Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on December 21st, 2010

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

Self's next challenge: incorporating Josh Selby

– I’ve been taken aback by the number of analysts that believe Josh Selby is going to hurt Kansas, at least in the short term. While I understand that the college game is much more predicated on ball movement, teamwork and on-court chemistry than the next level, anyone that believes Selby throws a wrench into the Rock Chalk juggernaut is underestimating Bill Self’s coaching acumen, ignoring that the Jayhawks haven’t played like a well-oiled machine during all ten of their wins and are forgetting just how special Josh Selby is on a basketball court. Kansas doesn’t have a truly threatening foe on their slate until a month from now, January 17 at Baylor. This is plenty of time for the coaching genius of Self to integrate his star-studded freshman into the offensive flow. Every quote I’ve read from Selby shows he’s more than willing to play within Self’s halfcourt style- perimeter ball movement, high-low passing with their bigs and drive-and-kick action to their plethora of capable outside shooters, including Marcus Morris, whom Self insists the offense will still revolve around. Selby provides the Jayhawks with the type of player– a “pro” in scouting circles– that they need, someone who can rekindle a lost possession with seven seconds on the shot clock and find his own shot or draw a foul. Plus, Kansas has beaten Arizona by eight, UCLA by one, Memphis by 13 and USC by two in their stiffest tests to date. It’s not like Selby, the number one recruit in America per Rivals.com, is joining the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.

– Re-watching the Syracuse-Michigan State game from the Jimmy V Classic, I was surprised at how the Spartans elected to defend a poor perimeter shooting team like the Orange. Kalin Lucas, Korie Lucious, Keith Appling and Durrell Summers often employed an aggressive defense against the Syracuse guards rather than electing to play softer and dare the Orange into shooting deep jumpers. The Orange are currently ranked a dismal 249th in the nation in three-point percentage at 31.2% with their biggest offenders being Scoop Jardine at 30%, Kris Joseph at 27% and Brandon Triche at 27%. Luckily for Jim Boeheim, and the main reason why his Orange boast an undefeated record heading into Christmas, is that their length and athleticism allows for a plethora of offensive rebounds on those misses and that 2-3 zone continues to be lethal. But there does appear to be a blueprint for dethroning the Orange: sag off their perimeter players like Jardine and Triche and defy them to jack up long threes rather than allow dribble penetration. This could turn into a fatal flaw come Big East play in a similar fashion to how Kentucky was defended for most of last season.

– All throughout the summer and into the preseason, I couldn’t escape the hype surrounding the SEC East. Florida returned all five starters from an NCAA Tournament team. Kentucky was reloading with another powerful John Calipari recruiting class. Georgia was the sleeper extraordinaire with two all-SEC caliber players. Tennessee and Vanderbilt returned enough talent to be formidable foes for the entire season. Some experts even had the SEC in the discussion with the Big 12 and Big East as the second best conference in the nation after the Big Ten, especially if Mississippi State incorporated Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost and another SEC West squad surprised the masses. As we sit here five days before Christmas, I can’t help but label the SEC as a major disappointment thus far in the 2010-11 campaign. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Vanderbilt may be the class of the lot. Tennessee has continued their bipolar ways of overachieving as a plucky underdog and folding their tent when expectations begin the mount, plainly evident by quality wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh followed by back-to-back losses to sneaky mid-major Oakland and a middling Atlantic 10 team in Charlotte. Kentucky has collected wins over Washington and Notre Dame, but obvious flaws at the point (Brandon Knight is more of a scoring off-guard) and a gaping hole at center leave the Wildcats young and vulnerable. Florida and Georgia are glaring examples of a lesson we should all learn: just because a team returns a large chunk of their talent, it doesn’t mean they’re going to dramatically improve. Finally, the SEC West has proven to be nothing short of a disaster site, with their six representatives already having suffered defeats at the hands of Iowa, Rutgers, South Florida, UAB, Dayton, East Tennessee State, Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina, Nicholls State, Saint Peter’s, UNC-Asheville, Samford, Jacksonville, Campbell and Presbyterian (to be fair, Auburn represents a healthy chunk of those truly embarrassing losses).

– Didn’t Cincinnati and Northwestern learn anything from Virginia Tech last season? Admittedly, the non-conference slate isn’t quite as desolate at Seth Greenberg’s from a year ago. The Bearcats handled Dayton convincingly, beat a meager Oklahoma team by 10 over the weekend and will face rival Xavier in January. Northwestern did manage to beat Creighton and Georgia Tech at home and may face St. John’s this week.  Unless one of those opponents dramatically turns around their season—it would be foolish to count out Xavier at this early juncture, especially the way Tu Holloway is performing—there may not be an NCAA Tournament team to be seen and both Cincinnati and Northwestern will have giant black marks on their portfolios come March: non-conference strength of schedules in the 300 range. If you think the committee doesn’t factor in this part of the schedule that major conference teams can fully control, you’re greatly mistaken. As impressive as Cincinnati and Northwestern’s unblemished records look today, and I will concede that the momentum and confidence gained by accumulating win after win as opposed to an approach like Gonzaga or Michigan State can be extremely valuable, this strategy fails to prepare a program for the rigors of the conference schedule that follows. If an NCAA Tournament bid is garnered, it’ll be programs like Gonzaga and Michigan State that benefit when the seeds are announced.

– Without Kyrie Irving, there are a handful of teams that have a legitimate chance to beat Duke on a neutral floor. I’d figure that Ohio State, Kansas, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Michigan State (have to include them given a five point loss in Durham) would be less than eight point underdogs. With Kyrie Irving, there’s only one team that I feel strongly could beat Duke and that’s Ohio State. The only position that gives me pause is at the point guard spot where Thad Matta employs a combination of true freshman Aaron Craft (who has played more like a senior than a freshman) and junior William Buford, who is much more dangerous as a 2-guard utilizing his mid-range game off screens. Where the Buckeyes have a definite advantage is in the paint, the same area where Duke is slightly vulnerable. Jared Sullinger is the low post scorer and Dallas Lauderdale is more of the defensive stopper and shot blocker. That combination would give the Plumlee brothers fits in the post and could coax one or both into foul trouble, bringing Duke’s lack of frontcourt depth into play. Thad Matta also has the luxury of deploying an ace defender and fifth year senior David Lighty on Kyle Singler.  As long as Irving is even slightly contained, the Buckeyes stand a strong chance. They’ve impressed me enough in the early going to anoint Ohio State the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten. The prospect that we might see this juicy matchup come to fruition roughly three and a half months from now in Houston has me drooling.

Hamilton has made enormous strides in one year's time

Texas’ gutty win over North Carolina on Saturday showed some major stones. The Tar Heels led by as many as seven points three times in the second half and the partisan crowd in Greensboro was roaring at each occasion, giving this supposedly neutral game much more of a road feel for Rick Barnes’ team. Last season, Texas was composed of players with varying agendas and chemistry suffered tremendously, leading to their now infamous downfall from #1 in the nation to #8 seed and first round exit. The departure of a handful of cogs on that team, coupled with the influx of talented freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson and a trimming of Texas’ laughably deep rotation, has created a unit with more defined roles and responsibilities. The win over North Carolina was simply a game that Texas would not have won late last season when the team began their dissent. The maturation of Jordan Hamilton has been an enormous factor. Hamilton has gone from a ball-stopping black hole with porous shot selection to a composed, poised performer who’s upped his FG%, three point %, rebounds and assists from his freshman to sophomore campaign. His 24/10 effort, plus the heroic game-winner by the impressive rookie Joseph, gave the Longhorns a quality victory to go along with Illinois. It says here their loss to USC won’t look as regrettable come March.

– I’ve tweeted about this in the past, but it is past due that North Carolina gives the keys to the offense to freshman Kendall Marshall over embattled junior Larry Drew. The latter is just a mess offensively, shooting 35% from the field and 3-17 from deep this season and went 0-3 against Texas with three assists and four turnovers. While Marshall isn’t the speedster that Williams would prefer to run his fast-paced offense and inexperience could rear its ugly head at times, he’s simply the better player and much more capable of finding Tyler Zeller in post scoring position or Harrison Barnes for open jumpers. Marshall contributed seven points, three assists and one turnover on Saturday and the offense seemed to flow a lot better with the freshman running the show. I understand Roy Williams’ cautious approach to this switch in fear of totally burying Drew’s confidence, but it’s not too late. Second place in the ACC is wide open and Marshall gives them the best chance to accomplish that feat.

– Is it possible that Memphis is the third or fourth best team in Conference USA? One could certainly make a case that the Tigers have been eclipsed by 10-0 Central Florida and their inside-outside duo of Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan. The Knights have already dethroned in-state foes Florida and Miami in the early going and we’re still waiting on Leonard Hamilton to take up the challenge. The move by Donnie Jones to bolt in-conference from Marshall to UCF is looking more prudent by the day. Southern Mississippi appears to be a threat at 7-1 with their only loss to Mississippi by five. Larry Eustachy has the early favorite for CUSA POY at his disposal in Gary Flowers, an elite scorer, rebounder and defender. UAB at 8-2 is sneaky with a win over Arkansas and single-possession losses to both Georgia and Arizona State on the road. Meanwhile, Wes Witherspoon’s knee injury is just another hurdle for Josh Pastner’s Memphis team to overcome. They’ve already dealt with the explosive Jelan Kendrick situation and Angel Garcia unexpectedly bolting for professional basketball. Any team relying on that many freshmen is going to experience their ups and downs on the floor, but this type of turmoil and roster shakeup that has come with injuries, defections and suspensions incorporates another layer of concern off the floor. Memphis did beat Miami, but have now survived both Arkansas State and Austin Peay in overtime. I’d still say the Tigers should be expected to hoist the conference crown come March. They’ll only improve as the season wears on and it’s too early to panic in the River City.

– The number of people flying off the Washington bandwagon has been confusing to me. The Huskies blew opportunities to collect quality non-conference wins with losses to Kentucky, Michigan State and at Texas A&M, but those defeats were by a combined 13 points and all extremely competitive. Ken Pomeroy still projects Washington to finish 15-3 in the Pac-10 and Lorenzo Romar’s squad ranks seventh in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency. Forcing the Huskies into a halfcourt game does expose some flaws, but if Washington can impose their pace and play at an up-and-down tempo, they’re close to uncontainable. The depth is also a major strength. Romar can go a legitimate 10-deep with this team and there’s many different skill sets flooding the roster. Abdul Gaddy will never be a superstar, but he’s made tremendous strides from last season to this season (23rd in offensive rating among “role” players). After the Huskies, second place in the Pac-10 continues to be wide open. I’d lean the way of Arizona, but BYU’s thrashing of the Wildcats in Salt Lake City was concerning. If Washington State can continue to receive 17 PPG from Faisal Aden, they might be a factor.

– For my last scribble, I’d like to acknowledge a few mid-major players making a notable impact this season. Right up there with Kemba Walker atop the scoring ranks in all of college basketball is Northern Illinois’ Xavier Silas at 28.1 PPG on 55% FG, 91% FT and 48% from three, statistics that would make Jimmer Fredette flush. Silas has scored 30 or more points in four of NIU’s eight games this season, including a 40 point outing against Illinois-Chicago (which suddenly looks more impressive given this past weekend’s events) on an astounding 22-24 from the charity stripe. I’d be remiss of Donald Sims of Appalachian State didn’t receive a shout out. His 24.9 PPG is wildly impressive, but it’s the way in which Sims contributes on the other end of the floor (2.5 SPG) that deserves a tip of the cap. Michael Glover, a former Seton Hall commit, has resurrected his college career at Iona. The Bronx native caught the eye of Jim Boeheim, calling him “as good as anyone we’ll play against,” following the Gaels visit to the Carrier Dome and Glover dropping 25/16 against the long Orange frontline. Ever since a lackluster 7/6 against Albany, Glover has posted double-doubles in every game, including 39/14 and 30/11 outings. The junior is shooting a remarkable 64% in the early season.

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