College basketball report card: Purdue, UConn among those earning top marks

A little more than a month into the college basketball season, it’s time to take stock of how things have gone to this point.

Who have been big surprises? Who has disappointed? And how have our preseason projections — Final Four picks, All-Americans, etc. — stood up?

[Related: Preseason Final Four picks, All-Americans and more]

Let’s take a look at the landscape around the sport with an early-season report card.

Is UConn the best team in college basketball?

Is UConn the best team in college basketball?

Mark Titus and Tate Frazier discuss UConn’s impressive run to start the season.

 What are your updated Final Four picks? 


Arizona: The Wildcats, who are No. 1 in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency, possess the most dangerous frontcourt duo in the country with Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. Combine that elite size in the paint with Kerr Kriisa, Pelle Larsson and Texas transfer Courtney Ramey in the backcourt, and Arizona has such great scoring balance. It’s a formula that will keep opposing coaches up at night.

UConn: The first part of this Final Four sure does seem “vintage,” wouldn’t you say? There’s a buzz back in Storrs, Connecticut, and for good reason. Fifth-year head coach Dan Hurley has the best squad of his UConn tenure and perhaps the best depth in the country with two outstanding centers. It’s an embarrassment of riches at the five spot for Connecticut, with Adama Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan. Andre Jackson epitomizes what it means to be a captain, and Jordan Hawkins is the best pure shooter Connecticut has had in years. 

Houston: I’m not going to jump ship on the Cougars because they ran into a red-hot Alabama team this past weekend. Marcus Sasser had a tough shooting performance and the Crimson Tide rode a red-hot second half to the upset win. That being said, the trio of Sasser, Tramon Mark and Jamal Shead in the backcourt is so difficult to handle, and five-star freshman Jarace Walker has been really impressive. Sometimes, losing helps expose a group’s flaws to work through on the marathon to March. I still think the Cougars are one of the nation’s best teams and that goes back to their defensive roots and ability to dictate a game’s tempo. I’m not backing off on them to reach the Final Four. 

Virginia: The undefeated Cavaliers are stacked with experience and balance, with the common thread of Tony Bennett’s defense intact as well. All five starters for the Hoos are averaging between 9.1 and 11.6 points per game, while the guard duo of Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman have combined for 77 assists to just 29 turnovers. They play highly efficient, mistake-free basketball, committing only 9.8 giveaways per game, the seventh-fewest in the country. Jayden Gardner’s length and scoring ability are special, and he’s shown a clutch gene as well.


Purdue: The Boilermakers are the best chance for a Final Four team out of the Big Ten. They have the best big man in the country in Zach Edey, but it’s the play of freshmen Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer that has been a game-changer. They clearly are ready for the big stage. This Purdue team isn’t as talented as a season ago, but it seems to be more of a “team.” Defensive lapses are gone, and the Boilermakers seem to be all on the same page.

Arizona: The Wildcats are one of the best teams to watch this season. Love seeing the energy, the passion and the options on every possession. This team is a real tough matchup led by the spirited point guard, Kriisa. The bigs and big guards were too much for Indiana to handle. Ballo, Tubelis and Larsson are all too tough to handle in general. Ramey has been a great addition, especially on the defensive end. This team is going to be in the chase for a Final Four berth.

UConn: The Huskies have everything they need to make a Final Four run. Sonogo and Clingan are big, wide, and long, and can finish in a variety of ways. The guards can make shots, defend and show no mercy. Hawkins, Jackson and Tristen Newton show no hesitation at either end of the court. This team has handled every challenge thus far. 

Alabama: The Tide have already handled two No. 1 teams — North Carolina in four OTs, and Houston on the road. They’ve got the best player on the floor in almost every game in freshman Brandon Miller. Jahvon Quinerly is healthy and that’s a huge plus. Ohio transfer Mark Sears has fit in quite nicely. Noah Clowney has done solid work on the boards. This team has the answers. 

Who are the five best players so far?


Zach Edey, Purdue: Edey is the frontrunner for national player of the year, averaging 22 PPG and 13 RPG. His best game was 31/22 against Minnesota. He’s in a category of one.

Brandon Miller, Alabama: Miller has been the best freshman in the country, averaging 17/8.

Jalen Wilson, Kansas: Wilson is averaging 22/9 and has taken the baton of being the best player at Kansas and in the Big 12.

Adama Sanogo, UConn: Sanogo is averaging 18/6 and is a matchup nightmare every night. He is living up to the hype.

Drew Timme, Gonzaga: Timme is edging out Oscar Tshiebwe, Hunter Dickinson and Trayce Jackson-Davis. He’s averaging 20/7 in shouldering a large load for the Bulldogs.

Zach Edey, Drew Timme lead Player of the Year tiers

Zach Edey, Drew Timme lead Player of the Year tiers

Andy Katz shares his four player of the year tiers at this point in the season.


Zach Edey, Purdue: He’s head and shoulders — both literally and figuratively — above everyone else in this race. Not only has Edey evolved as a talent, but the way he’s come on as a leader for the Boilermakers has been special to watch. There’s really no one way to stop the 7-foot-4 star. I couldn’t agree more with Andy.

Jalen Wilson, Kansas: This is why Wilson came back to Kansas for another season, to lead the way for the reigning national champions and evolve his game to be more pro-ready. He’s gone for 24-plus points on four different occasions already this season.

Brandon Miller, Alabama: His athleticism, range and length are on a different level from any other freshmen in college basketball. Miller has dazzled in Tuscaloosa, and the fact the 6-foot-9 rookie is shooting 43% from downtown is also scary.

Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona: I want guys who impact winning, and Tubelis has been at the forefront of the Wildcats’ incredible start to the season. The 6-foot-11 junior from Lithuania is averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He went for 21 points, seven boards and three blocks in Zona’s win over Indiana last weekend in Las Vegas.

Jalen Pickett, Penn State: Look, this isn’t the first name you think of when having this discussion, but that’s why we do a roundtable. Consider this: The 6-foot-4 senior guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game this season. 

Here’s the list of college basketball players to average 15-7-7 since 1992:

  • Jason Preston, Ohio
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • Kyle Collingsworth, BYU

Tubelis is too much for Indiana

Tubelis is too much for Indiana

Azuolas Tubelis carried Arizona to a victory over Indiana earlier this season.

What’s your pick for the biggest surprise team so far?

Fanta: Mississippi State

Nobody — and I mean nobody — could have foreseen the Bulldogs ranked No. 17 in the nation when the season started. Mississippi State was ranked 10th in the SEC preseason media poll. First-year Bulldogs head coach Chris Jans has his team defending at an elite level, and 6-foot-11 forward Tolu Smith is a big-time talent. If the duo of Dashawn Davis and D.J. Jeffries can make enough shots, particularly from the outside, the Bulldogs become that much scarier. While the SEC will offer a totally different level of challenges, credit to a 10-0 Mississippi State team. Even the Bulldogs wouldn’t have predicted that. 

Katz: Purdue

The Boilermakers were supposed to be an NCAA Tournament team. But they weren’t projected to be the best team in the Big Ten, let alone a No. 1 seed and Final Four favorite. The play of the freshmen guards has been exceptional. If it keeps up, then Purdue will be the surprise of the season. 

What’s your pick for the most disappointing team?

Katz: Louisville

The Cardinals were in transition, but there was no one who thought the Cardinals would be 0-9 and rated 360 in the NET out of 363 Division I teams. Seriously? Nothing has gone right for the Cardinals, but this is beyond understandable.

Fanta: Creighton

I’m not saying the Bluejays can’t get on track, and head coach Greg McDermott is certainly fired up for a turnaround. 

That being said, at this point, the Jays are disappointing. This was supposed to be their year to lead the Big East and be a legit Final Four contender. While Ryan Kalkbrenner is out with illness, this team still should not be on a five-game losing streak. Can the Jays snap out of it? It gets no easier Friday (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) when Creighton visits Marquette in the Big East opener for both teams.

What’s your pick for the best game so far?

Fanta: The level that Illinois and Texas hit inside Madison Square Garden last week at the Jimmy V Classic was really impressive to watch live. The story arc of the game was also fascinating. Matthew Mayer emerged out of nowhere to charge the Illini in the first 20 minutes, then, just when it looked as if Timmy Allen and the Longhorns would put it away, freshman Jayden Epps stepped up and Illinois forced overtime. In OT, Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in the period and a double-digit comeback victory was complete for Brad Underwood’s group. A game that good inside a raucous MSG? It made me very excited to return there for the NCAA East Regional in March.

Andy: Arizona’s 81-79 win over Creighton in the Maui Invitational title game lived up to the hype. The game had plenty of runs and entertainment down to the final possession. Arizona is a joy to watch and plays with passion. Creighton was playing well — then. The Bluejays are on a major skid since Maui and injuries have hurt their progress. There is reason to believe that Creighton can turn things around, but the hole this team is digging is deep. Arizona has stayed true to its form, save one blemish against Utah.

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Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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