The Enticing Eight (11/22/2015)

The Enticing Eight 11/22/2015

This will be a little weekly or bi-weekly post I put together high-lighting eight of the most enticing or intriguing teams in the nation currently.

Criteria: A completely subjective process in which I fawn on eight teams that I am platonically in love with or intrigue me at the current point in time.

1. Purdue
Record: 5-0
Enticements: Suffocating D, Deep front court, Dismantling opponents, Vince Edwards

This is your most enticing team in America right here. What’s not to like about this team? The Boilermakers have a complete lineup top to bottom (they don’t have a point guard la la la I can’t hear you la la la!), with perhaps the deepest frontcourt in the Big Ten and maybe even the nation. Not many teams throw out a combo of an All-American 7-foot center (Hammons) with one of the best freshman in the nation (Swanigan), backed up by yet another 7-foot center (Haas) that is playing out of his stratosphere at the moment.

If the frontcourt doesn’t do it for you, how about sophomore forward Vince Edwards? This guy has blossomed into a force to be reckoned with; he’s making smart decisions, his deep shot looks better than last year, and he’s playing lock down D from the 3 (sometimes 4) spot. His poise has been phenomenal thus far and he is currently throwing up a 10.0/5.3/2.5 stat line with one block per contest.

Complementing Edwards is Kendall Stephens, who’s currently 14/38 from three through 5 games (he went 0-6 vs. Florida, ouch). I don’t love his form, but dude is fucking money. In addition to Stephens is Raphael Davis who is pressing HARD to repeat as Big Ten DPOY.

Purdue’s victory against Florida showed the toughness of this squad, particularly backup point guard P.J. Thompson who threw in 15 points, grabbed 5 boards, and dished out 4 assists (he also grabbed a tough jump ball that really set the tone for the Boilermakers the rest of the game).

Yes Purdue’s schedule has been a bit light so far, but they’ve won their first 4 contests by an average of 31.5 points, and then beat a good Florida team by 15. They’re recent onslaught against a solid Old Dominion team has solidified their spot as the inaugural most enticing team in America.

A few quick team stats: Off Eff. Rank: 13th; Def Eff. Rank: 11th; O. Effective FG%: 14th; D. Effective FG%: 9th

2. Cincinnati
Record: 4-0
Enticements: Stifling D, Octavius Ellis

Who says defense isn’t sexy? I’ll be honest – me usually. But the Bearcats’ methodical annihilation of their competition this season has been ridiculously fun to watch. Granted, the Bearkittens have played Western Carolina, Bowling Green, Pine Bluff, and Robert Morris, but we shouldn’t penalize them on this list because of their shit opponents (plus some teams have trouble with shit opponents – see Wisconsin and #8 on the list).

Cincinnati has the 2nd best D in the nation right now per KenPom; they force turnovers, they block shots, and they simply do not allow clean looks at the basket. The catalyst, of course, of their defensive fortitude is 6’10’’ senior Octavius Ellis. Ellis is in the top 70 in the nation in Block % and top 150 in steal %; he’s also shooting 62% from the field which isn’t defense related but still a good stat!

Including Ellis, the Bearcats have five players in the top 315 in the nation in Block %, and seven in the top 370 in Steal %. They have forced 86 turnovers in their first 4 games (21.5 per game) and are holding teams to an effective FG% of 37.3%.

The Cats go through two more cupcakes before facing Nebraska… okay the Cats go through three more cupcakes before they face their first real test when they host Butler (#7 on the list) on December 2nd. SOS is weak right now, but the Bearcats are legit and have earned a spot on the enticing list.

A few quick team stats: Off Eff. Rank: 39th; Def Eff. Rank: 2nd; Block %: 7th; Steal %: 1st; O. Effective FG %: 23rd; TO Forced %: 5th

3. Miami
Record: 5-0
Enticements: High-powered O, murdering teams (including Utah)

The Canes are imposing their will on opposing squads thus far in the early season. They handed Utah a 24-point thumping on a neutral floor and currently own the 2nd most efficient offense in the country. Miami is killing teams with their depth, playing 8 guys a significant amount of minutes. Sheldon McClellan has been an absolute force in his first four games; he’s nearly unconscious from the floor, shooting a slash (2P% / 3P% / FT%) of .720/.562/.941 while averaging nearly 20 points per contest prior to the Butler game in which he scored 8 points on 2/6 shooting.

Speaking of the Butler game: what a great win for this program early in the year. With the ten-point victory, Miami now has two marquee wins in their first five games and set themselves up for a berth into the top 25 in next week’s rankings. Angel Rodriguez was fantastic in the Butler game playing in his native Puerto Rico. The guard had 19 points on 6/10 shooting and went 4/4 from the line, including converting a few key free throws at the end.

Another source of impressiveness came from center Tonye Jekiri, who put up a 12 and 12 against the Bulldogs. Jekiri is a 7-foot monster of a postman; he rebounds like a 7-footer should rebound, protects the basket, and is shooting 81.2% from the foul line – an anomaly for a big man these days. Along with Jekiri, Ja’Quan Newton is making waves early in the season. Newton is a spark plug off the bench and plays a lot bigger than his 6’2’’ frame – he’s long, athletic, and makes a living getting to the tin.

The Canes look great in their first five games, great enough to be in consideration for a top ten ranking in next week’s polls. The ACC is going to be a bloodbath this season with the Canes, Heels, Devils, and Cavs all duking it out.

A few quick team stats: Off Eff Rank: 2nd; Def Eff Rank: 40th; Eff FG%: 9th; 3P%: 12th

4. Kentucky (obligatory)
Record: 4-0
Enticements: They’re just fucking good

Let it be known that I am not a John Calipari fan; he may actually be a good coach, but he’s so full of shit, both in interviews and considering he’s come under allegations at not one but TWO different universities (UMass / Memphis), it shocks the hell out of me that no one thinks his recruiting success at Kentucky is not the least bit suspect. I digress.

Despite my ramblings, Kentucky is a really good team, easily the best in the nation currently. They are super deep and feature a wonderful point guard in Ulis, a potential POY candidate in Skal, and a stud wing in Murray.

Jamal Murray is water. The way he contours his body and slips through defenders is truly fun to watch; he may emerge as Kentucky’s best player come tournament time. Tyler Ulis is outstanding; he has incredible poise for a second year point guard, his distribution ability might be second to none in the nation, and the way he gets to the line (and converts) is certainly impressive for a 5’9’’ D1 athlete. With Skal and Marcus Lee inside, the Cats have an imposing defensive wall that doesn’t even seem fair to opposing teams. Add in Briscoe and Poythress (who’s still there by the way) and it’s hard to see the Cats losing at all this season (again, sigh).

The Cats are awesome this season and are, much to my dismay, incredibly fun to watch. They dismantled a good Duke squad this week and show no signs of slowing down. All this makes the Cats an enticing squad – but, you know, F Calipari.

A few quick team stats: Off Eff. Rank: 7th; Def Eff. Rank: 1st; Off Reb. %: 11th

5. Michigan State
Record: 3-0
Enticements: Top 20 O and D, Denzel Valentine, Stickin’ it Kansas

Sparty is for real this season. Too many talking heads were surprisingly low on Michigan State this season despite them bringing back an All-American, a high-scoring transfer, two solid bigs, and two more experienced guards. Watching them beat Kansas Tuesday made me smile, not just because I’m a Mizzou alum and Kansas can suck it, but also because MSU played some truly great basketball.

Denzel Valentine is a stud. His triple double was truly an impressive feat. He scored 29 points on 7/14 shooting (3/9 from downtown). He pulled down 11 rebounds. He dished out 12 assists. The 6’5’’ Valentine, leading scorer for one of the best teams in the country, currently owns the #1 assist rate in the country. He was calm, cool, and collected throughout the entire Jayhawk game and appears to be a mortal lock for one of the three All-America teams (shhhh yes I know it’s early). What’s amazing about the Kansas game, is that Valentine probably could have scored even more; at times he was almost too passive, driving to the middle of the paint and pivoting around for a few seconds before whipping a pass back outside to a shooter vs. rising up over the defense for an easy deuce. Sparty won and Denzel became more aggressive down the stretch, so I won’t hold is moments of indecisiveness against him.

The outlook for Izzo’s squad is positive for the rest of the year. Costello and Davis make up a nice tandem down low, and that tandem will be bolstered with the return of Schilling. Matt McQuaid, the freshman off-guard, appears ready to be a major contributor all season. Izzo even left the freshman in the game vs. Kansas over Harris and Forbes at the end after McQuaid hit a couple huge threes (and celebrated like a doofus afterwards). If Izzo can reign in Harris a bit (he can) and teach Forbes that defending can be fun (eh maybe), Sparty could earn a top two seed in the Dance in March.

A few quick team stats: Off. Eff. Rank: 14th; Def Eff. Rank: 18th; Off. Reb%: 4th; Def. Reb %: 5th

6. Oregon
Record: 4-0
Enticements: Clicking O, punking Baylor, beating Valpo

The Ducks are off to a nice start this season after taking down a good Baylor team and a tough Valpo squad. This all without two of their best players in Nova transfer Dylan Ennis and big man Jordan Bell. In the two stars’ absence has been a six-man rotation of selfless, smart basketball players, five of which are averaging double figures in scoring.

The most impressive Duck in my eyes has been Chris Boucher, who is a slender 6’10’’ 190 pound center. Boucher is an electric athlete, sporting a 12% block percentage (34th nationally) while shooting 63.6% from the field and leading the Ducks in scoring at 14 points per contest. Ridiculous stat that’s going around: he has a resting heart rate of 36 beats per minute…

Oregon’s guards and wings are super fun to watch. The combo of Cook, Dorsey, Brooks, Benson and Benjamin make for entertaining television. Against Baylor, the Ducks whipped the ball inside and out of the Bears’ awkward matchup zone, finding open shots constantly. This unselfishness has propelled Oregon so far this season; no one player has dominated the ball this year. When Ennis comes back, this trend may trail off a bit, but given Ennis’s true point-guard roots, his addition should only improve the Ducks’ already fluid efficiency.

Oregon’s D has also been impressive thus far anchored by Boucher and Benjamin, bringing back memories of the 2013 team that finished in the top ten in the country in D efficiency. This year’s Ducks is a top 30 defensive team thus far, and has forced turnovers at a top 50 rate.

With all eyes on Cal and Arizona in the Pac-12, the Ducks have a real shot of “sneaking” up and competing for the conference crown. Their next real test will be a road game against Boise, other than that, the Pac-12 is all that stands in the way of Oregon earning a high seed in the tourney.

A few quick team stats: Off. Eff Rank: 28th; Def. Eff Rank: 29th

7. Butler
Record: 3-1
Enticements: Ridiculous O, Kellen Dunham

Butler is the only team on this list with a loss. This is mainly due to the fact that we can’t simply ignore the 144-point outburst the Bulldogs had against the Citadel (a shit team, but still). Butler followed up this performance with 93 points against Missouri State. They’ve since managed to score 74 and 75 against Temple and Miami, two good teams who can defend a bit. Overall the Dogs rank 19th in offensive efficiency and are one the best teams in the country at protecting the basketball.

Kellen Dunham has been the main source of joy for the Bulldogs. Dunham is super productive averaging 17 points per game while going 15/15 from the charity stripe to start the year. The Dogs are one of the deepest teams in the land; they have seven guys currently averaging in double figures. Big man Andrew Chrabascz has been solid on the O-Boards and point guard Tyler Lewis is sporting a TO Rate of less than 10 – very, very good.

Roosevelt Jones is averaging a double-double currently, and I love him as a do-it-all wing. Unfortunately for Jones (and Butler), the guy has one of the ugliest free throw shots in college basketball and is currently shooting a dismal 52% from the stripe (13/25). Seriously, Jones’ free throws are awful; it’s like this weird stop-motion jerk shot in which he pauses with the ball in front of his face then proceeds to push it straight out in front of him in a flat trajectory that looks like it’s sure to brick off the back rim every time.

Aside from Jones’s free throw woes, Butler looks solid as usual. Per Butler’s normal M.O., they are a tough, scrappy team, that doesn’t overwhelm anyone with size yet still proceeds to outrebound and outwork their opponent. The Dogs lost to a very good Miami squad and face a just-as-tough Cincy squad on December 2nd. These early season tests will pay dividends for the Dogs when they enter Big East play.

A few quick team stats: Off. Eff Rank: 19th; Def. Eff Rank: 47th; Off TO %: 13th; Off. Reb %: 20th; Steal %: 19th

8. Western Illinois
Record: 4-0
Enticements: Beating Wisconsin AT Wisconsin, 63.6% from three

The Leathernecks make this list for accomplishing one of the most amazing regular season feats in recent college basketball history: beating Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. Since 2011, the Badgers are 74-11 at home and were something like 24 or 25 point favorites to beat Western Illinois; and, the Leathernecks were by many, including me, picked to finish dead last in the unimposing Summit League. Saying this was an upset is more than just a bit of an understatement.

What’s interesting is that the Leathernecks haven’t fallen off since their historic win. Instead, they have demolished their last three opponents, beating UIC by 27 and Eastern Illinois by 20 (one win was against a D2 squad). The Necks have two more big-name opponents to face before conference play (Creighton on 11/28 and Iowa on 12/12), after which we should know if this squad is actually legit.

A key part to Western Illinois’s success so far has been their otherworldly three-point production. Through four games, the Necks are shooting 63.6% on 33 attempts. The Necks really don’t shoot many threes as a team, but when they have this year, the shots have fallen.

Western Illinois’s dynamic duo of J.C. Fuller and Garret Covington has propelled them to their hot start. Both wings are putting up insane shooting numbers (.519/.818/.867) and (.556/.538/.889), respectively while averaging 20.3 and 18.3 points per contest, respectively.

Though this start is likely unsustainable, the Necks figure to be competitive in the Summit this season and should give SDSU and NDSU a little run for their money.