Heat Check: Freshman Melo Trimble has Maryland Heating Up
This one may feel obvious, but wow. Now I’m typically the first one to caution against believing the early season hype of yet another juggernaut Kentucky team, but this time it feels different. They have more veteran experience and they’re HUGE. I’ve never seen a team dominate in college basketball on defense like Kentucky has against their two quality opponents thus far. In those two games against Kansas and Providence, they’ve allowed 40 and 38 points, respectively. This team is bigger AND more athletic than their opposition at almost every position. Can it be that simple? I’m not handing this team the championship after two dominating wins, but this team defines ‘nightmare matchup’ for most of the country.
Heat Score: 10/10
The Big East
After an uneven first year in the ‘new’ Big East, the conference as a whole has emerged as one of the better basketball leagues in the early part of the 2014-15 season. From Villanova all the way down to Depaul, yes Depaul, the conference is racking up quality non-conference wins. Let’s recap: ‘Nova over Michigan and VCU, Creighton over Oklahoma, Georgetown over Florida, Butler over UNC, St. John’s over Minnesota, Seton Hall over GW, Providence over Notre Dame, Marquette over Georgia Tech, and even Depaul over Stanford. Villanova carried the banner of the league last year, but many including myself were skeptical of just how good the Wildcats were. An early tournament exit did nothing to help with that perception, but this year’s version looks significantly better than they did at any time last year. Those quality wins, even including some from the bottom of your league, provide a serious boost to both conference perception and RPI that may make the difference come Selection Sunday. It’s a small sample thus far, but this league looks very competitive to me. If things break right, they may be able to secure six to seven bids.
Heat Score: 8/10
One More Big 10 freshman
After highlighting D’Angelo Russell and James Blackmon last week, another freshman has burst onto the scene in the Big 10. Melo Trimble of Maryland was tasked with filling the enormous hole left in the Terrapins backcourt after Seth Allen unexpectedly transferred. That burden has only increased now with Dez Wells out for multiple weeks with a wrist injury. To say he has answered the bell thus far may be an understatement. He’s leading an undefeated Maryland team in scoring (16.6ppg) while shooting 52% from the field, 48% from beyond the arc, and just a tick under 90% from the free throw line. That includes an upset win over Iowa State last week. He’ll need to continue to play at a high level as the Terps wait to get Dez Wells back, but for a team that dealt with so much attrition this offseason, Trimble has been a godsend.
Heat Score: Trimble 9/10, Maryland 6.5/10
John Groce’s team looked primed to be a popular breakout team this year until talented senior PG Tracy Abrams tore his ACL in September. After a 6-0 start including a win over Baylor over the weekend it seems premature to dismiss the Illini as a legitimate contender in the Big 10. After using great defense to fight their way onto the bubble despite shooting 41% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc last season, the Illini have displayed a fire power they never seemed capable of last season. They’re currently hitting 43% of their 3’s and shooting 48% from the field as a team and averaging 90 PPG. Even with some regression and factoring in the quality of their opponents, the Illini offense looks significantly improved. Pair that with an elite defense, and you have a very dangerous team. What’s changed since last season? Leading scorer Rayvonte Rice has been playing more efficiently while sophomores Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have continued to improve, especially their jump shooting. Also, newly eligible transfers Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby have added scoring and stability to the backcourt. The early schedule has been filled with mostly easy wins, but the Illini will face their second true test on Tuesday against Miami in the ACC/Big 10 challenge.
Heat Score: 7/10
The Panthers are off to a 7-0 start including a road win against Stephen F. Austin, that broke the Lumberjacks’ 34 game home win streak, as well as two lopsided wins over major conference competition – Virginia Tech and Northwestern. Led by senior F Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa looks like the MVC’s best bet at being a two bid league this season and can give their resume a couple of big boosts by beating Iowa and VCU in the next few weeks. Not sure if the Panthers are a big threat to Wichita State, but they’re certainly a threat to steal a bid come March.
Heat Score: 7/10