TSFJ's NCAA Box And One, Weeks Eleven and Twelve: Fluctuating Expectations

The 2018-19 NCAA college basketball season is past its halfway point. From now until April, we'll be following along, closely watching. But instead of just box scores and highlights, we're going to profile a player from each class, plus one additional story. With TSFJ and the help from Josh Naso, we present to you The Sports Fan Journal's Box And One.

In The Zone: Expectation is a binary concept that fluctuates based on how each set expectation is responded to. They can either be met or not, and whichever result comes about determines if the next expectation raises or lowers. Think of it like starting out with weightlifting. If a person completes the goal and lifts the required weight, the goal is raised. If they are unable to lift it at all, then the limit is lowered until they can successfully lift a weight.

Tennessee Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes has dealt with this disappointing cycle of raising expectations only for his teams to disappoint when it's time to perform like the good team we had grown to believe they were. For example, Barnes had Kevin Durant and DJ Augustin while at the University of Texas, and was not able to win a single NCAA tournament game. In fact, some believe that the one Final Four Barnes has made in 2003 is more because of how great TJ Ford was in college and not how great Barnes is as a coach.

Barnes is 22-23 overall in the NCAA Tournament and 20-17 since 1998. The good is that since that year he took over the Texas job until now, his teams have made the tournament 17 times. The issue is that in nine of those 17 appearances, his teams have lost to a lower-seeded opponent. Yes, the tournament is about matchups and how the bracket shapes out, but it is at least concerning that there is so much failure to meet expectations at a major program such as Texas.

Now the head coach at Tennessee, this is Barnes' fourth year in Knoxville. Last year, Barnes suffered another early exit, with the Vols losing in the Round of 32 to last year's underdog story, the University of Loyola-Chicago. This year, Barnes has the Vols at 17-1 and the top ranked team in the nation. Expectations, as they want to do, are rising in regards to this team because of the collection of talent there.

With talented players like Grant Williams (left) and Admiral Schofield, Tennessee is one of the most complete teams in the nation and should make a deep run into March. The key word is, "should." (Knoxville Post)

That team was tested immediately after reaching the top spot, finding themselves down in the second half to SEC and in-state rival Vanderbilt. Trailing most of the game and late into overtime, senior Grant Williams sealed his amazing second half scoring effort by finishing a three-point play with less than a minute remaining after Vanderbilt's Saben Lee made a free throw to put the Commodores up by one. Williams was spectacular, scoring 35 of his 43 points after halftime, including making all 23 of his free throws -- a feat that hadn't been seen since 1959. It looked shaky for the Vols, but Williams and the rest of the team didn't quit, remaining unbeaten in conference play.

With such a great team, even if they aren't a favorite to win it all, Rick Barnes has yet another team capable of a very long run in the tournament. Hopefully he rises to meet expectations and not come up short again.

Freshman: Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Players as good as Charles Bassey don't end up at smaller programs such as Western Kentucky. Factor in his size and skill at 6'11", and it's difficult to see how any highly-prestigious school would pass on him. No matter, he's been a jewel for the Hilltoppers, averaging 14 points and almost 10 rebounds a game. Bassey is shooting 76% from the free throw line -- a much-added bonus for interior players. Bassey can be the central focus of an offense, showing an ability to operate in the low post as well as be a quality finisher after setting a screen in the pick and roll. Bassey may not be around college for long, but he has definitely made an impact on the collegiate landscape by choosing Western Kentucky as a former five-star recruit.

Sophomore: Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State Cyclones. Being relegated to the bench after starting the year before can be a setback for a lot of players. This can be even more difficult when that player had a sensational freshman season. Lindell Wigginton is experiencing both of these in his sophomore campaign. But he is still one of the best scoring guards in the nation, despite his numbers being down from the season before. He's an excellent pick-and-roll guard, with a knack for absorbing contact and finishing. The Big 12 is a competitive conference, and Wigginton is a part of a Cyclones team that's now ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Maybe they'll dethrone Kansas.

Junior: Jazz Johnson, Nevada. Much of the attention paid to Nevada (deservedly) surrounds Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody. But there's another member of the Wolf Pack that is worth looking at, junior Jazz Johnson. His numbers (11 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists) don't jump off the page, but he is the best 3-point shooter (45.7 percent) on a team that sometimes struggles from deep.

But what really sets Johnson apart is his ability to make the most of his opportunities. He's piling up a ridiculous 1.306 points per possession, which ranks him among the best in the country per Synergy Sports. He's been particularly effective in spot-up situations (1.347 ppp), in transition (1.465) and as the pick and roll ballhandler (2.167). Johnson is exactly the kind of role player who takes advantage of the opportunities within the framework of the team that helps take good teams to the next level.

Senior: Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs. The double-double is a benchmark of productivity, especially for interior players. Points and rebounds are two of the easier ways forwards and centers can tangibly affect the outcome of games. Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State is averaging a monster double-double. She's pouring in 18 points and almost 14 rebounds a game, first in the SEC in the latter category. She is an anchor for a highly-ranked team, and her interior presence will be a tough load for any opponent to deal with in postseason play. She even performs well against tough opponents, including this monster game against Oregon where she had 35 points and 19 rebounds.

And One: Don't look now, but after a somewhat slow start, Villanova is climbing the rankings again. No, rankings don't determine postseason success and I'd be cautious on providing betting tips and predictions on their future success, but one of the things teams want to do before March is get into a groove and get better as the season progresses. Jay Wright and his Wildcats have now won nine games in a row, climbing up to #14 in the recent AP Poll standings. In addition to Saadiq Bey, seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have been driving forces in Nova's resurgence. Coach Wright always makes sure his players do not beat themselves by limiting petty mistakes, so it is no surprise that they've turned their season around. Chemistry takes time, even for a program that has won last year's national title.

Twelve weeks in, and we're still in the zone. Enjoy the college basketball season, folks.

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