Annual Stock Report: Time to buy Florida, Indiana; Sell Georgetown
Among hoops buys: Arizona, Butler, UConn, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and OSU
Sell: Georgetown, Illinois, Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Missouri and N.C. State
Both Belmont and Iona could emerge as NCAA tournament-caliber squads
You can feel it, can't you? A new year. A new belief. A new chance for your team to be this year's VCU, or this year's UConn, or this year's ... well, your team.
Yet, you are not just a fan. You are a savvy shopper. You know that numbers can lie. Sure, a team might have a nice won-loss record, a lofty ranking, but what does that really mean? You want to look closer. You want to see into the future. You want the proper knowledge, the proper perspective, the proper clairvoyance to invest wisely.
In other words, you want the Hoop Thoughts Stock Report.
It is a glorious tradition. Every year, as the calendar turns from December (cupcake fakery) to January (conference road games that reveal the truth), I have broken down the entire landscape of college basketball to tell you who's headed up, who's headed down, and who's holding steady. I have assessed each team's stock "price" based on its record, its ranking, and that hard-to-define category called "buzz." Buzz is something you can only feel, not quantify. But it's the driving force behind the manner in which everyone is "valued."
The HTSR's logic is twisted. The better your team is, the higher it is ranked, the more likely I am to rate it as a Sell. I'm looking for bargains, not affirmations. Once again, I sat down to craft this report in a surly, discriminating mood, but it turns out I am more bullish than I thought. Of the 40 teams that I assessed, I rated 20 as Buys. I rated 13 as Sells and seven as Holds. I also added 10 sleeper stocks plus five that you should dump. That's a grand total of 55 teams, a record high. You get your money's worth from me.
So I hope you've got some cash left over from the holidays, because those Benjamins are ready to go to work. (And I don't just mean Wisconsin guard Ben Brust.) For all you hoopheads who are so invested in our beautiful game, I present to you the 2012 Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. Read it carefully, friends. It will yield you dividends.
ARIZONA (10-4): BUY
When projecting a stock's value, I tend to favor teams with talented, young players. The Wildcats have a number of those, beginning with 6-foot-2 freshman guard Nick Johnson. His more heralded freshman teammate, point guard Josiah Turner, has been a big disappointment, and I don't expect a lot of improvement from him. But at least he's starting to contribute off the bench. Moreover, 6-6 junior swingman Kevin Parrom is still not the same player he was before sustaining a gunshot wound last fall. And yet, the Pac 12 is so weak that the Wildcats could very well win the thing. Their price isn't all that high now, so you might as well take a flyer.
BAYLOR (13-0, No. 4): HOLD
This rating may surprise you considering how bullish I've been on Baylor from the start. Such is the nature of the HTSR. The fact that I have left the Bears as a Hold indicates that I don't think they are quite generating the buzz you'd expect given their record and ranking. True, they won't go undefeated, thanks partly to Perry Jones's mystifying reticence to assert himself in the post. But I do like the stable of guards Scott Drew has assembled. I also see upside in the projected improvement of freshman forward Quincy Miller, who has given this team nothing the last three weeks.
BUTLER (8-7): BUY
Anybody else getting a sense of déjà vu all over again? Last year at this time, the Bulldogs were 10-5, had just lost at Milwaukee by 24 points, and were two weeks away from a miserable stretch that saw them lose four out of five games. We all know where they ended up. I'm not saying Butler will be back in the championship game, but given this team's record (e.g. cheap price) it's well worth the risk of buying this stock. In erasing a 13-point deficit to beat Purdue and a seven-point deficit to win at Stanford, Butler showed flashes of its old March magic. This team still might need to win the Horizon League tournament to get an NCAA bid, but would you bet your house against the Bulldogs doing just that? Neither would I.
CALIFORNIA (12-3): BUY
The Bears will probably win the Pac 12 for the simple reason that someone has to. True, they've gone oh-for-three in statement games (Missouri in Kansas City, plus road games at San Diego State and UNLV), but at least they have beaten all the teams they should have. Senior center Harper Kamp is finally healthy, sophomore guard Allen Crabbe is coming into his own, and senior guard Jorge Gutierrez is one of the top glue guys in America. In most years, that would make Cal a respectable bubble team at best. In this year, in this conference, it makes them a good buy.
CONNECTICUT (12-1, No. 8): BUY
Despite its rank, its record, and its status as the reigning NCAA champion, I'm not sensing much buzz around these Huskies. That's probably due to their nondescript nonconference schedule, but with the Big East about to ramp up things will change. Their toughest gauntlet doesn't arrive until February, which means the Huskies' two promising freshmen, point guard Ryan Boatright and center Andre Drummond, have time to get their feet wet. By the time March rolls around, those two will be much-improved, and UConn will be poised to make another run at the big trophy.
CREIGHTON (11-2): BUY
The Bluejays learned something important last week. As good as Doug McDermott is, they're better when wielding a balanced attack. McDermott contributed 19 points and 12 rebounds in the loss at home to Missouri State, yet he had a more modest 12 and 7 in the comeback win at Wichita State on Saturday. (And beating Wichita State on the road is a lot harder than beating Missouri State at home.) That tells me Creighton will continue to find ways to get better. Playing in the best Missouri Valley Conference in years will help.
DUKE (12-1, No. 5): HOLD
My take on the Blue Devils: I'm impressed but not excited. Because the ACC is so weak, Duke will likely be in the top 10 all season. To rank them as a Buy, however, I'd have to believe they belong on the first tier with Syracuse, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State -- and I don't. Mason Plumlee has come a long way, and the lack of a true point guard doesn't bother me as much as some people (Jon Scheyer, anyone?). Instead, what nags at me most is the apparent lack of leadership. Seth Curry has the ball in his hands the most, but he seems to have a diffident personality. Freshman Austin Rivers is the most talented, but he's still figuring out how to play, much less lead. I'll be watching the Blue Devils with great interest the next two months, but I'm keeping my expectations modest.
FLORIDA (11-3, No. 13): BUY
This is a really good time to buy the Gators because they're coming off that loss at Rutgers. People are just waiting to cast doubts, but I have been consistently ranking Florida ahead of where it ended up in the polls. Yes, guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton can drive you crazy with their shot selection, but I think Florida is actually stronger up front than it was last season, when the Gators lost in overtime in the Elite Eight to Butler. They also have a lot of room to get better. Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is still recovering from a back injury that forced him to miss two games, and freshman Bradley Beal is a monster talent finding his way. Make no mistake, this team has the chops to make it to New Orleans. I say scoop 'em up while their stock still has a little upside.
GEORGETOWN (12-1, No. 9): SELL
I like the Hoyas, but really, how much better can things get? They scored one of the best road wins you'll see all season at Louisville, but then they struggled to get by a woeful Providence team at home three days later. That served as a reminder that these aren't robots, they're college kids. As I said before, I usually like to recommend you buy teams with promising freshmen, but while 6-8 forward Otto Porter is proving to be a consistent rebounder, he's at least a year away from becoming a dependable scorer.
HARVARD (12-1, No. 22): BUY
If you're waiting for the Crimson to plummet, you're going to be waiting a while. This team is no fluke. It came within a desperation, fallaway three-pointer from making the NCAA tournament last year, and it returned its roster virtually intact. Led by the experienced and efficient frontcourt tandem of Keith Wright and Kyle Casey, Harvard proved in wins over Florida State and Saint Joseph's that it can beat NCAA tournament-caliber teams. Even its loss at UConn by 14 points on Dec. 8 was a lot closer than the final score indicated. Finally, it's very likely that Harvard will not lose a game inside the Ivy League, which means it will enter the NCAA tournament ranked in the top 20 with only one loss. Doesn't that sound like a good stock to you?
ILLINOIS (12-3): SELL
When I saw the Illini beat Gonzaga at home in early December, I thought this team was ready to be a contender. They have since proved me wrong. Illinois has now lost three of its last five, including two by big margins against UNLV (16 points) and Purdue (15). They also needed overtime to beat Minnesota at home. One thing that has gotten exposed is point guard play. Sam Maniscalco, the transfer from Bradley, was a nice pickup, but when the level of competition steps up he gets exposed. In addition, Meyers Leonard continues to spend way too much time away from the basket. The Illini will get a win or two this season that will make people think this team is better than they really are. I recommend you sell them now and save yourself the trouble.