ATB: CJ McCollum’s Injury, Illinois Thrashes Ohio State, and Cincinnati’s Big Letdown…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 7th, 2013

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. This weekend brought a comforting turn in the hoops calendar. It was the first weekend spent in the throes of conference play. On Saturday, starting at 11am ET with Pittsburgh at Rutgers and on through Sunday night, high-quality games could be found on various networks. There were upsets, blowouts, and predictable results – all of which we’ve seen at different stages this season. But there’s a different vibe when it comes to conference play, to me at least, and it was refreshing to take it all in. Gone are the days of high majors beating down cupcakes. Most conference games are real, competitive, no-sleep-walking-allowed basketball games. And they’re here to stay, at least until April. This put me in an especially rosy mood, which is a good sign for what lies ahead in 2013, and an even better sign for college basketball in general. League competition is already shaking perceptions and standings in noticeable ways, and we haven’t even yet broken free of the college football fever. Just wait until February; I can hardly hide my excitement. So let’s recap the first conference weekend. It was a good one.

Your Watercooler Moment. CJ McCollum Breaks His Foot.

After bursting on the scene during last season's upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

After bursting on the scene during last season’s upset over No. 2 Duke, McCollum could very well have seen his last sample of NCAA Tournament basketball (Photo credit: AP).

Twice this season C.J. McCollum has left NBA Scouts looking for refunds on game tickets. The first time was a minor medical ailment. McCollum sprained his ankle and couldn’t suit up for a Dec. 20 game against North Texas. Saturday’s injury was far more severe. What’s truly saddening about McCollum’s broken foot isn’t the lengthy eight-to-ten-week recovery or the implications for his NBA draft status. It’s the fact that McCollum made the move most college basketball fans wish future first-round picks would make more often. McCollum eschewed guaranteed millions to play out his eligibility. In April, he penned a reflective piece explaining his decision. The SportingNews’ Mike DeCourcy dug up one of McCollum’s pivotal justifications: “By returning for my senior year, I give myself a chance to complete my degree at a prestigious university, while putting myself in a position to be successful no matter what happens in my future.” McCollum will still accomplish those goals, but the basketball component of his senior year won’t go as planned. Passing up the professional game for another year in college is always risky business. Many players wind up hurting their “draft stock” and regretting their decisions. McCollum should be back before the end of the season, and I have little doubt he can redeem whatever shine he may lose during his recovery, whether that be in the midst of a late-season Tournament surge or in draft workouts. McCollum is a preternaturally gifted scorer. He belongs in the NBA. This will do little, if anything, to hurt his draft prospects – provided he returns to his pre-injury form. It’s a tough setback, but nothing McCollum, a determined, clear-headed and driven individual, cannot overcome.

Also Worth Chatting About. Nothing Will Come Easy In The Big Ten.

The Illini didn't need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The Illini didn’t need hot three-point shooting to dominate Ohio State in Champaign (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

The formula to Illinois’ early success was flawed. It depended heavily on the three-point shot, which is an inherently risky way to win basketball games, but even more perilous when you don’t have a reliable source of interior scoring. Which Illinois didn’t…..until Saturday. The Illini’s win over Ohio State wasn’t surprising. It was the way Illinois bombarded the Buckeyes not with long-range shots, but with effective low post play. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was slowly, surely coming around of late, but he came up small in this week’s loss at Purdue, and one was starting to get the sense he was still a year or two away from contributing in meaningful ways. On Saturday, he showed up, and boy, does Ohio State wish he hadn’t. Egwu finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to bail out Illinois’ again poor three-point shooting (8-for-27). Illinois showed it doesn’t need the long-ball to knock off good teams – at least not when Egwu’s holding fort in the paint. The same problems remain with Ohio State: Can anyone help DeShaun Thomas shoulder the scoring load? Is Aaron Craft that guy? Will Shannon Scott, Laquinton Ross and Sam Thompson pick up steam as the season rolls along? This will give John Groce’s team boatloads of confidence for an upcoming home date with Minnesota, but the way the Gophers have looked thus far, it may need to recapture its hot three-point shooting stroke to spring the upset.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits…

  • The Best Of The Big 12 Lies in Kansas. No one’s touching Kansas in the Big 12. Bill Self’s team is too good. Well, it’s not all that much better than last season’s national finalist squad, but the Big 12 will do little to prevent a hazardless saunter through conference competition and into a one (or, at worst, two) NCAA Tournament seed. If there’s one team that can keep Kansas motivated through March, it’s the in-state rival. Kansas State doesn’t do anything particularly well. The Wildcats are a carbon coby of their former Frank Martin selves. They overpower you on the glass, guard like crazy in the halfcourt and physically manipulate the game to their ends. Then there’s Rodney McGruder, Kansas State’s only credible offensive weapon. It was by McGruder’s clutch shooting that Kansas State was able to hold serve Saturday against Oklahoma State in the Little Apple, and it will continue to fall upon McGruder to generate the brunt of K-State’s attack. As long as McGruder’s shooting well, this team is as qualified as any to snag runners-up honors in a watered-down Big 12.
  • Hoyas Rusty After Long Layoff.It’s not unusual to see Georgetown get bogged down in low-scoring games. They edged Tennessee, 37-36, in late November and were held to under 50 points by Towson in a home win. This team plays ugly, and it can win ugly. That formula didn’t work at Marquette Saturday, the Hoyas’ first game since routing American at home two weeks ago. Offensive rust was less an expectation than a certainty. Otto Porter never looked in sync, the Hoyas got zero points from their bench and by the time it was over, Marquette had grinded out a classic Big East win. Like the Big Ten, this league – likely in its final go-round – will offer few easy road victories. Georgetown was going to lose games in league play, and falling at the Bradley Center is not a crime. The Golden Eagles play efficient offense, they run their sets and strategy-wise, Buzz Williams is one of the best. The Hoyas would do well to beat Pittsburgh at home Tuesday, because the worry with Georgetown, as has been the case under JTIII, is that gaudy nonconference work doesn’t carry over into league play.
  • UNC Not An Elite ACC Team. Absent historical precedent and preseason expectations, UNC’s nine-point loss at Virginia wouldn’t feel like an upset. We’ve long since determined the Tar Heels aren’t anywhere near the level of Duke at the top of the ACC. A recent home win over UNLV caused some to reassess earlier losses to Indiana, Butler and Texas. After all, this is North Carolina. Totally counting out the Tar Heels is tough; Roy Williams is one of the best coaches in the game. But when you scan what’s left of last year’s one-seed team, and realize that James Michael McAdoo just isn’t ready to assume a lead scoring role, and that Reggie Bullock is a complementary offensive player being asked to perform well above his capabilities, what you get is a transitioning team in the midst of a rebuilding year. Until they prove otherwise, the Tar Heels project as a middle-tier ACC squad, with a Tournament berth legitimately within reach but not guaranteed. The UNLV win was a major boost, but UNC needs to beat someone (upending A Duke, NC State or Miami would do wonders) to clear the bubble conversation and prevent an anxious Selection Sunday.
  • Another Basketball Rivalry Thrown Aside? If this is the last rendition of the Memphis-Tennessee basketball rivalry, the Tigers made the most of it by getting a critical nonconference win on the eve of C-USA play, where a wasteland of mediocre to lowly muck will drive down the Tigers’ RPI figure and compromise (or at least not help) Memphis’ at-large prospects. Had the Tigers lost this game, they would have needed to roll through conference play with almost no margin for error and, Failing that, win the conference tournament. Beating a good but not great Tennessee team gives Josh Pastner’s team some much-needed breathing room. The most encouraging takeaway was Joe Jackson, who over his last two games is averaging 21 points, seven assists and shooting 67 percent from the field. If Jackson puts aside his well-documented emotional tendencies, Memphis has enough talent to make Pastner’s long-awaited NCAA Tournament breakthrough.
  • Missouri Valley Race Not Really Competitive. Three games into its Missouri Valley schedule, and Creighton has already brushed off three of the league’s best five teams. The Blue Jays stomped Evansville at home, survived Illinois State on the road and pulled away from Indiana State Saturday thanks in large part to Greg Echenique’s 16-point, nine-rebound, four-block performance. In many ways, this game disproved Creighton’s biggest flaws: that it relies too much on Doug McDermott, that it can’t beat good teams when three-point shots aren’t falling, that bigger teams will take ownership over the low post. Echenique gives the Blue Jays the effective interior presence it lacked last season, and McDermott, while praised for his mid-range game and pin-point accuracy from distance, is nothing to scoff at in the paint, either. These are two physical scorers that go at you in different but complementary ways. There’s not a team in the MVC on Creighton’s level right now.
  • One Step At A Time For NC State. Look, asking Mark Gottfried to manage a cast of established veterans while integrating a highly touted freshmen class to promptly claim ACC dominance was unreasonable, when you think about it. The Wolfpack need time to jell, and they may not reach their peak until March, kinda like last season. So when you see NC State needing sharp shooter Scott Wood to come up with nine points in the final minute to scrape by Boston College, resist the temptation to gauge the Wolfpack on the lofty bridge built off last year’s Tournament run and bolstered by this year’s recruiting class. This team, like most, will progress as the year rolls on. What you see now is not the same team you’ll see in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
  • You Don’t Want Bucknell In A Tournament Setting. In 2009, Cornell loaded up for bear in the nonconference with games against Alabama, Syracuse, St. John’s and Kansas. The Big Red nearly beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, and it served notice to the rest of the nation that Cornell would be a force come March. When it was time to prove their worth on the big stage, Cornell delivered with a Sweet 16 run. Lehigh followed that blueprint last season by going to East Lansing and coming away with a confidence-building nine-point loss. It allowed the Mountain Hawks to get a taste of tourney-level competition. Lehigh was up to bat in December, and they were certaintly ready in March, when C.J. McCollum and co. mangled Duke. Bucknell missed out on an NCAA bid last season after losing to Lehigh in the Patriot Tournament final, but if they meet again this season, the Bison could play their way into the field. That’s the impression they left Saturday by just barely falling short at Missouri. When you have a frontcourt anchor playing as big and fearlessly and as Mike Muscala, tournament aspirations are downright reasonable. The Patriot League has two true stars (McCollum and Muscala); it’s a shame one of them will have to miss out on the Big Dance.

…and Misses.

  • If That’s Not A Punch….. It looked every bit like Branden Dawson took a swing at Purdue forward Travis Carroll following Gary Harris’ made three-pointer in Michigan State’s 23-point win over Purdue. Neither coach addressed the incident at their respective post game press conferences, and Spartans coach Tom Izzo is not expected to discipline Dawsen in any way. See for yourself:

  • Offense A Question Mark For Cincinnati. The way Cincinnati goes about beating teams, with physical guard play, relentless two-way rebounding and tight defense is not amenable to poor shooting nights. We saw it when New Mexico won at Cincinnati and the Bearcats shot 31 percent from the field and only twice went to the free throw line. We saw it again Saturday when St. Johns needed just 53 points to outmatch the Bearcats woeful 19-for-60 shooting (31 percent! Again!) and drop Mick Cronin’s team to 1-1 in Big East play. Few teams can match the Bearcats’ intensity and cohesion on the defensive end, and they’ll be in every game this season because their grinding style prevents opponents from opening up big leads, but if Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker aren’t knocking down shots, Mick Cronin’s team will labor. Upcoming games against Notre Dame and at Rutgers are paramount.
  • The Bottom Of The Big 12 Is Not A Happy Place. The two worst teams in the Big 12 squared off Saturday, and the loser, TCU, may have coughed up its best chance at winning a conference game. It’s next best opportunity: at Texas Tech (March 2). Both of these programs have fallen on hard times, and both have new coaches this season. The Red Raiders have a greater capacity for immediate growth, provided they can cleanse the program of all Gillepsie-related artifacts and implement a new culture. TCU is a classic case of a “football school” dragged along into a league for which its basketball program is ill-prepared to compete at a high level. It is a sad state of affairs for both Texas schools (they fall between 230-250 in kenpom’s team ratings), and there’s not all that much to look forward to this season. TCU may not win a game for the rest of the year, but Texas Tech isn’t all that much better.
  • Humbling Loss For Georgia Tech. There’s plenty of uncertainty in the middle of the ACC. Between Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech and even UNC, who will be sitting on the right side of the dividing line on Selection Sunday? Many believe Georgia Tech can get there eventually, but Brian Gregory’s team is full of youth (its average experience, 1.44 years, ranks 257th in Division I) and a Tournament berth this season may be wishful thinking. The Yellow Jackets are a work in progress, but are they really ready to contend with the likes of Duke, Maryland, NC State and Miami? Beating the Reggie Johnson-less Hurricanes at McCamish Pavilion would have spawned optimistic forecasts, but the Yellow Jackets shot 33 percent from the floor, allowed Kenny adji to own the glass and watched reserve guard Rion Brown pour in 22 points off the bench. Maybe this team just isn’t ready. Maybe they’re just a bit ahead of schedule.
  • Not A Promising Start For Illinois State. Eliminating Creighton from the equation, the Missouri Valley features a compact batch of Tournament hopefuls, comprised by Illinois State, Indiana State, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Not all of those teams are getting in. Four bids is an optimistic if reasonable projection. If Illinois wants to be one of those teams, it needs to start winning its conference games. Granted, starting off league play with the Sycamores, Bluejays and Panthers isn’t optimal – that’s a murderers row any MVC context – but the Redbirds, led by seniors Jackie Carimchael and Tyler Brown, are lagging behind the pack and need to start making up ground quickly. In less than two weeks, they go to Wichita State, which is a huge challenge as of this writing but could be even greater if the Shockers get some (or even one) of their injured players back on the court. That’s a win that would stand the test of time in the at-large picture.
  • Hey Pitt: Schedule Up Or Face The Music. Scheduling light in the non-conference is a dual-edged sword. Piling up wins and building confidence is important, but if you don’t challenge yourself with equal and/or stronger teams, the rigors of conference play can be stunningly difficult to handle. Pittsburgh played two teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 rankings, Lehigh and Michigan, and spent the rest of November and December blowing out mid-major detritus at the Peterson Events Center. As Big East play lingered at the turn of the new year, the Panthers were coming off a 16-point win over Kennesaw State, one of the worst teams in Division I. Cincinnati went into the Pete and mucked out a nine-point win. There’s nothing wrong about taking that loss. There is something wrong with losing at rudderless Rutgers. Now the Panthers are 0-2 in the Big East, with a swing through Georgetown and a home date with Marquette on tap. It’s still too early to conjure up last season’s CBI-bound trajectory, right?

Dunkdafied #1. A perfectly executed out-of-bounds alley-oop is one of the most aesthetically tantalizing plays in college basketball. Not only does Okaro White catch, leap and dunk cleanly and gracefully, he punctuates the act with force.

More Notes From Around The Nation.

  • 1988 Kansas Title Reunion. The Pupil edged the mentor. Two first-year coaches — inextricably linked by way of Kansas’ 1988 national championship team, which Larry Brown coached and Danny Manning played on — reunited on adversarial terms Saturday when Manning’s Tulsa team nipped SMU on the road. Brown will go down as one of the best coaches in the history of the game. Manning is just getting started in the profession, but as woeful as C-USA is this season, winning your league opener on the road is a nice start.
  • In A Weak Pac-12, Oregon Works. Based on the evidence the Pac-12 has produced to date — Arizona plays a dangerously close style against weaker opponents and just barely scrapes by better ones, UCLA is gaining steam but doesn’t guard anybody and Colorado is not quite there yet — Oregon is just as qualified as anyone else to make a run at the conference championship. Toughing out gritty wins on the road (against an in-state rival, no less) is the type of consistency a young team like Oregon needs to develop. Dana Altman’s team gets after you defensively. They mix a layer of proven veterans with young core. And they get a majority of their offense inside the three-point arc, an offensive formula that protects for wacky long-range shooting variance and upsets. In this diffuse league, Oregon is a group that bears watching.
  • No one Looks Better Than Michigan. If there was an official set of college basketball power rankings, an ordered hierarchy that focused more on recent performance and less on comprehensive resumes, Michigan would top my ballot. The Wolverines are scary good on the offensive end, and they just made two Big Ten teams, Northwestern (on the road) and Iowa (at home), look like jayvee squads. Whether they can mangle Ohio State at Ohio State on January 13, I don’t know. But the way John Beilein’s team is playing right now, you’d be hard pressed to find an equal challenger.
  • Herb Sendek’s Hot Seat Is Cooling. There’s room for surprise contenders in the Pac-12. UCLA, Arizona and Oregon give the league more top-end quality than last season, but as a whole, the lineup isn’t all that much better than 2011-12. Arizona State beat Colorado Sunday night, which is the first real substantial win for Herb Sendek’s team (and a painfully hard loss for the Buffaloes, coming off the Sabatino Chen controversy). The Sun Devils didn’t beat anyone in the non-conference, but if they can ride lightning-quick point guard Jahii Carson on the offensive end and maintain their stingy interior defense, the Pac-12 is forgiving enough to allow the Sun Devils to make a substantial move up the standings.
  • Tough WCC Road Spot No Problem For Gonzaga. A road trip to Santa Clara was a tricky spot for Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team blitzed a rigorous nonconference schedule (save a home loss to Illinois) and entered Saturday’s game at the Leavey Center riding a powerful wave of momentum. The Broncos (12-4) might have sprung the upset anyway, but Kelly Olynyk is really, really good. He nullified Kevin Foster’s 29-point night by scoring 33 points to go along with 10 rebounds and dispensing eight points in crunch time to seal the win. This was one of the biggest potential hurdles on the Zags’ league slate, and they overcame it deftly. And pardon me for schedule watching, but that Saturday, January 19 game at Butler can’t come soon enough. 
  • Longhorns Improving. We won’t get a comprehensive read on Texas until Myck Kabongo returns from NCAA suspension in February, but the Longhorns are going to win some games without him. Lost in the Kabongo debacle and the ugly nonconference results is Texas’ sterling per-possession defensive numbers. Entering into Saturday’s overtime loss at Baylor, the Longhorns ranked third in defensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and three-point defense, fifth in two-point defense and 15th in block percentage.
  • Owls Nearly Pick Off Another Top Team. If Temple was going to go into Allen FieldHouse and snap the Jayhawks’ 30-game home win streak, it was going to require something special from Khalif Wyatt. The Owls needed 33 from their lead guard to knock off Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, and Wyatt delivered 26 on Sunday. Wyatt did his part. Temple showed up in a big way Sunday, and making the Jayhawks work at Allen Fieldhouse is a win in itself, but Kansas is Kansas. Jeff Withey blocks 11 shots, Travis Releford knocks down a clutch three, and the streak is alive and well.
  • Cal Gets Going In Pac 12. Consecutive losses to Harvard and UCLA had the Golden Bears limping into conference play. All the momentum from their 6-0 start was gone. And with a soft stretch of the league schedule ahead of them – at USC, Washington and Washington State – Cal needed to make the most of the opportunities at hand. Winning at USC was a great first step, and an impressive performance to boot – the Trojans were coming off a solid win over Stanford.
  • Huskies Edge State Rivals. I don’t expect this Washington team to generate at-large momentum. It’s too young in too many key spots, and far too disjointed to win conference games on the road. But winning in Pullman is no small feat. Gonzaga escaped there with a two-point win earlier this season. Lorenzo Romar’s team started league play off on the right foot. That is good news, because odds are, things are going to get worse before they get better.
  • Lehigh Goes The Distance With VCU. I devoted more space to McCollum’s crushing injury, and that’s without question the biggest headline from Saturday’s VCU-Lehigh game. But it should be known: The Mountain Hawks, McCollum-less for 25 minutes, quite nearly solved VCU’s smothering defensive tactics. On the same day Bucknell came within two points of upsetting Missouri in Columbia, Lehigh fell four points short of toppling Shaka Smart’s unassailable ball-hawking fortress. Few conference Tournament matchups (barring upsets in the earlier rounds) will match the intensity and significance of a potential Lehigh-Bucknell Patriot League Tournament final. 
  • Look Out Anthony Bennett; Shabazz Muhammad is Gaining Ground. The best freshman in the country is Anthony Bennett. That statement holds true in the present. It could change over the next couple months, especially if Shabazz Muhammad – who powered UCLA to an eight-point win over Stanford Saturday, the Bruins’ seventh straight victory – keeps rolling up 23-point, 10 rebound games and rubbing off team-wide intensity and focus along the way.
  • Seminoles Show Life. After last week’s loss at Auburn, most of my preseason aspirations for FSU’s potential ACC Title coup were crushed. I mean, you don’t just lose to South Alabama and Mercer (at home!), get run by Minnesota and Florida (at home!), fall flat at Auburn, then flip a switch for conference play. The Seminoles won at Clemson Saturday, and that’s a nice conciliatory result to lift your spirits. Let’s see what Leonard Hamilton’s team does at Maryland Wednesday.
  • Never A Dull Moment In Tucson. On Thursday, Arizona stormed back from a 17-point deficit, got a generous call from officials on an apparent game-winning shot from Colorado guard Sabatino Chen, then sealed a victory in overtime. That win added to the close-game mystique the Wildcats had provided in one-point wins over Florida and San Diego State. On Saturday, they didn’t play around. A whopping three-point margin stood between Arizona and Utah at the final whistle. If Arizona can keep navigating these treacherously close score lines, more power to it. But that’s a risky game to play, particularly on the road.
  • Providence Free-Falling. It’s not as if Providence doesn’t have the talent or offensive firepower to compete. They have scorers in spades – from Vincent Council to Bryce Cotton to Kadeem Batts to Kris Dunn. This is a team that has no business losing to Brown, Boston College and – get this – Depaul at home. Ed Cooley is doing considerable work on the recruiting trail. His basketball team has a ways to go before it’s ready to compete in the Big East. In all likelihood, the next time the Friars field a Tournament-caliber team, they’ll be flying a new conference flag. 
  • You Didn’t Know Oklahoma Was 10-3. Now you do. A weak nonconference schedule – combined with a neutral-court evisceration at the hands of Gonzaga – served to underplay Oklahoma’s 9-3 start. With Saturday’s win over West Virginia, the Sooners are sitting in rarefied air by 2012-13 Big 12 standards, with two wins over the Mountaineers and victories over Ohio and UTEP. Oklahoma State comes to Norman on Saturday; a Sooners upset would not come as a huge shock.
  • Quinn Cook Is Special. Few things tickle my college basketball fancy more than heady pass-first point guard play. Those creative, soccer-like instincts are one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. Phil Pressey has them. And Maybe Quinn Cook is about to assume that classification. Or maybe his 0-point, 14-assist game against Wake Forest is a freak aberration (those aren’t mutually exclusive outcomes, mind you). Duke needs Cook to facilitate the offense. They also need him to score more than zero points.
  • Terrapins Coast. Nitpick Maryland’s out-of-conference profile all you want, the Terrapins have won 13 games in a row, tied for the second longest streak in school history, and Saturday’s was easily the most impressive to date. Freshman guard Jake Layman, taking injured Nick Faust’s place in the lineup, gave Maryland 18-first half points in the ACC-opening win over Virginia Tech (94-71). In a way, Maryland needed a momentum-building rout: six of the Terrapins’ next five games are against Florida State, Miami, NC State, UNC and Duke.
  • Jackrabbits Lose Again, and that’s OK. At-large considerations fell out of SDSU’s reach the moment it took a puzzling loss at Hofstra in early November. The Jackrabbits need to win the Summit League Tournament to broach the field. So as long as Nate Wolters gets his team rolling for the league tourney, it has a chance to play its way back into the NCAAs.

Dunkdafied #2. One thing Oklahoma State has is hyper-athletic scorers. It’s not just Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash that makes the Cowboys an acrobatic show. Markel Brown is a big part of why Ok-State is one of the nation’s most entertaining dunking teams.

This Weekend’s All Americans.

First Team

  • Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga (NPOY) – The Zags hurdled one of their biggest WCC obstacles at Santa Clara thanks to Olynyk’s 33 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Rodney McGruder, Kansas State – The soft point of Kansas State’s gritty, defense-oriented, physical roster is a true dearth of viable scorers. McGruder – who powered the Wildcats with 28 points in Saturday’s take down of Oklahoma State – is K-State’s go-to scorer.
  • Jeff Withey, Kansas – Were it not for Withey’s 11 rebounds and nine blocks, Temple might just have had enough to spring the upset at Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Anthony Bennett, UNLV – Much was made of Mike Moser’s versatility and toughness last season. But when you watch Anthony Bennett, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, you see a player on a whole different level, and he’s not anywhere near his peak.
  • Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA – The Bruins need Muhammad to play like an All-American. Muhammad — 23 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Stanford — is playing like an All-American.

Second Team

  • Trey Burke, Michigan – Best point guard in the country? Check. Best player in the country? Maybe: Burke doesn’t just score the ball efficiently (19 points), he makes the job easier for his teammates (12 assists).
  • Kenny Boynton, Florida – It’s going to take more nine-for-12, 28-point efforts for Boynton to convince everyone that he’s no longer an inefficient chucker.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – He may be the most casually overlooked big man on the nation’s most casually overlooked team: Cooley reeled off a 19-point, 13-board double-double in Saturday’s win over Seton Hall.
  • Greg Echenique, Creighton – Of course Doug McDermott belongs here. He’s been here umpteen times before. McDermott has already enjoyed his moment in the sun, with many more All-American selections in his future. Echenique (16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) hasn’t been so lucky.
  • Cleveland Melvin, Depaul – The Deamon Decons won’t win many Big East games this year. Melvin’s 23 points and nine rebounds was the biggest reason why they were able to upset Providence Saturday night.

Tweet Of The Weekend. 

The healthy competitiveness spanning the Big Ten is going to make for some wacky transitive-property win-loss scenarios later this season. For now, we know Illinois beat Ohio State, but lost to Purdue three days earlier; which means Purdue is better than both Illinois and Ohio State? Well, no. See? This can lead to some perplexing logical pretzels. Alas, unpredictable as it is, the Big Ten’s going to be an absolute joy to watch.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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4 Responses to “ATB: CJ McCollum’s Injury, Illinois Thrashes Ohio State, and Cincinnati’s Big Letdown…”

  1. Ryan says:

    You wrote the AZ ST Aztecs. Don’t you mean the Sun Devils?

  2. nvr1983 says:

    Fixed. Thanks.

  3. KDoyle says:

    Have to disagree with the comments on the race in the Valley. To say that there’s no other team on Creighton’s level just isn’t true in my mind. You have to at least give consideration to Wichita State who is 14-1, a near Top 25 team, and a clear challenger for Creighton.

    Also, I realize you have only fit so many names onto the Weekend All Americans, but in really surprised Mike Muscala wasn’t included. He filled up the stat sheet in every column and was the best player on the floor in the Bucknell – Missouri game. Totally dominated Alex Oriakhi.

  4. CJohnson says:

    You can make an argument for Wichita State, certainly, and I’m willing to forgive the loss at Tennessee, just as I am Creighton’s home loss to Boise State. But at least to me, with the way Creighton has proven itself at home and on the road so far, and the uncertainty with Wichita State’s injuries, Creighton has a clear edge. But there’s an argument to be made.

    As for Muscala: when I put together All-American lists, I typically exclude players from losing teams. There are exceptions, and perhaps Muscala’s game at Mizzou this weekend qualifies, but under most circumstances, if you lose you don’t make it. Harsh but rule.

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