Steve Piekell has this team playing at a very high level and they will be competing at the top of the Big Ten. Furthermore, having an All-American caliber player in Ron Harper Jr. has elevated Rutgers to another level. Harper Jr. is averaging 24.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. His versatility and toughness are so valuable. Additionally, Jacob Young has elevated his game becoming the secondary scorer and his passing ability has developed. When Geo Baker returns to full form from injury, Rutgers will be at another level of production. The frontcourt duo of Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi brings stability and a high ceiling, especially with Omoruyi. Last season was setting up to be a historic year for Rutgers, but this year will be even better. Rutgers will be a national factor and be in the mix for a top tier seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UConn has another star level guard who has the likes of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier and that’s James Bouknight. His ability to take over games and be extremely efficient is impressive, scoring 40 points against Creighton. Bouknight will compete for Big East Player of the Year and could be an All-American at the end of the season. Additionally, if UConn is going to make noise at the top of the Big East it will be because of Bouknight. His emergence in his sophomore season has been very good and he’s playing his way into being a top pick in the NBA draft.
Gonzaga is the clear front runner to win the National Championship and the Bulldogs are playing better than anyone in the country. Mark Few has scheduled his team to go against the very best every single week. To have games against the likes of Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor (postponed), Iowa and Virginia, isn’t easy. These opponents are a gauntlet of a schedule and Gonzaga has dominated their way through this. The play of Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs has been as good as any trio in the country, as all of them could be very well considered All-Americans. Joel Ayayi contributes in every aspect towards Gonzaga’s success. Few and Gonzaga set themselves up to build a resume and they have aced their way throughout this schedule.
Kansas came away with a major win on the road against Texas Tech in a defensive battle. Their ability to defend with their all-guard lineup or with the one big is really impressive. Kansas’ ability to defend ball screens is really good. Being led by Marcus Garrett, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, sets the tone with his ball pressure. The length of Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson gives them versatility on the perimeter. Bill Self continues to put his team in a position to succeed on the defensive end. Further, their ability to execute down the stretch in special situations is vital towards their success and gives them an edge. Kansas doesn’t have the same level of talent as a year ago, but they will be right there among the nation’s best teams.
Xavier has gotten off to a tremendous start being 8-0 on the season. They have very solid wins over Marquette, Oklahoma and Cincinnati. The ability for Xavier to improve their scoring is crucial for their overall ceiling as a team. The identity of Xavier has been on the defensive end under Travis Steele. The ability for Paul Scruggs to bring leadership on both ends and be versatility on offense is key. Also, Nate Johnson has brought solid scoring for Xavier that was needed entering the season. The further development of Zach Freemantle has been impressive and he is a matchup problem for opponents’ bigs. The most important aspect is the eligibility of Adam Kunkel as his presence was felt in the win over Marquette. Steele has Xavier in a position to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.
Images Courtesy of, 247 Sports, uconnhuskies.com, USA Today
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