Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

4. With this Friday’s Iron Bowl shaping up to be college football’s premier game of the season, maybe the developments of the Alabama and Auburn basketball teams are not exactly priority number one. Once the always muddled and controversial BCS shakedown concludes and the hardwood battles move to the forefront in January and February, there won’t be much excitement captivating the Heart of Dixie. The Tony Barbee era at Auburn was expected to begin with some bumps and bruises, especially with Frankie Sullivan’s torn ACL this summer and a handful of seniors departing from a squad that went just 6-10 in the SEC. Nothing this porous was anticipated, though. The Tigers opened with three games that any major conference program should expect to win on their home turf- UNC-Asheville, Campbell and Samford. The Tigers lost them all before salvaging a two point win over Middle Tennessee to finish out the week. This is the type of horrendous start that Barbee was hoping to avoid during Auburn’s first season in a sparkling new arena. Their arch-rival from Tuscaloosa has also been extremely disappointing, letting a blown lead against Seton Hall turn into a 0-3 week in the Virgin Islands. The Tide were offensively incapable in two stunning losses to Iowa and St. Peter’s, scoring just 96 points combined. The performances of these two teams, along with LSU dropping a game to Nicholls State and Mississippi State needing a miracle comeback to down Appalachian State, won’t change many peoples’ minds that the SEC West looks awfully weak.

5. Gonzaga is not a top 25 team at this stage in the season. After watching the entirety of both of their losses to San Diego State and Kansas State, Mark Few’s team has plenty of inherent flaws. To put it plainly, their big men are way too soft. Robert Sacre is constantly fading away from the basket on shot attempts and Kelly Olynyk has to develop strength, but the most glaring disappointment is All-American candidate Elias Harris. The versatile sophomore is averaging a meager 6.8 PPG and 3.3 RPG on the young season, including duds against San Diego State (5 points, 1-4 FG) and Kansas State (4 points, 1-7 FG). While the lack of production can be partially attributed to a foot injury sustained late against the Aztecs, Harris loves drifting to the perimeter and is extremely passive on the offensive end. Few’s team is too dependent on Steven Gray to carry the offense through stretches and Demetri Goodson provides no scoring threat at the point. Will Gonzaga still rack up the WCC wins and receive a high seed to the NCAA Tournament? There’s no doubt. Are they one of the top 25 teams in the country at this early stage? It’s hard to answer that in the affirmative.

Harris is talented, but where's the killer instinct?

6. If you haven’t paid attention to Florida State very much in the last two seasons, make a point to watch Chris Singleton play either this Sunday against Florida or in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against Ohio State. The talented junior has one of the more unique repertoires in college basketball. He’s an all-around dynamo for Leonard Hamilton, able to lock down guards or forwards on the defensive end and operate anywhere on the floor on the offensive end. Here’s all you need to know about Singleton’s versatility: through four games, he’s averaged over 10 RPG while shooting 46% from three and finished off a triple-double against UNC-Greensboro by swiping 10 steals. The biggest development for Seminole fans has been Singleton’s progress at the charity stripe, a place where he’s obviously worked this summer to improve his stroke after shooting below 50% as a sophomore. Singleton has drilled 22 of his 27 attempts thus far.

7. The news came down Friday night that Josh Selby would be eligible for Kansas on December 18 following a nine game suspension and the repayment of impermissible benefits. Much like Kentucky with Enes Kanter, Selby is the difference between a Sweet 16 and Final Four ceiling for the Jayhawks this season. Kansas can survive clashes with UCLA, Arizona and Memphis before welcoming Selby back for Big 12 play. The Morris brothers are providing more than enough production to make up for Selby’s absence, combining for 33 PPG and 17 RPG on the young season. Tyshawn Taylor’s seven assists per game and the experience of Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar have given Bill Self steadiness at the position until the star freshman returns. With ultra talented sophomores Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson also emerging, the Jayhawks may just garner an unthinkable seven straight Big 12 titles (Self hasn’t finished lower than second as a head coach since 1998 in his first season at Tulsa). Selby is that type of difference maker at the point, a fantastic scorer and distributor who’s in the conversation for best freshman guard in the nation along with Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight.

8. It’s looking more and more possible that Vanderbilt wins the SEC East this season. Every other team in the division has some issues to confront, whether it is Kentucky’s youth and frontcourt holes, Bruce Pearl’s eight game suspension at Tennessee, Trey Thompkins’ injury at Georgia or the realization we may have overrated Florida just because they returned an inconsistent core. Kevin Stallings left Puerto Rico very encouraged with the toughness, depth and makeup of his roster. The Commodores dispatched of Nebraska, nearly came back to defeat West Virginia, then survived numerous counter punches from North Carolina to salvage a 2-1 mark in the tournament. Stallings, one of the more underrated coaches in the game, has one of the best shooters in the nation in John Jenkins, who nailed 48% of his treys as a freshman. The duo of Brad Tinsley and Kyle Fuller appears more than capable of filling in for departed senior Jermaine Beal at the point, and Jeffrey Taylor showed NBA scouts in attendance why he deserves to be a first round selection, filling up the box score, blocking shots, rebounding and playing his normal lockdown defense on the wing. The complimentary play of Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Rod Odom, Andre Walker and Steve Tchiengang all contributed in their own ways to Vandy’s efforts in Puerto Rico. A combination of setbacks for SEC rivals and the deepest roster Stallings has had during his tenure means the Commodores could be even better than the team that finished 24-9 (12-4) a season ago.

9. San Diego State, BYU and UNLV have made a positive impression in the early going. The trio is expected to pace the Mountain West this season and all three have garnered quality November wins. The most impressive has to be San Diego State upsetting Gonzaga in the Kennel, an arena where the Zags are 77-5 since the 2004 season. Billy White was simply unstoppable in his 30-point effort while sophomore sensation Kawhi Leonard added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Leonard is now averaging 21/11 in the early going and is the best forward in the conference. With James Rahon providing a new dimension as an outside shooter that Steve Fisher simply did not have this season, the experience provided by a senior point guard in D.J. Gay and complimentary pieces in Malcolm Thomas and Chase Tapley, the Aztecs are a legitimate Elite 8 contender. BYU also survived a fierce rivalry battle with WAC favorite Utah State at the Marriott Center behind the continued heroics of Jimmer Fredette and UNLV gutted out a win over Wisconsin in front of a raucous crowd at the Thomas and Mack Center. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’ll be worth staying up late for these Mountain West duels this season. Some of the best basketball in the country is being played west of the Mississippi (this doesn’t include a large majority of the Pac-10).

10. One of the least impressive top 15 teams thus far has been Syracuse. The Orange have had their lackluster moments in wins over Canisius, Detroit and William & Mary at the Carrier Dome, shooting just 40% from the floor, 32% from deep and 61% from the free throw line as a unit. I had Syracuse lower than most prognosticators in my preseason poll. The chemistry of this team was off the charts last season and felt as though that would be extremely difficult to replace. Make no mistake about it: losing Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku was an enormous deal. Kris Joseph hasn’t stepped in seamlessly as a go-to weapon, shooting just 31% including a three point outing against Detroit where the talented junior didn’t make one field goal. The Orange will be formidable this year, a ranked squad wire to wire in the top portion of the Big East. But those who suggested they wouldn’t take a step back from last year were fooling themselves. Fab Melo is going to need time to develop and catch up to the speed of Big East play (his 2/2 average thus far attests to that), Joseph has to grow into his new role and Jim Boeheim needs to figure out proper rotations. I expect the Orange to experience some ups and downs in Big East play before peaking in March.

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One Response to “Ten Tuesday Scribbles”

  1. BOtskey says:

    Some really rough times in the SEC West right now. Only Mississippi playing well. Still like Kentucky to win the East but Vanderbilt could be right there. They have a really good team.

    Add Washington to the 3 MWC schools and you have 4 teams from west of the Rockies really worth watching. Gonzaga should improve, too.

    Your third point on Wichita State is really significant and not enough people are talking about it. They blew it yesterday and it could come back and bite them if they can’t win the MVC tourney.

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