Ten Tuesday Scribbles…Posted by zhayes9 on December 22nd, 2009
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. While the slate en route to West Virginia’s 8-0 start hasn’t been laced with eventual NCAA Tournament participants (the exception being a neutral court win over Texas A&M), the start is nonetheless impressive for a Bob Huggins-coached squad expected to remain near the top-10 from start to finish. While Da’Sean Butler plays the role of go-to scorer and senior leader, it’s sophomore forward Kevin Jones that’s been the stabilizing force behind the undefeated start. Jones has scored in double-figures every single game for Huggins, including 23 on a wildly efficient 9-10 from the floor in the squeaker against Cleveland State last Saturday. Jones also leads West Virginia in rebounding and has upped his FG% nearly 10 points from his up-and-down freshman campaign. As long as Jones keeps playing consistent basketball, he should complete a formidable frontcourt along with Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith, John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman.
2. Yes, I realize it’s only December, and talking about awards handed out in April seems like a waste of time. Still, just for fun, it’s not out of the question to give Northwestern’s Bill Carmody the early nod for National Coach of the Year. Many preseason prognosticators felt this could be the year the Wildcats break their embarrassing streak of never reaching the NCAA Tournament. When all-Big Ten performer Kevin Coble and complimentary piece Jeff Ryan both went down with season-ending injuries early, all hope was lost. Fast forward to late December and Northwestern has resurrected their season behind the 1-2 punch of Michael Thompson and Jeff Shurna (who should both be back in 2010-11 along with Coble). Carmody’s bunch fell to Butler in November, but have rebounded with wins in Chicago against Notre Dame and Iowa State, a victory at NC State and a home win vs. Stanford.
3. Each and every year, college basketball fans debate which conference holds the mantle as the strongest in the land. A season ago, the Big East clearly garnered that honor. Heading into 2009-10, many felt the ACC or Big Ten would prove the strongest, while the Big East emerged in the early weeks as the frontrunner behind five top-15 teams in Syracuse, West Virginia, Connecticut, Georgetown and Villanova. After that elite group, one can debate eventual in/out status for the rest of the conference. But from top to bottom, no conference tops the Big 12 this season. The best two teams in the nation, Kansas and Texas, reign are supreme at the top. Kansas State is climbing the ranks and Texas A&M appears on the fringe of the top 25. Texas Tech’s first loss came on Saturday at Wichita State following a 10-0 start. Oklahoma State has only one falter and Oklahoma should hit their stride as the season wears on. Even the lower squads like Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri are dangerous. The early nod goes to the Big 12 as the premiere conference in college basketball. Playing the best individual basketball in the conference is not Aldrich or Collins or James or Warren, but Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen.
4. Two SEC coaches have been canned in the middle of conference season the previous two years with John Brady (LSU) and Mark Gottfried (Alabama) the victims. The watch is officially on for Auburn’s Jeff Lebo following a blowout at home at the hands of Sam Houston State on Sunday. Some will point to the Tigers formidable 10-6 SEC record a season ago as reason to give Lebo a bit of a leash. One can also argue he accomplished those 10 wins in a historically-weak SEC with nothing to show for out of conference, though. Auburn stands at 5-6 this year with losses to Missouri State, Central Florida, NC State, Troy, Florida State and Sam Houston State and their two best wins were against Niagara and Virginia. Look for Lebo to continue the trend of SEC coaches being let go in the middle of the season.
5. The Missouri Valley is making a revival as the premiere mid-major conference in the nation in the early going. The jury’s still out on whether Missouri State is legitimate due to their weak non-conference slate, but the Tigers did handle Tulsa and won convincingly at St. Louis. Whether Missouri State is a true NCAA contender will be tested with road games upcoming at Arkansas, Evansville and Northern Iowa in the coming weeks, but one has to admit the start is truly impressive. If Wichita State’s point guard Clevin Hannah wasn’t suspended for the CBE Classic opener vs. Pittsburgh in Kansas City, the Shockers could be joining Missouri State right now in the undefeated ranks. Even so, 8-1 Northern Iowa remains the favorite to win the conference with Kwadzo Ahelegbe running the show and the twin towers of Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder working hard inside.
6. The unprecedented depth that Rick Barnes has at Texas is absolutely a strength, one that should preserve the fuel of his main pieces into conference and postseason play. Yet I’m still of the camp that Barnes needs to work towards establishing roles and cutting his rotation from 12 to 9 as the season progresses. Things may be going swimmingly when Texas is winning, but when the team hits a speed bump in Big 12 play, egos and playing time complaints may interfere with progress. Other than Matt Hill or Clint Chapman, it’s hard to see where Barnes will be able to cut his rotation. Let’s hope chemistry issues don’t begin to creep into the Longhorn locker room at some point this year. It’s hard to believe Justin Mason and Gary Johnson are pleased with playing a combined 22 minutes per game.
7. Two all-SEC candidates are going in opposite directions at this point in the season. Ole Miss guard Chris Warren has recovered remarkably from his ACL injury by playing at an extremely high level for Andy Kennedy, averaging 18.3 PPG along with 3.5 APG and shooting 41% from deep. His leadership during the Rebels’ stunning comeback vs. UTEP last week was a sight as Warren sunk 5-10 threes and 13-15 FT to total 32 points in the effort to keep Ole Miss ranked. On the flip side, Tennessee senior forward Tyler Smith returned to Knoxville to enhance his draft stock and push the Vols towards an SEC title. Smith’s scoring average has fallen nearly six full points from his junior season, his free throw percentage is down 10% and Smith has abandoned all efforts shooting the three (0/3 on the season after making 28 in 08-09).
8. Last year’s version of the UAB Blazers were supposed to contend for the top 25 and challenge Memphis in Conference USA. They flopped early in the campaign and stood at 10-7 (1-2) after a 13-point loss to Memphis on January 17 before making a late run and reaching the NIT. This year’s Blazers are off to a much better start sitting at 10-1 after a midweek trouncing of Cincinnati and a convincing road win at South Alabama. Coach Mike Davis has found a star in 6’6 swingman Elijah Millsap (related to Utah’s Paul Millsap). The junior put up 22/15 against Yancy Gates and is averaging a double-double on the young season. The Blazers welcome Butler to their house Tuesday in an interesting matchup.
9. A few newcomers made their debuts recently around college basketball. USC point guard Mike Gerrity is the craziest story, scoring 12 points and dishing out 10 assists in his first collegiate game in one year and a half in a stunning upset win over Tennessee. Malcontent Derrick Caracter apparently has cleaned up his act and could prove a force in Conference USA for UTEP. He grabbed 15 rebounds and scored 15 points in the loss to Mississippi. Jai Lucas played just six minutes against North Carolina but should make an impact for Rick Barnes; remember, Lucas put up a 46% FG as a guard two years ago in Florida. Reggie Redding started immediately and scored 15 points in a win vs. Fordham while Seton Hall got Keon Lawrence back from his brief hiatus in the loss to Temple. Ater Majok, a 6’10 Australian forward who Jim Calhoun has been raving about, debuted quietly Sunday in the comeback win over Central Florida.
10. News came across Monday morning that South Carolina forward Dominique Archie would miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Remember, Archie was averaging 14/6 this year and averaged 11/6 in 2008-09 as the next option after Devan Downey. It’s a devastating blow for Gamecocks headman Darrin Horn as his team had NCAA Tournament aspirations. That’ll now be difficult in an improved SEC.