The State of MBB: Elite from top-to-bottom

The current state of men’s basketball is the highest its ever been.

The news came out today that for the first time in AP Poll history, four teams from the same state are ranked in the Top 10: Baylor (No. 2), Texas (No. 5), Houston (No. 6) and Texas Tech (No. 10).

No. 2 Baylor’s the least surprising of the top-ranked bunch (see 2020-21 magazine cover). The Bears aren’t as defensively dominant as they were a year ago but have exponentially improved on offense. Baylor ranked 83rd in offensive rating a year ago and currently sit fifth so far this year. Jared Butler and Davion’s Mitchell’s continued development has played a part but so have reserve scoring options Adam Flagler (11.6 points per game) from Presbyterian and forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (8.4 points per game). Stagnant offense was the biggest detriment to Baylor last season and the Bears have seemingly erased that weakness overnight.

The No. 5 Longhorns’ perfect blend of experience and high-end young talents like Greg Brown and Kai Jones has produced Shaka Smart’s best run in Austin and will likely earn Smart’s tenure more credibility among skeptics. Signature wins over North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Kansas and West Virginia already have the Horns positioned as Baylor’s biggest threat in the Big 12. If not for a postponed game, we would’ve already seen that matchup already. Texas currently has the eight-ranked defense in terms of adjusted efficiency per KenPom as well as the 12th-best team true shooting percentage allowed at 47.5 percent.

Chris Beard’s No. 10 Red Raiders have hit their stride despite a recent loss to No. 11 West Virginia. The Red Raiders currently have the fifth-best defense in terms of adjusted efficiency and have the seventh-best defensive turnover percentage in the nation. Mac McClung’s addition has been a godsend to Tech giving its no-middle defense the scoring punch it lacked on the other end a year ago. McClung’s averaging a career-high 16 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field, four percentage points higher than his best years at Georgetown.

No. 6 Houston’s rapid rise has caught many by surprise and they’re the one team in Texas that’s rivaled Baylor’s defensive output, currently ranking second in defensive adjusted efficiency only behind the Bears. Quentin Grimes has fully turned into the star he was projected to be coming out of high school as a five-star prospect, but it’s been Marcus Sasser’s emergence as a second option that’s given the Coogs an unfair scoring tandem to go along with their elite defense.

But getting outside of the AP Poll, Texas is even seeing a blossoming at the mid-major level.

Currently, Sam Houston (No. 14), Abilene Christian (No. 15) and Texas State (No. 19) are all ranked in the Mid-Major Top 25. Stephen F. Austin and UTRGV are currently receiving votes in the poll with SFA possibly making the jump into the poll next week with a game against ACU this week.

To illustrate the talent depth currently in the state, here’s a quick question. What Texas program currently has the best defensive rating in the nation at allowing just 79 points per 100 possessions? Baylor? No. Texas Tech? Nope. Houston? Close, it’s Abilene Christian.

The Wildcats have a defensive rating of 79.0, nearly five points better than the next-closest team and also force the most turnovers with a 27.3 percentage. SFA is close behind in third with a 23.5 turnover percentage. ACU’s spry guard Reggie Miller has emerged as an elite defender and is currently second in the nation in defensive rating. Teammates Damien Daniels and Joe Pleasant are fifth and eighth. Definitely expect more content on the Wildcats coming soon.

The headlines might rightfully turn to the very top of the state and the AP Poll. But just beneath the surface is an even deeper talent pool that’s permeating throughout the mid-major level.

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