Evaluating the Three Current Favorites for ACC Player of the Year

Posted by EMann on December 31st, 2012

Ethan Mann is a writer for the ACC microsite. He is a senior at Duke University and can be reached at emann970@gmail.com.

Unless something really drastic happens during conference play, the ACC Player of the Year will likely come from this pool of three players: Duke senior forward/center Mason Plumlee, Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green, and Maryland sophomore forward/center Alex Len.  Let’s take a look at each of the three player’s profiles thus far, a week removed from the start of the conference season.

Mason Plumlee

Before this season, Mason Plumlee had never quite lived up to the extremely high expectations that had surrounded him during his first three years in Durham. While Plumlee had not been a poor player, most people had not expected Plumlee to ever become a four-year player in Durham — he seemingly oozed potential based on his elite athleticism. While Plumlee had made incremental improvements each season — in his junior year averaging 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game — few observers (including his high school coach, who suggested that Plumlee not return to Duke for his senior season) expected the breakout performance that his senior year has yielded so far.

Mason Plumlee is soaring above the competition during a breakout senior season for the top-ranked Blue Devils. (Duke Hoop Blog)

Plumlee is probably the frontrunner for National Player of the Year at this point, and conference player of the year as such. He is shooting 63.8% from the field while averaging 19.5 points (second in the league), 11.6 rebounds (first), and 1.6 blocks per game (sixth) for the nation’s top-ranked team. Much of his improvement has come as a result of major improvements at the free throw line. Plumlee, who shot 52.8% from the stripe his junior season and has hovered at around 50% for his entire career, is currently shooting 69.2% from the line and is going to the line at a much higher rate this season. Plumlee has only had one game where he has shot under 50% from the field, and he has had a double-double in eight of Duke’s 12 games, all of which are staggering statistics.  He also has Duke’s highest usage rate and offensive rating. The big question mark for Plumlee will be at the free throw line, though. While he has improved dramatically this year, he has also struggled over his last five games, reverting back to numbers closer to his career norms (27-of-47, or 57.4%). This is just nitpicking on a truly phenomenal season thus far for Plumlee, though, who should be considered the clear front-runner at this point, especially if Duke wins the ACC.

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The 10 Biggest CBB Stories Of 2012 — #2: Kentucky Gets Over The Hump to Win Its Eighth NCAA Title

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

Over the first two years of John Calipari’s tenure, Kentucky inched closer toward a national championship breakthrough – from an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 to a Final Four berth in 2011. Calipari reeled in the most decorated recruiting class of his career the following season, one built on the backs of center Anthony Davis and supplemented by forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, point guard Marquis Teague, and shooting specialist Kyle Wiltjer. He was locked and loaded for the third go-round of his one-and-done experiment, the yearly cycle of turning over the nation’s best freshmen talent and crafting national title contenders as he marshals players through the Wildcats’ historic program, maximizes their national acclaim and exposure, and ferries them into the NBA Draft.

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The Sad Saga of Baylor’s J’Mison Morgan Ends With a Dismissal

Posted by dnspewak on December 31st, 2012

Five years ago, long before reality set in, there was a big kid with a world of potential. He committed to play for Ben Howland and UCLA, which had just wrapped up a run of three straight Final Fours. They wrote things like this about him:

J'Mison Morgan Represents Potential Personified

J’Mison Morgan Represents Untapped Potential Personified

Rated the No. 3 center and the No. 23 overall prospect in the Class of 2008 by Scout.com … listed as the No. 4 center and the No. 25 overall prospect in the Class of 2008 by Rivals.com … rated the No. 2 center in the nation by Streetball and the No. 4 player at his position by BasketballPreps.com …

They made a glitzy Rivals.com profile for him that looked like this. Committed to UCLA after originally pledging to LSU and former coach John Brady. Offers from Kansas and Kentucky. Louisville. Alabama. Cincinnati. J’Mison Morgan was on his way to a heck of a college career, no doubt about it. But things didn’t quite work out at his first stop in Westwood. He struggled with his weight, got into Howland’s doghouse, faced a short suspension, and eventually found himself dismissed from the team after two unproductive seasons.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 31st, 2012


  1. They’ve been gearing up for New Year’s Eve in Stillwater for months, and not because they particularly care about the calendar flipping or watching the ball drop in Times Square. Instead, they’ve been gearing up for tonight’s showdown between Oklahoma State and Gonzaga. It’s not only a Top 25 battle — the local media and fans are also billing it as a Game of the Century of sorts, the kind of program-defining game Travis Ford must win to re-establish the Cowboys as a relevant Big 12 program. Good news is, Oklahoma State earned some respect already by demolishing North Carolina State and winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Ford isn’t desperate for a marquee victory, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help. The Zags, on the other hand, are no stranger to the Big 12. They’ve already knocked off four teams from this league this year alone: West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State, all by an average of 20 points.
  2. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The man who penned that quote — a Scottish author named Ian Maclaren — died in 1907. And yet the inspirational phrase applies to Ben McLemore more than a century later. As you’ve watched McLemore this season, you’ve seen him blossom as a scorer and leader for Kansas. You probably didn’t know he has an older brother in a maximum-security prison. You probably also didn’t know his older brother missed McLemore’s first college basketball game and might not ever get to see him play. The freshman wouldn’t expand on how his brother got to prison five years ago, and it’s also unclear how long he’ll be there, but the KU freshman was able to make a visit during the Christmas holiday. This has been McLemore’s life throughout most of his adolescence, and it’s something to think about the next time you see him step on the court at Allen Fieldhouse.
  3. During each of Kansas State‘s televised games, announcers have repeatedly mentioned Bruce Weber‘s motion offense and how it will take time for his new team to adjust to his philosophy. Unlike most of what comes out of commentators’ mouths, they’re right on this one. Weber is famous for his fine-tuned motion offense, and it’s more strict than what Frank Martin required on the offensive end. Defensively, though, nothing has changed. This team still needs to defend to win. As Weber puts it, “We have to guard. We’re good at it. We showed last week, if we can play at the right level, we can be OK offensively enough to win.”
  4. It’s been very difficult to see the downfall of Royce White after such a marvelous season with Iowa State in 2011-12. White’s issues with the Houston Rockets have been extensively publicized, and now there’s a new chapter: White has declined to play for the Rocket’s D-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Nobody’s quite sure where he’ll go from here, but White claims the organization will not do enough to accommodate his mental health issues. He issued a statement as well, explaining his stance and calling information released by the Rockets’ “misleading” and, at times, “totally inaccurate.”
  5. Upon hearing that former Oklahoma (among other schools, most famously Indiana) coach Kelvin Sampson could become a candidate for the Brooklyn Nets’ head coaching job, we have to ask the question: Do the Nets have an unlimited calling plan? Cheap shot. We know. Still, it’s wild to consider Sampson may get the full-time gig in Brooklyn after impermissible phone calls landed him in hot water with the NCAA in 2008. He’s actually under a “show-cause” penalty until 2013, which means he can’t get back into the college game until next year. So why not coach the pros? He already coached on an interim basis for 13 games this season during the absence of Kevin McHale, finishing a modest 7-6.
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Miami’s Reggie Johnson Out For 6-8 Weeks: What It Means For the Hurricanes

Posted by KCarpenter on December 31st, 2012

Confirming a story first reported by CBS Sports, the Miami has announced that senior center Reggie Johnson will miss the next six to eight weeks due to a broken left thumb. Johnson had missed the past two games against Arizona and Indiana State, games that the Hurricanes lost. Miami had seemed poised for a breakout year after reeling off seven straight wins subsequent to an early season stumble against Florida Gulf Coast, including a marquee win against Michigan State at home.  The loss of the dominant big man and the playing slump of Kenny Kadji have made the formidable Hurricanes front line seem very vulnerable indeed.

Johnson's Absence Puts Miami in a Precarious Situation

Johnson’s Absence Will Put Miami in a Precarious Situation

How badly will head coach Jim Larranaga miss Johnson? When he’s on the court, the 6’10” Johnson bullies opponents with his 290-pound body. He is a fantastic rebounder and one of the nation’s very best on the glass. With a 26.9% defensive rebounding rate, he leads the conference while also posting a respectable 13.6% on the offensive boards. On the defensive end, he is a capable shot blocker (fifth best in the conference by percentage) and an imposing presence beneath the rim. Despite all of this, however, Johnson will be missed the most on offense. When he is on the court, the center uses 28.7% of all of Miami’s possessions, a usage rate that is only surpassed by the one-man team of Erick Green at Virginia Tech. While Johnson has sometimes struggled with his shooting from the field this season, the area where he truly excels is getting to the free throw line. Outside of Mason Plumlee, no one in the conference gets to the stripe more than Johnson, who converts a very respectable 71.4% of his free throw attempts.  Miami has numerous effective scorers, but the loss of Johnson really hurts.

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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 31st, 2012


  1. Wolverines’ guard Tim Hardaway Jr. did not play against Central Michigan on Saturday because of an ankle injury. Even though Trey Burke made sure that Michigan wrapped up its non-conference schedule with a win (88-73), Hardaway’s injury could be concerning for John Beilein if it remains an issue in the conference season. The coaching staff did not release any specifics around his exact date of return or even the nature of the injury but Burke added that “it could be a bone bruise.” Opening the Big Ten season against Northwestern on the road won’t be easy without Hardaway because the Wildcats have been looking for a signature win at home and played the Wolverines very well there last season but lost in overtime.
  2. After missing three games, freshman Jeremy Hollowell will be back for the Hoosiers for their conference season opener today against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hoosiers reported a “secondary violation” to the NCAA and per the proposal, he will be reinstated immediately and travel with the team to Iowa. Hollowell has averaged 5.7 PPG and 3.0 RPG during the non-conference slate, and more details about the violation will be disclosed later this week by the athletic department. Tom Crean will need Hollowell’s services against Iowa and the Gophers over the next two weeks to tip off Big Ten play.
  3. Illinois’ Tracy Abrams had a great homecoming on Saturday as the Illini edged Auburn 81-79 at the United Center in Chicago. Playing in front of his hometown family and friends, Abrams scored 27 points and dished out five assists against the Tigers. Brandon Paul only scored 13 points in this game but Abrams made sure the Illini did not hobble into conference play by dominating the game. The sophomore guard handles the primary point guard duties for John Groce and has averaged 12.1 PPG despite shooting just 30% from beyond the arc. Even though he isn’t consistent from long range, Abrams has shown glimpses of his ability to get to the basket by successfully taking his defender off the dribble.
  4. As the Spartans prepare for their Big Ten opener against the Gophers, Tom Izzo has indicated that he will continue to play Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne over the next few weeks as Branden Dawson continues to recover from last season’s ACL injury. Izzo was particularly impressed with Nix’s 25 points against Texas and wants to see Dawson play at the small forward position as his playing time increases during the season. A frontcourt of Nix, Payne and Dawson will be tough to defend and the Spartans should be able to control the boards with this group in most games. Dawson also provides Izzo with flexibility on defense because he usually locks down the best wing on the opposing team. He is expected to guard Gophers’ talented Rodney Williams (13.0 PPG) on Monday.
  5. After 12 non-conference games and a 10-2 record, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has not been very impressed with his team thus far. Two losses to elite teams Kansas and Duke is reasonable, but the Buckeyes need better shooting (37% 3FG) from their stars during Big Ten play. The Buckeyes understand that there are few weak teams in the B1G and they can’t afford to have many bad shooting nights. Matta added, “This team is not good enough for us to not be playing at the level we’re capable of,” when asked about the season so far. Sophomore center Amir Williams (3.8 RPG) started for the first time this year and will need to provide a better defensive presence in the post if the Buckeyes hope to again compete for the conference title.
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ACC M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by mpatton on December 31st, 2012


  1. Raleigh News & Observer: After the Martin Report investigating North Carolina was released, it raised numerous more questions than answers. It also reflects several inconsistencies that point to one of three things: (1) people lied to Jim Martin, (2) people lied to N&O reporter Dan Kane, or (3) there was a serious lack of depth to the report that failed to check those assertions. Kane went through the committee minutes and didn’t find evidence of “red flags being raised” and confirmed that with a member of the committee himself. He also points out some (damning but circumstantial) anecdotal evidence as a counterexample to the Martin Report’s assertion that this isn’t an athletic scandal. Don’t think we’ve seen the last of this.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas comes from a basketball family. His mom and dad both played in college, and two years ago his sister was the ACC Rookie of the Year. He’s still very raw — especially on the offensive end — but he’s extremely aggressive, a solid rebounder and already a good shot-blocker. If Thomas can cut down on his turnovers and hit some more shots, he’ll be a very good player for Jeff Bzdelik in time.
  3. Baltimore Sun: It’s pretty generous to say Maryland‘s non-conference schedule was “too soft.” Right now the Terrapins’ strength of schedule is a below average #265 out of 347, according to the still evolving RPI. According to Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin the slate rates an even more pathetic #341 and #343, respectively. Outside of the Terps’ opening game against Kentucky, there’s been no substance to speak of.  Next up: IUPUI. Then conference play. Needless to say, it’s hard to know exactly where the Terrapins stand going into ACC play, but the league really needs Mark Turgeon’s team to be good this season.
  4. Macon Ledger-Inquirer: Speaking of schedules best described as a “parade of pre-ACC pretenders,” Georgia Tech is also wrapping up its non-conference schedule against the terrifying Chattanooga Mocs (which is short for “mockingbirds” if you were curious). Georgia Tech’s cupcake schedule makes a lot more sense than Maryland’s, though, for one reason — this truly is a rebuilding year in Atlanta. The NIT is a more reasonable goal for the Yellow Jackets than the NCAA Tournament, so the non-conference schedule is more of a confidence builder and tune-up than a resume. That said, as the last two articles illustrate, ACC play could be a real wake-up call for a lot of teams.
  5. USA Today: Bad news out of Coral Gables, as Reggie Johnson will yet again miss a significant portion (six to eight weeks) of the season with an injury. This time it’s a left thumb fracture that has already caused Johnson to miss the past two games. The really unfortunate part about the news is that Johnson has always seemed to be on the cusp of greatness. Likewise, this seemed like Miami’s year to put together a run and contend in the league. We’ll have a more thorough analysis of what Johnson’s injury means for the Hurricanes a little later this morning.
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Big East M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 31st, 2012


  1. Early in the season, one of the things that the 2012-13 Syracuse Orange seemed to have on the 2011-12 edition was reliable three-point shooting. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney can both act potentially as knock-down shooters for Jim Boeheim. Syracuse has struggled to score recently, and poor outside shooting is one of the main reasons for this lull. The Orange are now shooting 32% from behind the arc this season, and are just 5-of-33 since halftime of the win over Detroit. Boeheim acknowledges this issue, but doesn’t offer up much in the way of a detailed solution after Syracuse’s win over Alcorn State: “Well, it is what it is… Whatever the stats are, they don’t lie. Shooting stats don’t lie. Some people think they do. But they don’t.”
  2. With a dwindling lead against archrival Kentucky, Louisville’s Russ Smith started doing what he’s done all season – he made huge plays. Pat Forde describes how strange it is for Cardinals fans to think of Smith as their star, even this far into the season: “The improbable rise of Russ Smith as a s-s-s-star (hard to type with a straight face) has keyed everything Louisville has done last March and so far this season.” Louisville is right about where most people expected they would be, but Smith’s breakout has shifted the focus off of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, the players that people expected to lead the Cardinals to a great 2012-13 season.  Siva, Dieng, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, and a slew of other Cardinals are still very dangerous college players, and when combined with the dynamo Smith, who is averaging a shade under 20 points per game, Louisville is set to make major noise come March.
  3. GoLocalProv sports writer Scott Cordischi thinks that Providence coach Ed Cooley needs to ‘cool’ it down with regards to calling out his players after games. When asked a question about LaDontae Henton’s stretch of 24 straight points for the Friars in a loss to Brown, Cooley ignored Henton’s offensive outburst and put down his defensive performance, calling it “awful.” Cordischi also notes that Cooley alluded to the team as soft with regards to Bryce Cotton’s injuries, and earlier in the year diminished a 13-assist effort by Kris Dunn in his first collegiate game, calling it “gross.” While many coaches in all sports use the media to motivate their teams, I can see where Cordischi is concerned that Cooley is being too negative with respect to his players. Losses to teams like Brown are frustrating, but those thing will happen with a young, raw team like Providence.
  4. The transfer of Malcolm Gilbert from Pitt to Fairfield may be disconcerting to some Panthers fans, but it isn’t coming as a huge surprise to Jamie Dixon. Gilbert has always wanted to play with his brother Marcus, who is a freshman forward for the Stags, and he will have a chance to do that next season by leaving between semesters. Pitt fans may worry about this becoming a trend for Dixon’s program after losing Khem Birch last season, but the guys at Pitt blog Cardiac Hill don’t seem to be too worried, as this transfer seems to be more about an opportunity elsewhere rather than an issue with Dixon or the Panther program.
  5. USF star Anthony Collins was taken off the floor on a stretcher after being kneed in the head while diving for a loose ball during a 61-57 win over George Mason. After the game, Stan Heath said that Collins had feeling in all of his extremities, which is obviously a positive sign, but it is always jarring to see a player taken out of a game like that, especially in today’s sports world where concussions and head injuries are so prominent in the public consciousness. The Bulls also lost Victor Rudd to a concussion in the second half, and are very banged up heading into Big East play.
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Morning Five: 12.31.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 31st, 2012


  1. We hate to end the year by talking about cover-ups and conspiracy theories, but the situation at North Carolina regarding their ungoing academic scandal seems to get worse every time we hear about it. When former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin essentially cleared the athletic department of any wrongdoing he stated that officials had tried to raise questions about the suspicious classes, but a recent investigation by News & Observer indicates that there is no evidence of that in meeting minutes from that period and officials there do not recall any such objections[Ed. Note: Meeting minutes available here.] We are not sure if the school or the state will look into this any further because doing so could raise questions about the former Governor and likely several other prominent individuals within the state, but it will remain a blemish upon the athletic department and more importantly the university until it is properly addressed.
  2. The national media’s long nightmare (the limbo of Kevin Ollie) is over as Connecticut signed Ollie to five-year extension that is reportedly worth just under $7 million. After Jim Calhoun’s late decision to retire put the school in a difficult position of having to pick a coach in a relatively short period before the season began the school opted to name Ollie as the interim coach. While the move may have infuriated some national media members who felt that Ollie should have immediately been given a long-term contract and that the interim label immediately undercut him on the recruiting trail it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to go. Ollie, who had no head coaching experience on his resume, has done an excellent job leading a Huskies team that is playing without the possibility of a postseason and now will have the opportunity to try and rebuild the program in a manner he sees fit. Of course, he will be doing so with a school that is in a conference that is imploding around it, but given the lack of another quality school in the region Ollie should have ample opportunity to prove himself over the next five years.
  3. A year after his off-season knee injury may have cost Miami a shot at the NCAA Tournament, Reggie Johnson will miss six to eight weeks due to a broken left thumb. The loss comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Hurricanes who were without Johnson for their trip to Hawaii that resulted in losses to Arizona and Indiana State and are about to start ACC play. Based on the six to eight week estimate Johnson should be able to return by early-to-mid February, but would probably miss home games against Maryland, Duke, FSU, and (possibly) North Carolina as well as road games at North Carolina, NC State, and (possibly) FSU. That would leave them with just one game (a March 2 trip to Duke) and the ACC Tournament to impress the Selection Committee. If Miami is healthy and plays to the level they are capable of there is no question that they should be a NCAA Tournament team, now the question is whether they can do enough without Johnson to prove to the Selection Committee that they still belong in the NCAA Tournament when he returns.
  4. We normally don’t pay attention to 2-9 teams in non-power conferences, but the situation at Penn that transpired over the weekend with regards to reports of failed drug tests caught our eye. Late on Friday the school’s student newspaper filed a report citing “a highly reputable source” that said that five players–Miles Cartwright, Henry Brooks, Tony Hicks, Darien Nelson-Henry, and Steve Rennard–had been suspended from the team’s December 21 game at Delaware after failing a drug test. As the original report indicates it appears this was a random drug test administered by the school and not the NCAA. However, the following day the same paper reported that “alcohol may have played a role in the suspensions” while their original “highly reputable source” maintains that it was a positive drug test that triggered the suspension (alcohol is listed as a banned substance by the NCAA). We tried to find the ages of the players to see if they were underage, which would provide a stronger case for the alcohol theory, but the school doesn’t list the date of birth for its players on their site. However, none of the players on the roster are seniors so it is possible that everybody might be under 21 making the theory plausible. Still we have some questions as to what sort of situation they were in that they were even tested for alcohol.
  5. When the NCAA handed down its unprecedented $60 million fine against Penn State in the wake of its child molestation scandal we expected to the school to challenge it in court. What we didn’t expect was the questions about where the money would be sent. The initial agreement between the school and the NCAA indicated that 25 percent of the fine would go towards funds within the state, but some legislators in Pennsylvania believe that all of the money should stay within the state based on the belief that the sum of money would have a very small impact on a nationwide level, but would have a significant impact on programs if concentrated within the state. While we understand the NCAA’s position that this is a nationwide problem, we would have to side with the state argument here particularly since this fine, which has no legal basis, would then be a redistribution of money within the state rather than a net loss for the state’s taxpayers.
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ATB: Bluegrass Battle Produces Drama, UNC Steps Up Against UNLV, and One Excellent Day For Kevin Ollie….

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012


Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Commonwealth Rivalry Lives Up. It doesn’t get any bigger than Louisville-Kentucky. There are little rivalries that make for great shows of organic competitiveness and bitterness, but they have nothing on what took place Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Each year, no matter the disparities in talent or experience, these teams come to play in this rivalry game. The emotional baggage makes the Commonwealth clash an event in itself. When you get two Top 25 sides trading jabs, two coaches with well-established personal gripes – one of whom has navigated the delicate balance of a blue-to-red partisan conversion – there’s added drama to throw on top of the natural hatred. One side (Louisville) entered with more talent, experience and depth, but as is the case in most rivalry games, the final outcome was decided based on who could execute better in crunch time (and who could convert from the free throw line). Whatever your allegiance, or if your viewing interest was of the impartial variety, it’s hard to begrudge the sheer quality and entertainment factor of Saturday’s contest. Louisville-Kentucky was the massive event overshadowing the rest of the weekend, but there were a few other interesting games on tap. Time to wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play.

Your Watercooler Moment. Harrow Doesn’t Break Under Pressure.

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

The biggest question mark looming over Kentucky’s slow start was the comfort and progression of point guard Ryan Harrow. No one ever said he was going to be Derrick Rose, or even Marquis Teague – the Calipari point guard dynasty is a tough standard to maintain – Harrow simply needs to operate at a level that allows the Wildcats to maximize the talents of Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin on the perimeter, and enable Nerlens Noel to capitalize on easy lobs and putbacks. Even that seemed like a pipe dream for Harrow following a mysterious four-game absence in November. He’s made huge strides over the past three weeks, and had his best game (23 points on 10-of-17 shooting) just over a week ago in an 82-54 win over Marshall. That was a small step. In Louisville, Harrow was walking into one of the best defensive backcourts statistically-speaking in NCAA history (its 80.0 adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday’s game ranks among the best marks in Ken Pomeroy’s database, dating back to 2003), and few believed he was ready to handle the type of pressure Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were going to throw at him. Harrow jumped into the biggest spotlight of his career and performed like a point guard of Calipari’s recent vintage. Not only did Harrow score 17 points and help spearhead a furious second-half rally, but he committed zero turnovers, found ways to ward off the active hands and smothering pressure of Siva and Smith, and commanded Kentucky’s offense with aplomb. The scoreboard reflects a Kentucky loss, a short-term disappointment. In the long term, if Harrow’s performance is a barometer for his development and maturation in Calipari’s system, Saturday was a huge win. With a capable point guard puppeteering the offense, the future is bright for Kentucky.

Also Worth Chatting About. Don’t Count Out UNC Yet.

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

If any team needed a statement win heading into conference play, it was North Carolina. Besides a puzzling loss at Texas (and even that, given the Longhorns’ defensive chops, is not a fatal misstep) The Tar Heels hadn’t exactly dropped the ball in non-conference play – they lost to two very good teams from the state of Indiana, one an offensive juggernaut (IU) and one a vaunted perfectionist (Butler) in the art of sizing up and beating down more talented opponents – but they hadn’t exactly looked like the ACC front-runner many expected them to be. The visiting UNLV Rebels offered a prime opportunity to hold court against a top-20-level outfit, and build some serious momentum for ACC play in the process. UNC’s stifling defense and balanced scoring overwhelmed the Rebels, who suffered a brutal five-minute field goal-less streak in the second half and received an uncharacteristically inefficient showing from freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting). Neither team was at full strength – Mike Moser played just 12 minutes in his return from an elbow injury, and Reggie Bullock was scratched with a concussion – but UNC seized its last big chance to make a splash before ACC play. And with a brutal six-game stretch featuring games against Virginia, Miami, Florida State, Maryland and NC State up next, the Tar Heels needed a momentum boost in the biggest way. The proud fans in Chapel Hill can breathe, for now, and feel better about this season not mimicking a 2009-10 campaign that saw the Tar Heels follow up the Hansborough-Lawson-Green-Ellington supergroup with an NIT appearance.

Your Quick Hits….

  • Santa Clara Tests Duke. It is a fundamental truism of the 2012-13 college hoops season that Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and bet the Zags will have created enough distance from other challengers by February 1 to have rendered the word “race” completely and utterly moot. The rest of the league is far less certain. St. Mary’s is the logical favorite to claim the No. 2 spot. Loyola Marymount is always a tough out. And you can never discount BYU and the daunting road trip that is Provo, Utah. Time to insert a new name in the conversation: Santa Clara. The Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Saturday night and put a scare into the No. 1 Blue Devils, their upset bid powered by 29 points from senior guard Kevin Foster. That’s the kind of confidence-building performance that pays dividends in conference play, when you can rest assured Santa Clara will ride into any road environment exuding confidence and poise.
  • Ollie Gets First Win With New Job Title. Hours before Cincinnati’s Saturday night tipoff with visiting Washington, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported UConn had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract extension, thus eliminating the interim tag and granting the long-term security most believed Ollie had earned after leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start and creating a smooth transitory bridge from Jim Calhoun’s fiery coaching style to a new era of UConn basketball. Losing your first game after receiving a big financial commitment from AD Warde Manuel would have been a bad look. The Huskies’ talented backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatwright ensured their new coach had a win to back up his new job title, with each posting double-figure scoring totals in an eight-point victory over Washington. UConn may not have postseason motivations on its side, but what it does have, thanks to Saturday’s extension, is a huge incentive to help lay the foundation for Ollie’s tenure and a return to national relevance. Read the rest of this entry »
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