – 10-0. Top 20 nationally in both adjusted offense and defense. 6-0 vs. Power 5 Plus 3 schools. One true road win, in resounding fashion, over Michigan. Won a tournament. Have only one opponent stay within single digits against them (Miami (OH) lost by 9 in the season opener). When I’ve seen them play, I see a very physically tough and agressive team at both ends. They’re getting great guard play from Sumner, Abell and Davis and the two posts are tough, plus Bluiett is a born scorer on the wing. In terms of “eye test,” they’ve been as impressive as anyone I’ve seen thus far.
3. Oklahoma – 7-0. Top 15 nationally in both adjusted offense and defense. They’ve played fewer games than the other teams here but their neutral court dismantling of Villanova was as impressive a win in terms of opponent and margin as anyone has on this list. Veteran team which has a true go-to talent in Buddy Heild. As with Xavier, the longer term issue is that they’re in a league which looks to be highly competitive and deep (unlike the Big Ten), but as of now, hard to deny the way the Sooners have looked.
4. Kansas – 8-1. Top 15 nationally in both adjusted offense and defense (seeing a pattern?). Sole loss came in a very competitive neutral court game against Michigan State. Won Maui by blowing out UCLA (looks more impressive now than it did then) and handling Vandy in the final. Now at full strength with the eligibility of Diallo. I’m still semi-skeptical of their jumpshooting but they’ve got size, depth and experience all over the place.
5. Purdue – 11-0. Top 15 nationally in both adjusted offense and defense (#1 defensively). The knock on Purdue is that they don’t have any win over a ranked team, though their next two games against Butler and Vandy will give them the opportunity to change that. I do give them credit for one very impressive win, at Pitt…that’s a tough place to play and I think Pitt is decent this year. The closest anyone has come to them was New Mexico, who lost by 12. As with KU, I’m still a little bit skeptical of the guards, though they’ve played reasonably well thus far. Lots of size, good depth and a good deal of experience as well.
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