Russell Westbrook, John Wall, a chaotic beginning to college basketball, the Cleveland Browns and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. This is becoming a banner year for non-Power Five teams in college football
The Central Florida Golden Knights are the only team not affiliated with a Power Five conference to finish inside the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings in their six-year history. This season, Cincinnati already sits at No. 7 and has two meetings with No. 24 Tulsa left on its schedule. No. 18 Coastal Carolina is 10-0 with wins over No. 13 BYU and No. 25 Louisiana-Lafayette, who it will play again in the Sun Belt title game. Marshall is also currently in the selection committee’s top 25.
Should the Bearcats and Chanticleers win the rest of their games, they will almost surely both finish in the top 10. They would have the multitude of quality wins that was the primary criticism of those UCF teams. The Cougars proved they were every bit as good as the Chanticleers in losing by inches after traveling 2,200 miles to play on short notice. If Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina can stay perfect, the top-end strength and depth of the non-Power Five teams in 2020 will be far and away the most impressive in the Playoff era.
2. The most important part of the John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade was the messaging
There was one realistic way for the Washington Wizards to move on from John Wall, and that was to send him to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook. Neither team got markedly better by exchanging uber-athletic point guards on nearly identical contracts. The part of this trade that is worth exploring is what it means off the floor. If somebody is going to come out as the clear winner, it will not be because of Westbrook and Wall themselves.
By dealing Westbrook for Wall rather than a collection of assets, the Rockets made it clear they do not intend to rebuild. That means a James Harden blockbuster is not imminent and may very well never happen. Replacing Westbrook with Wall doesn’t help Houston on the floor, but that is irrelevant if it helps convince Harden to stay long-term. The Wizards will benefit from the notoriety and energy Westbrook brings even though they’re nowhere close to being a contender. While the names are obviously big, the implications of this trade are the much bigger deal.
3. There is no way to know who’s good in college basketball yet
It took less than two weeks for seven of the top 10 teams in the AP’s preseason poll to suffer their first defeat of the season and that’s just the beginning of the chaos that’s unfolded so far. UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 and lost to San Diego State by 15 in its first game. Michigan State was challenged more by Detroit Mercy on its home floor than it was by Duke at Cameron.
ACC favorite Virginia fell to San Francisco and needed overtime to beat Kent State. Part of this has to do with the condensed schedule and teams looking for as many quality opponents as possible and part of this has to do with inexperience. Kentucky goes through these kinds of growing pains practically every season. Duke doesn’t look like a Final Four contender now but may in February. A handful of games do not provide enough information to determine if anyone will be on Gonzaga and Baylor’s level by the end of the regular season, no matter how strange the results have been.
4. Adrian Heath knew what he was doing all along
Orlando City gave Adrian Heath less than two seasons to produce satisfactory results with an expansion team. Sure, that expansion team had Kaká, but they did not surround him with enough talent to make the playoffs right away. Heath got to start from scratch again in Minnesota, this time with an even worse roster. He knew his team wasn’t anywhere close to being competitive. He also knew it would get there with time, which is what he got.
The Loons finished with 36 points in 2017 and 2018, their first two seasons in Major League Soccer. That number jumped to 53 in 2019 as they made the playoffs for the first time. Heath’s confidence in his team grew exponentially and the club set out in search of the high-profile designated player to round out one of the most complete rosters in MLS. They got their man after months of negotiating. His name was Emanuel Reynoso, and his six assists in two games this postseason have Minnesota one win away from MLS Cup despite being without reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara and goalkeeper Tyler Miller. The team that fired Heath has one playoff appearance in six seasons. The one that stuck with him has two in four and reached the conference finals in less time than it took Orlando to qualify for the playoffs.
5. It’s hard to know what to make of the Cleveland Browns
No NFL team starts a season 9-3 through sheer luck, not even the Cleveland Browns. They are one of five teams with at least nine victories and should be treated as such. There is no arguing with the two four-game winning streaks Cleveland’s put together. At the same time, the team’s recent history and -15 point differential this season make it fair to wonder if the Browns are really one of the five best teams in the league.
Their most recent win over the Tennessee Titans is a case in point. Baker Mayfield threw four touchdown passes in the first half and Cleveland went into the locker room with a 38-7 lead. The Browns still needed to recover an onside kick in the final seconds to preserve a six-point victory. Mayfield had arguably the best game of his career and looked like a quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl, which is not a regular occurrence. Cleveland is 5-1 in its last six games and hasn’t beaten anyone by more than six points. What that means is anyone’s guess.
The irony of the National Hockey League “taking [its] time” while hoping to start the season on Jan. 1 is too much. It’s entirely possible the league and its players’ association don’t have an agreement in place by then the rate negotiations are going. Even if rapid progress is made, there will need to be at least a three-week ramp up to the season with training camps and possibly exhibition games. This could get ugly unless the next few weeks are extremely productive.
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