It seems that in any given year, you can’t watch or discuss college basketball without hearing about that team or that player. Remember Zion Williamson’s tenure at Duke and Trae Young’s Oklahoma? How about the Kentucky squad that won 38 consecutive games in 2014-15 before stumbling in the Final Four?
Their greatness defined the narrative of a sport’s entire season, on and off the hardwood. Those guys dominated their opponents night in and night out. The media spotlight never shifted off of them, and deservedly so. This time around, however, we as fans have been blessed with a change of pace.
This season’s media darling is not a player, team, coach or FBI investigation. It’s parity. We’re fewer than seven weeks away from March Madness and even the experts can’t tell you who to bet on.
Baylor is the seventh different program to top the AP top 25 poll this season, an unforeseen spreading of the wealth atop the national landscape. The Bears the mantle held by Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Louisville and, most recently, Gonzaga. Any further shake-ups at the top will send us further into uncharted territory.
No high-major conference has a clear frontrunner yet, and most leagues have at least one major surprise in store, from Illinois shockingly pacing the Big Ten to North Carolina’s ACC implosion. Mid-major conferences like the American shouldn’t be overlooked either – Tulsa recently beat preseason favorite Memphis by 40 points and have come from nowhere to lead the conference at 6-1.
If utter dominance is your bread and butter, however, you aren’t completely out of luck. Baylor, Gonzaga, undefeated San Diego State and Dayton have all been on season-long tears with only minor blips along the way. Beyond them, though, it’s tough to say anybody looks unbeatable.
This power vacuum extends to the players as well. There is no real frontrunner for National Player of the Year, though a small group including Myles Powell, Dayton’s Obi Toppin, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Payton Pritchard of Oregon have separated themselves from the chasing pack.
Any of those four could earn the award, and there is plenty of time for another player to insert themselves into the discussion. Coach of the Year is up for grabs too, as teams break out and fall apart as the season churns along. Butler’s Lavall Jordan was considered a frontrunner, but a rough stretch has his Bulldogs reeling. Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell meanwhile, has the Scarlet Knights on a tear and has forced his name into the mix.
Times are changing closer to home, too. There’s no need to leave the Garden State in search of a college basketball epic this year. The Pirates are a top-ten team in the country for the first time in nearly two decades, and fans are daring to dream of playing “Onward Setonia” this April. Down the Turnpike, Rutgers is ranked for the first time since 1979.
So what’s next for college basketball this season? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’ll bet you the unpaid balance on my credit card that it’s going to be fun. No matter what, happens, it’s never been a better time to be a college basketball fan – especially a neutral one.
Kyle Beck can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @notkylebeck.