Week 5 Watchlist: Buildings Look Small and I Am Supersized
The point about the Cincinnati/Kenyon Martin and FSU attempted parallel is that Cincinnati still got a chance
NOTE: This is a slightly unusual week for the Watchlist. Saturday and Sunday are so ridiculously packed that the weekend will get its own post, likely on Friday. How about it! See you then. For now, this one will cover games on the five weekdays.
The Watchlist Tune o’ The Week
I am guilty of a little overreacting from time to time. Such is being human, after all. One of my favorite and/or most fun overreactions yearly now is that to the College Football Playoff, a social experiment I cannot help but partake in. (Disclosure that is relevant every year now: my dad went to Michigan and I support their football team.) This is not meant to be a recap of the actual selection process itself, which everyone who does not live under a rock has already heard about.
Instead, this was the first year I think I’ve ever watched the actual reveal show. Unlike college basketball, which builds its entire year to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, this one generally feels like an afterthought. Most years the four College Football Playoff teams are well-known by the time the Big Ten title game ends Saturday night, so it’s a moot point. Every year where it’s been even somewhat relevant to me, mostly as a hater’s perspective for teams I don’t like pre-2021, I just wait for the teams and matchups to hit Twitter and move on with my day.
This year was different, obviously; there was real matchup intrigue and the obvious “who gets left out” among three of the ~10 best college football programs of the last 50 years. But! The show, given this amount of interest and almost certainly the highest viewership total it has ever had, sucked big ones. It made me very grateful for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, an imperfect production with heavy flaws that is nonetheless a far superior product. Let’s do a little comparison here.
Men’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show: Starts at 6 PM ET on a Sunday, which is a good time. You can get dinner before it. Show has a theme everyone likes. Within five minutes of the show beginning, if not three, the overall #1 seed is announced. You learn about the first 16 (or 17, or 18) teams in the field no later than 6:10 PM ET and usually 6:07. The entire bracket is revealed by 6:40 PM ET if not earlier. Analysis is done but is largely light-hearted and contains a general air of goof to it. Production quality: top-notch.
College Football Playoff Selection Show: Starts at 12 PM ET on a Sunday, which is a convenient time if you are not a church person. I wonder if most of the fans in this sport are church persons! Anyway. No recognizable theme. Five of the dullest people you’ve ever heard debate the merits of various teams with zero jokes and an extreme air of self-seriousness. No teams are given until 12:21 PM ET. They are given one at a time, from 1-2-3 to 6. Teams are flashed on a screen with no context. The bracket of SIX TEAMS is revealed a hair before 12:30. Analysis is done for hours upon hours with not a single interesting thing being said. The remainder of bowls are not revealed until 2:30-3:00 PM ET, all of which is covered on this show.
I think I know which one is a million miles better.
I’ve long felt like a standout in a negative way here in town. I haven’t liked football as a sport more than basketball since I was maybe 16 or 17 and I am 30 now. I enjoyed attending basketball games at Tennessee quite a bit more than football games. Part of that is that the football team had one (1) winning season when I was in college, obviously, but part of it is a bit more fundamental. It even goes beyond having played the sport myself from age 6.
I like football; there are days during the college football season and this current Lions run where I will happily say I love it. It also does not have the capacity for me to touch basketball. There is no committee of olds crafting the world’s worst party and telling you which blue blood got left out on a show with zero likable hosts. Generally, in basketball, you still make the field after your critical team-destroying injury. The point is that you get the effing chance in the first place, which does not exist in the other sport. Any Given Saturday, much as people want to pretend otherwise, is a myth.
After that year, the one with no upsets, the one where we got zero enjoyable outcomes for a fan of a non-elite other than Washington…I mean, it just makes me thankful for what we have here. We have a sport where Northwestern can beat Purdue and it isn’t even a crazy event. Where SWAC schools, multiple, can go into SEC schools and win on the road. Where Florida Freaking Atlantic can become one of the ten or so best teams in the sport. On the women’s side, a side that’s struggled to craft parity of its own, UConn has lost three games already and two of the best teams in the sport are Iowa and Utah, not exactly historic bluebloods.
This, this, is the sport where possibilities reign. It is all we have and all we need: possibility. Dreams. Space to wander and space to explore. These buildings are small and we, the fans, are supersized. Let’s enjoy what’s still in the tank after a month that has already delivered in a million different ways.
Women’s rankings via Her Hoop Stats. Men’s rankings via KenPom. D2/D3 rankings via Massey.
WBB: #46 Penn State at #37 West Virginia (-5), 6 PM ET, ESPN+. Okay, but after that inspiring and rousing essay maybe don’t apply it to this Monday. This is a profoundly weak slate on all accounts. Still, both PSU and WVU have good teams this year and are both bubble material for March. Somewhat like the men used to, WVU runs an extremely aggressive defense that currently sits #4 nationally in turnovers forced.
#37 Iowa at #2 Purdue (-13), 7 PM ET, BTN. Purdue is going to be pretty mad after blowing one to Northwestern last week and losing their AP #1 spot, but they can feel blessed that it happened while everyone was watching the Pac-12 title game. Iowa has largely lacked their typical chaos factor this year, going 5-0 when favored and 0-2 when a dog. It likely has something to do with their lowest three-point attempt rate in 11 seasons.
#136 Furman at #45 Arkansas (-12), 8 PM ET, ESPN+. I don’t think anything happens here given that Arkansas already had their token “is Musselman washed?” loss that happens every season, but Furman is tremendous as ever at producing high-quality twos. But: this is not as good of a Furman team yet as last year and they have a serious turnover problem. For what it’s worth, Richey is 8-4 ATS on the road as a 7+ point dog.
#4 UConn (-4) vs. #12 North Carolina, 9 PM ET, ESPN. Dan Hurley went on some sort of a tear after UConn’s tough road loss to Kansas Friday about how teams should be doing more home-and-homes. I agree, of course, but to immediately follow that game by playing a neutral in MSG against a fellow blue-blood is pretty silly stuff. Anyway, this game rocks. These are two of the five best offenses this year, which is fun because UNC taking their boatload of talent and finally pairing it with a 2020s offensive scheme is Actually Good.
#14 Florida Atlantic (-1) vs. #16 Illinois, 6:30 PM ET, ESPN. I’m still holding out for a bit before buying in on FAU like everyone else seems to happily be doing. It’s a very fun story! Don’t get me wrong. I just gotta see it stay this way for a full season. This is a sport that produces weird one-month champions as its job. A win here would be fairly convincing, though. Not being a hater, promise, I just have my doubts this lasts forever. It rarely does.
#44 Providence at #25 Oklahoma (-6), 7 PM ET, ESPNU. Given the other options on the board, this may be a weird pick for a four-star game, but hear me out. After a couple years of scuttling about, Oklahoma actually has a very fun and watchable offense for the first time since Trae Young. Providence…does not, but don’t let that stop you! Their defense has been truly nuts thus far and looks like one of the 15-20 best in the nation. Plus this is an actual home environment and not a sterile one.
#26 San Diego State (-3) at #80 Grand Canyon, 9 PM ET, ESPNU. ESPNU has the heat this night. Everyone’s favorite Mountain West superstars take on everyone’s favorite for-profit university with weird undertones.
#34 Villanova at #53 Kansas State (-1), 7 PM ET, ESPN2. Don’t know what to think about Villanova. On one hand, every game they play against non-Philadelphia schools; on the other, the games they played against Philadelphia schools. KSU is taking a serious step back after a charmed season last year. This does not strike me as a terribly fun game to watch, but the talent is there for me to be wrong.
#15 Wisconsin at #19 Michigan State (-3), 7 PM ET, Peacock. Free reminder that not every high-profile game is a watchable one.
WBB: #29 Washington State (-4.5) at #59 South Dakota State, 7 PM ET, Midco Sports ($). I’m mildly underwhelmed by South Dakota State thus far, a mid-major program I always like but one that appears to have kind of a crap offense this year. It’s still very hard to win on the road there, though. Wazzu, on the other hand, is a rising delight. Bella Murekatete is a baller and is adding to the lengthening list of tremendous post players in WBB.
#67 Indiana State (-5) at #159 Northern Illinois, 8 PM ET, ESPN+. If you find yourself bored at some stage of the night, pop this one on. Our ISU boys currently rank #1 in the nation in eFG%, 5th in 3PT%, 7th in 2PT%, and a beautiful 362nd in defensive TO%/351st in OREB%. Every game they play is a shooting bonanza. The same can be said about Northern Illinois, who has a star of its own in 5’11” David Coit.
WBB: #4 Iowa (-4) at #35 Iowa State, 7 PM ET, ESPN2. I debated this one for a while. Should it be a five-star game? I think you can make an argument for it. I held off, because I try to make the five-star category games between two top 25 teams or a rough equivalent. This Iowa State team is good, obviously, but at 4-3 and looking a little bit worse than preseason expectations, they may not be the best opponent for an Iowa team that looks bound for the Final Four again.
Regardless, this is the main event of the day for me and I’m considering doing a preview package with this and the men’s Iowa/ISU game the next day. Everyone’s well aware of Caitlin Clark, but Kate Martin and Sydney Affolter have emerged as quality secondary options for the Hawkeyes. ISU has little in the way of star power but has an eight-deep rotation that loses very little steam when they go to the bench. Few teams in either MBB or WBB are better at slowing the game to an absolute crawl offensively.
WBB: #43 MTSU vs. #36 Tennessee (-1.5), 7:30 PM ET, ESPN+. This is a tremendously disappointing Lady Vols team. Understanding that superstar Rickea Jackson has been out for three weeks now, I’m willing to give Kellie Harper a little sympathy, but on the other hand, they spent the entire offseason telling us this was the deepest and oldest Lady Vols team in years. It looks like the most incompetent one since late-stage Holly Warlick. Rarely is a random neutral-site game in December a non-negotiable must-win, but such is this. Moving to 4-5 by way of a loss to an in-state opponent you’re 22-0 against all-time is Actual Real Hot Seat Material.
#30 Texas at #7 Marquette (-8), 8 PM ET, FS1. Many of the fears I had preseason about Texas appear real. Max Abmas is scoring as he ever did but is a turnstile defensively. The mid-major transfers look like fish out of water. None of the returners have taken a meaningful leap. The best overall player is probably UVA transfer Kadin Shedrick, which is totally fine, but it’s December and they’re already functionally down to a 7-man rotation at best. They’ve also looked horrendous defensively. I think this could be a bloodbath.
D3: #2 Tufts at #15 St. Joseph (CT), 7 PM ET, streaming. You have to hunt for this one on team websites and whatnot, but if you’re bored it’s worth it. The Tufts Jumbos (yes) look like an early title contender in D3 to the point that the rankings have yet to catch up with them, while St. Joseph’s has an elite defense that forces a lot of tough shots. By our friend Matt Snyder’s ratings, this is #3 at #29. Very good! Fun fact: this is a great age battle between Tufts (HC Brandon Linton is 35) and SJU (HC Glen Miller is 62).
D2: #8 Northwest Missouri (-6.5) at #46 Fort Hays State, 5:30 PM ET, streaming. If you have a free early evening, this is well worth your time. I’ve poured out words on how beautiful Northwest Missouri’s offense every single season for six years now. This is an excellent matchup with a Fort Hays defense that produces turnovers in bunches. NWMO’s ball-screen offense rarely repeats itself, but this is a Fort Hays group that asks you to make a lot of quick decisions. Huge matchup for sophomore Bennett Stirtz of NWMO here, which is a name that the scouting people I follow should get a little more familiar with. He’s excellent.
#37 Iowa at #23 Iowa State (-6), 7:30 PM ET, ESPNU. This game rocks. The hope is to do a double preview with the women’s game on Wednesday; barring illness that should come to fruition. I love watching both of these teams, but this is not Iowa’s best unit in team history. On the other hand, the ISU offense appears to actually have something for the first time basically since Fred Hoiberg left.
WBB: #2 Utah (-14.5) at #62 Saint Joseph’s, 7 PM ET, ESPN+. This is probably nothing, but I always find it interesting when national title contenders make trips that they aren’t really required to make. This falls under the category of games that you probably shouldn’t be scheduling but I’m certainly glad you are scheduling. If you follow me you’re aware of how good Utah is on both ends of the court, but SJU is 7-0 and has been horrendous to deal with in the paint on both ends of the court. Great matchup for Alissa Pili and crew.
D2: #58 Bemidji State at #2 Minnesota State-Moorhead (-9.5), 6:30 PM ET, streaming. MSU Moorhead is a legitimate title contender this year. This matters because I think you should watch this game for their backcourt, a nasty bunch that can really rip it offensively but also produces a ton of points at the rim. Bemidji is exclusively rim-and-three, as in 87% of their shots come at one or the other. Look, the Friday night slate is awful on the D-1 level, so get familiar with D-2 while you have time. It’s good hoops! Promise.
Saturday and Sunday will be covered in a separate article to come later this week.
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