Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Jones: A quick catch-up on college basketball and Final Four picks

We've been a little busy lately.

What with Dirk Koetter staying and Evan Longoria going. We've been distracted by UCF and amazed by Alabama. There has been Jon Gruden news and what is shaping up to be a special season with the Lightning.
With all that going on, we've lost track of college basketball. Believe it or not, we're only a couple of months away from March Madness.

So now seems like a good time to catch up with what is going on in college hoops.

FLORIDA IS NOT AS GOOD AS WE THOUGHT, BUT IS TRENDING UP

After last year's run to the Elite Eight, the Gators were supposed to be title contenders this season. And things started off well enough with an early victory against Gonzaga and a close loss to Duke. But that was the start of four losses in five games and drop out of the polls. The Gators, who play at Mississippi at 1 p.m. Saturday, do seem to be getting their act together with six consecutive victories, including over ranked Texas A&M. They still could make some tournament noise, but there are a few more doubters because of Florida's inconsistent shooting.

(RELATED: Florida basketball stats, roster, schedule)

FSU IS BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT, BUT IS TRENDING DOWN

This was supposed to be a season when the Seminoles re-stocked. But they are still a top 25 team thanks to victories against Florida and North Carolina. Although FSU might be coming back to earth with three losses in the past four, although the losses came to tough competition: Duke, Miami and Louisville. The Louisville loss especially rough as FSU blew a 17-point lead. That loss snapped a 28-game home wins streak.

(RELATED: Florida State basketball stats, roster, schedule)

BEST TEAM IN THE STATE

Miami. The Hurricanes are 13-2 and ranked 18th. They suffered a surprising loss to New Mexico State, but they do have nice victories against Minnesota and FSU. There were high hopes for UCF. But the Knights are 12-5. Just so-so. But don't worry. If UCF doesn't make the tournament, it can just declare itself national champs, right?

(RELATED: Miami basketball stats, roster, schedule)

BEST PLAYER

This isn't even close, is it? Oklahoma freshman (yes, freshman) Trae Young not only leads the country in points (29.2), but assists (10.1). He's the reason why the Sooner are thinking Final Four. And he's the reason why former Gators coach Lon Kruger is considered a good basketball coach again. And, oh, let's hear it for the Big 12 with three teams ranked in the top nine: West Virginia at No. 2, Texas Tech at No. 8 and Oklahoma at No. 9. No other conference has that many teams in the top 10.

KEVIN KNOX'S SEASON

The Kentucky freshman from Tampa Catholic has been everything as advertised. He still has the occasional rough outing, such as his 1-for-9 shooting night in a loss to Tennessee. But he followed that up with a perfect 5-for-5 in a 15-point game against Texas A&M. Knox leads the Wildcats in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (5.7).

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Clemson was supposed to finish near the bottom of the ACC. Instead, the Tigers are 3-0 in the conference and 15-1 overall, including victories over Florida, N.C. State and Louisville. They've climbed to No. 19 in the polls, although a loss Thursday to N.C. State might drop the Tigers. Let's see if they can sustain it with a rugged ACC schedule that still has Clemson playing Virginia, Duke, North Carolina (twice) and FSU (twice).

(RELATED: The secret to Alabama's success)

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Two Big 10 teams are struggling. Northwestern, last year's darling of college hoops by getting into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, was ranked 19th coming into the season. But the Wildcats are scuffling with an 11-7 record, including ugly losses to Nebraska and Penn State.
Meantime, no one was talking Final Four or anything for Wisconsin, but the Badgers streak of 19 consecutive seasons of making the NCAA Tournament is in jeopardy. They are 9-9, including a loss to Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

UConn continues to be the dominant force in women's basketball. The Huskies are 13-0, including a 51-point victory over what we thought was a pretty good USF team. UConn's next big test is Monday at No. 7 Texas.

FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS

Right now, the top four teams in the country are Villanova, West Virginia, Virginia and Michigan State. Virginia always an outstanding defense, but usually it's the offense that disappears in a big tournament game. West Virginia is legit. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said teams should be "scared'' of West Virginia.

So, with that in mind, here's my halfway-point, not-going-out-on-a-limb Final Four prediction: Villanova, West Virginia, Duke, Oklahoma.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones

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