Jump to score predictions for the weekend's top games
It's still early, of course, but give us one team that has surprised you -- both positively and negatively -- so far.
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer:I think Kentucky is the easy choice for the most disappointing team thus far. I'm an evangelist for the "John Calipari's teams get better" mantra. But, man. This looks like a team with the lowest ceiling of the Calipari era in Lexington.
You can't dismiss that win over Michigan State. But the Wildcats have done nothing since to suggest they boast the personnel to evolve into a steamrollering outfit. Ashton Hagans is committing turnovers on one-fourth of his possessions. Tyrese Maxey is probably this team's best offensive catalyst, but he has made only 28% of his 3-pointers, and, per hooplens.com, the Wildcats register 0.94 points per possession. Ugh. That loss to Evansville would be understandable if the Purple Aces caught fire. But they finished 23-for- 60 from the field. Bad start for Kentucky.
Positive surprise? I'll take Auburn. The Tigers have faced only one top-100 KenPom team (a 76-66 win over Davidson on Nov. 8), but they've excelled months after losing Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke off the Final Four squad. With Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore as anchors in the paint, they're protecting the rim in ways last season's team did not.
Plus, kudos to Samir Doughty. He entered the offseason as the guy who had fouled Kyle Guy in the final seconds of his team's loss to Virginia in the national semifinals. Now he's playing like one of the SEC's top guards while averaging 18.8 points and connecting on 44% of his 3-point attempts. Danjel Purifoy seems comfortable after missing a year and a half due to a suspension related to his connection to the FBI investigation. With Florida and Kentucky struggling early, Auburn could be an SEC sleeper.
Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider:Tennessee has been the positive surprise for me. The Volunteers had to replace their veteran frontcourt duo of Grant Williamsand Admiral Schofield, along with star point guard Jordan Bone. And although it's only through three games, Rick Barnes' group hasn't missed a beat.
I had high hopes for the perimeter group, with five-star freshman Josiah-Jordan James joining Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, but it's the frontcourt reinforcements who have opened my eyes. France native Yves Pons and 6-foot-9 junior John Fulkerson have stepped right in for Williams and Schofield; against Washington and the Huskies' first-round NBA draft duo of Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, Pons and Fulkerson more than held their own and helped lead the Volunteers to a 13-point win.
The biggest disappointment is obvious for me. It's Florida. I picked the Gators to win the national championship, and even if that was a little bit outrageous, they were a consensus top-10 team across the board. And, well, they're not that. They have a 12-point home loss to Florida State and a loss at UConn ... which was coming off a loss to Saint Joseph's in which the Huskies gave up 96 points.
So what's going on? Simply put, Florida can't score. And Florida can't shoot. The Gators were held to fewer than 0.90 points per possession against both the Seminoles and Huskies and are shooting 24.1% from 3-point range. Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann, Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis aren't making shots, and perhaps more important, they're not consistently creating their own shots. I think things will turn around, but it's ugly right now.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer:For me, the biggest negative surprise has been Kentucky. Yes, it's wild to say that about a group that knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation at the time, Michigan State, in its very first game. But in two home games against Evansville and Utah Valley, the Wildcats went 1-1 and barely outscored the opposition (146-141) over those 80 minutes.
UK's 3-point shooting on the young season has been atrocious (21%), and opposing defenses are packing the paint with zero penalty. Jeff's beating himself up for his preseason national title pick, but my SEC candidate for the same perch (that would be Kentucky) hasn't looked anywhere close to ready for that honor either.
The biggest positive surprise has been Arizona. Sean Miller's young group is 4-0, no opponent has come within 20 points yet, and it's possible two of those vanquished foes (Illinois and New Mexico State) could turn out to be NCAA tournament teams. Sure, those were all home games, and we'll learn more about the Wildcats when they play a true road contest at Baylor next month. Still, Zeke Nnaji's extremely accurate 2-point shooting and Nico Mannion's playmaking have been awfully impressive so far, even accounting for home-court advantage.
Jordan Schultz, insider/analyst:I love Arizona. So often we have heard about Miller's top-flight recruiting classes, only to see the Wildcats underachieve. Not this season and not with such elite quickness and athleticism. Blue-chippers Mannion, Josh Green and Nnaji have been as advertised. Mannion is already one of the best playmakers in the Pac-12, and Green is an electric, above-the-rim finisher getting it done on both ends. Nnaji has become the go-to scorer, converting an unfathomable 85% from the field en route to 21 points per game. I believe we're looking at one of the most improved all-around teams in the country.
Meanwhile, it has been a rough start for Fred Hoiberg in Lincoln. After an embarrassing 21-point home loss to UC Riverside, his club subsequently lost to Southern Utah, again at home. Nebraska was primarily picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten, but dropping two straight while shooting 12-of-52 from 3 with double-digit turnovers in each game -- against low majors -- is unacceptable.
Name one player who wasn't really on your radar to start the season and has earned your attention.
Gasaway:I believe it would be fair to say that Adam Kunkel has come out of nowhere for Belmont. Last season he averaged only nine minutes, and even when he managed to get on the floor, he rarely attempted a shot. Now he's draining five 3s per contest and shooting 53% from beyond the arc. With Kunkel lighting it up from the outside and Nick Muszynski holding down the fort in the paint, the Bruins have a shot at a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. That would be quite a feat in head coach Casey Alexander's first season.
Medcalf:Filip Petrusev logged just over 11 minutes per game in 2018-19 with Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura on the roster. But he found an ideal opportunity for Gonzaga at the start of this season with Killian Tillie missing the first four games following knee surgery. Thus far, he has rivaled Zion Williamson's efficiency inside the arc, making 69% of his shots. The 6-11 forward's role will change now that Tillie has returned, but they combined to score 25 points (9-for-17 shooting) in Tuesday's 72-66 win over UT Arlington. Petrusev has been the star of the show with Tillie sidelined. His emergence is significant for a team that lost two first-round picks.
Schultz:I love Vanderbilt sophomore Aaron Nesmith. Having seen him live twice last season, it has been impressive seeing the skill work come to fruition. His handle is refined, he's a better finisher and he has been lethal from distance, converting over 55% from 3. I spoke during the offseason with several scouts who were very high on Nesmith and believe he's a legit two-way NBA player. In averaging nearly 27 points, the 6-6, 213-pound forward has done nothing to disprove that thus far.
Borzello:Heading into the season, I was lower on Auburn than some other people -- mostly because I wasn't sure how the Tigers would be able to score consistently from the perimeter. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown were both gone, and nobody on the roster seemed capable of filling their shoes. Samir Doughty -- and J'Von McCormick, in terms of distribution -- has answered the bell.
Doughty, a VCU transfer, has already hit the 20-point mark three times and scored 33 points against Cal State Northridge. Moreover, he's making perimeter shots at a clip we haven't seen from him before. Doughty is shooting 44.4% from 3 on more than five attempts per game, after shooting 36.3% on 2.5 attempts per game in his first two college seasons. With Isaac Okoro an impact freshman and Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley contributing up front, Bruce Pearl has yet another team that will be a factor in the SEC.
Who's the team you're most looking forward to watching during Feast Week, and why?
Borzello: Gonzaga, for a couple of reasons. One, the Bulldogs are in the Battle 4 Atlantis -- the most loaded of the early-season events this year. I'm looking forward to watching that, period. Gonzaga, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Oregon are all among the top 16 teams in the country, and we could have a few potential second-weekend NCAA tournament matchups in this event.
The other reason is that the Mark Few's team has come together much quicker than expected -- but the schedule has also not been all that brutal. Games against Seton Hall or Oregon and then potentially North Carolina will be true tests. Gonzaga just got back Killian Tillie earlier than anticipated, the graduate transfer backcourt of Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder has been good, and sophomore center Filip Petrusev is in the midst of a breakout season. If the Bulldogs win the whole thing in the Bahamas, we could be headed for another monster season in Spokane.
Gasaway: I'll follow Jeff to the Battle 4 Atlantis, but I'll go to the other half of the bracket and say I'm most looking forward to seeing North Carolina during Feast Week. The Tar Heels looked fantastic in their season opener against Notre Dame in Chapel Hill, and Cole Anthony was, of course, amazing. But three easy wins at home since then really haven't told us much about the team or its star freshman. That will change in the Bahamas, with UNC opening against Alabama and with potential opponents such as Iowa State, Michigan, Seton Hall, Oregon and, yes, Gonzaga lurking in the bracket. I can't wait.
Medcalf:Make that three. By far, the Battle 4 Atlantis has the best field. So many good teams in that event. I'm excited to see what Oregon can do. The Ducks could spoil the Gonzaga-North Carolina finale we all crave and make a statement for a Pac-12 with five teams ranked in the top 60 on KenPom.
That tournament is stacked, but they won't face a team that's more athletic than the Memphis team they beat last week. A Payton Pritchard-Cole Anthony matchup in the title game? It could happen. Anthony Mathis is 15-for-22 from the 3-point line. The UT Arlington squad that had an early lead on Gonzaga and lost by six to the Bulldogs on Tuesday, lost to Oregon by 20 points on Sunday. Imagine Oregon leaving the Bahamas with wins over Seton Hall, Gonzaga and North Carolina. That could set up Dana Altman's team to chase the top overall seed. Oregon can shake up the landscape next week.
Schultz:Let's head to Charleston and lock in on the Gators. I still believe in Mike White's team --Kerry Blackshear Jr.will ultimately be the deciding factor -- but expectations have been tempered after early losses to Florida State and UConn. It wasn't so much the losses that bothered me but rather the offensive ineptitude from the Gators. The Gators were held to fewer than 0.90 points per possession against both the Seminoles and Huskies (as Borzello stated), are shooting 24.1% from 3, rank 312th nationally in scoring and are committing more turnovers than assists. The good news -- or maybe the bad news -- is the Charleston Classic has a good enough field (Xavier, Buffalo, Miami, UConn, Missouri State, Buffalo, Saint Joseph's) to test Florida on both ends of the floor.
ESPN.com expert picks for this weekend's top games
(Lines, when available, fromCaesars Sportsbook. Predictors do not have access to lines when making score predictions.)