We're about two weeks into the college basketball season, and several important trends are snapping into focus.
We've seen a preseason top-5 team in Arizona fall completely out of the rankings after a sluggish start. We've seen No. 1 Duke play like many expected No. 1 Duke to play. And we've seen teams, such as Arizona State and Florida, play at a level many may not have anticipated going into the season.
With CBS' broadcast of college basketball tipping off Saturday with Indiana at Michigan (12:30 p.m.), lead CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg broke down some of the early lessons learned from the season on Wednesday as we talked about some of the biggest surprises he's seen -- both good and bad -- as well as players who are making early cases for national player of the year. We also revisited some of his preseason predictions and discussed the looming FBI investigation, which he likened to a rain cloud that could offer some precipitation, produce a full-blown storm, or simply hover.
Both Arizona and Arizona State have been early surprises for entirely different reasons. The Sun Devils are 6-0 while Arizona, the No. 3 team entering the season, has begun the season an underwhelming 3-3.
"I thought Arizona State had a chance to be very high octane on offense, and they've certainly showed that," Kellogg said. "If they can just find enough defense, they'll be a team that's hard to deal with. Those three guards -- Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and obviously Tra Holder -- they're lethal.
"Arizona State has a little more size around the rim now, too, so I would certainly put that team on my watch list if I were following college basketball."
As for the cross-state Wildcats, who sit at 3-3 after a three-game skid at the Battle 4 Atlantis this past week, they're a not-so-pleasant early-season surprise.
"But I think Arizona will regroup — you play good teams and you don't play well, then you can get beat pretty bad and learn a lot about yourselves" Kellogg said.
"Couple other surprising teams I've seen is St. John's, I love the way they get after it. Those guards are really impressive -- Ponds and LoVett. They get into you defensively. So that team has surprised me. Washington State, unblemished, another surprise team. And Texas A&M, my goodness. A lot of folks thought they would be pretty good. I was with that team last year, and Billy Kennedy thought they were about a year away ... man oh man, that team can hit you every which way. They're big, long, just really, really impressive so far."
The Aggies are 6-0 on the season with wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State and Southern California giving them one of the more impressive resumes to date. They will get a chance to bolster that in the coming week, too, as they take on Arizona next Tuesday in Phoenix for the Valley of the Sun shootout.
Early player of the year candidates
Declaring a player of the year two weeks into the season would be a bit premature. But Kellogg has his eyes on a few players that have made their early case this season with strong play.
"It's hard not to watch that Marvin Bagley III, man. You can't take your eyes off him. I mean 1. He's got the arms of an orangutan and 2. He's 6-foot-10, so you can't miss him. But his impact -- he's such a terrific offensive rebounder," Kellogg said. "He goes and gets that thing before some guys can even react to the shot being put up. He can shoot it, and he's got a really good motor it seems. He's been outstanding for Duke.
"Another player that has stood out to me is Jordan Murphy at Minnesota. He's off to a great start, too, in terms of production level and overall team impact. Trevon Blueitt at Xavier has been impressive in key moments; Jonathan Williams at Gonzaga is good and has been undervalued. He's doing work. He's putting up numbers. And I like Collin Sexton at Alabama, too, because he's so magnetic and has so much energy. He's a great play-maker and I love the swag he plays with.
"And then I'll throw another guy at you: Shamorie Ponds at St. John's. That kid, he is nice. A real baller. He sets people up. He doesn't force it, can make hard shots. He's really nice, I've been really impressed with what I've seen from him."
Revisiting preseason predictions
Kellogg's preseason Final Four teams were Michigan State, Arizona, Northwestern and Cincinnati. While 'Zona and Northwestern have gotten off to unusually slow starts this season, he says he's sticking by his picks as the season is still young.
"Obviously, Michigan State has the ingredients of a championship team," Kellogg said. "Based on what you know about the returners, they get Jaren Jackson. They're a really good team. I make my projections off known quantities, so no concerns at this point.
"Northwestern is dealing with the burden of expectations now," he continued. "Because teams are going to come at them totally different than they have in the past. While they've got good returning players, it's an adjustment and wake up call. It's a good thing for them. It's good for them to be tested. Last year was historic. But last year doesn't help you this year. And the same with Arizona -- I mean, you've got to do it again. Struggles early, every team deals with adversity and I think these teams will find their way on the other side of it."