Jamion Christian is a former Division I head coach at George Washington, Siena and Mount St. Mary's leading multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament. He has joined Aaron Torres Media as a college basketball analyst for the remainder of the 2022-2023, sharing his thoughts on things across the game.
We are officially into February, which means that March is right around the corner.
And with it, we are all trying to play catch-up on what - and who - you need to know as we get into the final month of the season.
Here are five teams that have caught my eye, three that could make real noise in March, and two that are getting healthy at the right time and undervalued because of it.
Leon Rice is no stranger to good teams and finding ways to win. But this may be one of his best jobs yet, as he sneaks under the radar with teams like New Mexico and San Diego State dominating the national media. But Boise State - as of today - are in first place in one of the most competitive leagues in the country. It’s also a league that should be receiving multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament. Boise’s defense the last two seasons has been outstanding. They focus on taking away great outside shooters and still find a way to keep you off of the glass. Watch out for the name Tyson Degenhart does a lot of winning things at just the right time.
Man, I love how they play. Five out with a lot of driving options for a multitude of players. What I look for in surprising teams in March is do they have a player who can dominate a game or two? Appleby jumps off the page for me with his scoring spurt ability and tendency to keep others involved. They have to make it through the ACC - they are currently 6-6 in league play - but if they find their way in, they could be a tough out.
I think people are starting to realize the job that Micah Shrewsberry is doing in Happy Valley. The transfers he added were older and from winning programs of lower leagues. A risk by the data? Yes, but the best coaches take risks. Defensively they are always lights out. Offensively this year, with the addition of Taylor Funk and Seth Lundy playing more consistently, they have the balance to win big ten battles.
This year everyone is talking about the amazing job Charleston is doing. They are probably in the tournament no matter what else happens this season. Charleston's free-flowing attacking style is fun to watch, but if they were to lose to any team, it would be to an experienced tough, rugged group. Pat Skerry’s Towson team fits the bill. The hunger to make it a fistfight in any environment is there. Defense and rebounding travels, so you can count on these attributes to cause havoc as the season goes on.
The Tigers are currently 16-7 and in second place in the league behind Charleston. The two will meet in the final week of the regular season, in what could be a preview of what's to come in the CAA Tournament.
Teams Finally Getting Healthy
I know the A10 well, and this year it may be a one bid league; but that will add to the excitement as the season continues. This Dayton team was dominant a season ago and I actually believe it has the ability to be even better. Malachi Smith sets the table for everyone on this roster, averaging 5.8 assists per game. He not only makes huge plays, but he also disrupts opposing teams’ offenses from their point of attack.
In this era of the transfer portal, we need to start getting used to the lack of depth on teams. With rotation players leaving for more playing time elsewhere, what Creighton dealt with this year - a slow start due to injuries - will be one many teams deal with year in and year out. When star center Ryan Kalkbrenner went out, they just did not have the depth to overcome it, going 0-4 in his absence in November into December.
But wait, as healthy as they have been all season, I'd expect them to start surging towards their preseason form, when they were ranked in the Top 10. They are coming off a dominant home win over first place Xavier on Saturday and have quietly won five in a row, and eight of 10.
Follow Jamion on Twitter - @JamionChristian