The Arizona Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawks both look poised to compete for top honours as the SSG College Basketball conference games get underway.
Both teams had disappointed last year after strong performances in the 2015-16 season. The Jayhawks finished 3rd in the RPI rankings in 2016, going out of the SSGCB tournament in the sweet sixteen round. Arizona made the elite eight, after being ranked 5th in the RPI. But in 2016-17, neither team made the top 25 polls and both went out of the SSGCB tournament in round one.
As conference games get underway in college basketball this week, both teams are showing signs of a return to their former dominance. Under the leadership of new head coach Joe MacDonald, the Wildcats have leaped to an 11-1 start to the season, including victory in the Diamondhead Classic tournament. Key to the Wildcat’s success has been sophomore SG Gregory Dismore. With extraordinary quickness on the court, and the ability to nail three-point shots from just about anywhere, the 6’0″, 179lb Dismore is likely to run rings around the bigger men in the Pac-12 all season. Currently #6, the Wildcats look favourites for the Pac-12, with only the UCLA Bruins looking strong competition.
Over in the Big-12, it won’t be quite so easy for the Kansas Jayhawks. They too have jumped to an 11-1 start, including an opening conference victory over Iowa State on Christmas Day. Head Coach Dave Langen has assembled a starting roster with n0 discernible weaknesses. Up front, Johnie Fernandez and Horace Sullivan are dominating the stats for points scored and rebounds, and are getting plenty of possession with which to post big scores. Kansas is #5 in the rankings, but the Big-12 Conference has plenty of class. #2 Baylor is also 11-1, while both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are in the top 25. The Sooners are 10-2 with a very strong schedule, and will give the Jayhawks a very good run for their money in the conference.
The other high-profile team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 is Duke. Armando Trejo’s squad finished 16-15 last season and failed to earn a postseason appearance. This year the Blue Devils have skipped out to an 8-3 start. In Robbins, Jardine and Weiss they have a trio of sophomore starters each of which has developed strongly from their freshman year. Duke’s issue will be depth: they have very little behind their top half-dozen and injuries are already taking their toll. In a conference that boasts five of the current top-25, Duke will need some luck as well as skill to win.