That’s Debatable: Early Conference Race SurprisesPosted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2010
Each week RTC will posit a That’s Debatable question or topic that is relevant to the world of college basketball. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, we’ll post the thoughts from our core editing crew (in 200 words or less), but we’ll also be expanding to include our contributors and correspondents as appropriate throughout the season. We also invite you, the readers, to join us as we mull over some of the questions facing the game today. Feel free to send us your takes and/or leave them in the comments below.
This Week’s Topic: We’re at least three weeks into every conference’s season. What teams have surprised you, good or bad, so far?
zach hayes – editor/contributor
The most surprising team through January this season has to be Syracuse. Every single player on the Orange roster has developed, refined and improved their game from last season, most notably Andy Rautins. Rautins is more than just a spot-up three-point bomber now. He’s a steal and assist machine with tremendous court vision and a consistent jump shot. Jim Boeheim hyped Wes Johnson as an immediate all-Big East player right away, but few believed the legendary coach. Turns out the Iowa State transfer has actually exceeded expectations, establishing himself as a deserving lottery pick with incredible athleticism and a deadly mid-range jumper. The big men in the middle — Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, along with emerging Kris Joseph — are the primary reasons why Cuse leads the nation in FG%. The biggest surprise to me on the other end of the spectrum are the disappointing Washington Huskies. Five-star freshman Abdul Gaddy has yet to transfer his talent to the college game, Isaiah Thomas is shooting under 40% from the floor, and the supporting cast is simply below average. The Huskies should be dominating a woeful Pac-10 given their talent level, and yet now it appears they may be destined for the NIT come March.
john stevens – editor/contributor
I’m betting everyone’s going to write good things about Virginia or Temple or bad things about Connecticut or North Carolina, so I’m going to go a little smaller in terms of conference profile and give some love to UAB in the CUSA. I remember back in our CUSA Pre-Season Conference Preview, we had UAB projected at EIGHTH with a total of six wins. Failing a huge dropoff, it’s time to take our lumps on this one. They’ve already got five conference wins and they’re tied with the Tulsa squad that we said would win the thing. We didn’t even mention them in the list of possible contenders. They made the AP Top 25 this week and are on the cusp of the ESPN/Coaches’ version. Known more for their prowess on defense more than anything else, if you look at their statistical profile, there’s nothing that just jumps off of the page at you. Fact is, when you watch them, what you see is just a bunch of hard-playin’ Blazers who are probably going to out-dive you for loose balls and who will hit the offensive glass in force. And that forward tandem of Elijah Millsap (16/10/2 SPG) and Howard Crawford (13/5) isn’t easy to guard, either. Lots of ways to go with this week’s question, but considering what we predicted, UAB has to be my surprise of the conference season so far.
rtmsf – editor/contributor
I’ve liked Vanderbilt all season, but even I didn’t have them at first place in the SEC East at 4-0, ahead of the uber-talented Kentucky Wildcats and Bruce Pearl’s cohesive unit across the state in Knoxville. Their schedule hasn’t been too difficult yet, but they were able to get a win on the road in two places where presumably better teams haven’t — Columbia, SC (see: Kentucky), and Tuscaloosa, AL (see: Mississippi State). If the ‘Dores can win one of their next two games (@ Tennessee and @ Kentucky), they will be in great shape heading into the second half of conference play. It’s a longshot, but they’re playing well enough to do it. As for a disappointing surprise, what has happened to Lorenzo Romar’s Washington Huskies? A preseason top 15 team, they can’t beat anybody away from home in the Pac-10, standing now at a disappointing 3-5 in league play. The defense that was so consistently solid last season has been nonexistent this year, as mediocre teams regularly throw up 80s on them. Abdul Gaddy has been a complete bust, and Isaiah Thomas shoots a lot but doesn’t offer much in the way of efficiency. The Huskies don’t have much time to put the pieces back together, but I suppose anything is possible in the Pac-10 race this year.
nvr1983 – editor/contributor
The good? Syracuse. After the Le Moyne loss I don’t think anybody expected the Orange to be good this year much less a national title contender. As we approach the end of January, Jim Boeheim’s biggest question might be whether or not he will appear on PTI in March and risk jinxing his team when he gets asked to pick a national champion. The bad? UNC. We all knew the Tar Heels wouldn’t be as strong as they were last having lost three lottery picks, but almost everyone expected them to be a Top 10 team. Right now they are sitting on the outside of the Top 25 and some people are beginning to wonder if they will even make the NCAA Tournament (they will). The ugly? The entire Pac-10. I’m beginning to wonder how the UConn women would do in this conference. Ok, the conference isn’t as bad as I thought it might be earlier in the season, but right now it looks like they will only get two teams into the NCAA tournament unless they have a surprise champion in the Pac-10 Tournament and “East Coast bias” has nothing to do with that.