SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 10.26.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on October 26th, 2012

  1. As we mentioned yesterday, Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t one to normally give his team undue praise, and he didn’t change course Thursday at SEC Media Day. “Whoever did that needs to be drug-tested,” Calipari said in response to those who consider his Wildcats the team to beat. “We’re not very good right now. I think we’ll be a good team eventually, hopefully, but right now we’re average.” Calipari won’t ever fall victim to the hype, but he should get used to this line of questioning in the future. When his freshman-dominated team cut down the nets in April, his star-studded squads ceased being the primary example of why the one-and-done strategy isn’t a viable championship method. He’s showing no signs of slowing down in the recruiting arena, meaning that his squads will be perceived as one of the heavy favorites almost every year in the foreseeable future.
  2. Frank Martin believes that Ole Miss is in for a big season. We were hoping for an outrageous quote out of the new South Carolina coach on Media Day, but some respectful optimism will have to do. When asked about Martin’s comments, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy responded, “The pieces are in place for us to have a good team. I think when you return your top nine, four starters, and you have the most experienced top line in the SEC, it’s not a bad place to start.” Unfortunately, that experience he’s referencing has only done enough to become an NIT fixture. Each of Kennedy’s teams in Oxford has finished with between seven and nine wins in conference play, and because of another weak non-conference schedule, that number will need to increase for the Rebels to have a chance to go dancing.
  3. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy wants you to forget about last year. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and [I’m] really excited about the opportunity to be at Texas A&M and represent a great school and a great league,” the coach told assembled media in Hoover, Alabama, “It’s going to be a lot more fun, I promise you.” The Aggies’ first season after Mark Turgeon bolted for Maryland was disastrous. The projected Tourney team suffered from a rash of injuries and underachievement. The offseason wasn’t much better, with Khris Middleton bolting for the NBA and several contributors graduating or transferring. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, however, as the Turners (Ray and Elston, mistakenly identified in the link as twins) will be expected to provide leadership in addition to on-court production. Says Kennedy: “For us to be good, they have to have great years – not just average years, they’ve got to have great years”.
  4. Arkansas received some disappointing news last night when the NCAA denied a transfer waiver for forward Alandise Harris. The Little Rock native was hoping to receive immediate eligibility after leaving Houston for family reasons. Harris played two years for the Cougars and averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 boards last season. This development leaves second-year coach Mike Anderson with a depth problem in the frontcourt. Marshawn Powell is the unit’s primary scoring threat, but he’s coming off a season lost to injury. Hunter Mickleson is a defensive specialist hoping that his offensive game will improve. Beyond that exists only unproven commodities. With his high-energy defensive schemes, Anderson has to be worried about fatigue for his thin frontcourt.
  5. In an entirely unsurprising development, Huntington Prep forward Andrew Wiggins announced his intention to reclassify to his original 2013 recruiting class. The 2014 top prospect immediately unseats Jabari Parker and Julius Randle as the top available talent atop both ESPN’s and Rivals’ rankings. The battle to land Wiggins’ signature on a letter of intent will be fierce, and John Calipari will surely be involved. With top 10 commitments from Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and James Young (not to mention five-star Marcus Lee) already signed on, landing the swingman would give the Kentucky coach the most highly touted recruiting class in recent memory.
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Nothing Says Team-Building Like 5 AM Runs With the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 23rd, 2012

Texas A&M welcomes seven newcomers to its team and was picked to finish ninth in its first SEC preseason media poll on Monday, but don’t expect the Aggies to go down without a fight. Coach Billy Kennedy’s squad didn’t usher in the new year with a celebratory “Madness” practice last week, but the Aggies did go straight to work. The team hit the streets of campus to participate in 5 AM workouts with the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, as seen in the video below:

Kennedy knows that A&M has a long way to go to become competitive in the SEC. The Aggies finished at the bottom of the Big 12 last season with a 4-14 conference mark. A big key to A&M’s turnaround will be seniors Ray Turner and Elston Turner, and Kennedy expects a lot from his team leaders this season. “We need those guys to have great years on and off the court from a leadership standpoint,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been solid, but I would like for them to give a little bit more leadership. … You look at our team and those two guys are the only two that have legitimate Division I experience.”

Texas A&M plays an exhibition on November 3 against Incarnate Word and opens up the season on November 9 with Louisiana Tech. The Aggies’ first taste of the SEC will come Wednesday, January 9 against Arkansas in Reed Arena in College Station. Perhaps these early morning bonding and team-building experiences will pay off for this inexperienced group come SEC play.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

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SEC Transition Basketball: Texas A&M Aggies

Posted by Brian Joyce on September 6th, 2012

Let’s finish these off this week with the last few of what we’re calling it Transition Basketball, an offseason look at each of the 14 SEC basketball programs. Today’s update: Texas A&M.

State of the Program

Billy Kennedy’s first season in College Station came with high expectations. The Aggies were on a roll, making the NCAA Tournament in the previous five seasons, with junior Khris Middleton back to lead the way along with seniors David Loubeau and Dash Harris. Texas A&M was a consensus top 25 pick in the preseason, and a popular choice to finish in the top echelon of the Big 12 with national powerhouses Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri. However, the popular pick isn’t always the right pick. Mark Turgeon left the cupboard fully stocked with athleticism and experience, but after an 8-1 start, the Aggies fell flat the rest of the way going 6-17 the remainder of the season. Bad fortune struck the Aggies when 6’9″ forward Kourtney Roberson went down in late December with an ankle injury and freshman Jamal Branch decided mid-season that he wanted to transfer to St. Johns. Harris and Middleton were both slowed by injuries. Unfortunately for A&M fans, even with a little luck on their side, it’s not likely the team’s win column will improve drastically in its first season in the SEC.

Kennedy can’t afford another disappointing effort in College Station

Though three key pieces (Middleton, Loubeau, and Harris) from last year are gone, several role players could step up to fill those roles. There is promise down low in 6’9″ forwards Ray Turner (9.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG) and Roberson (4.6 PPG and 4.9 RPG) who is back along with a bill of good health after he was granted a medical hardship for his injury last season. 6’5″ guard Elston Turner scored a solid 13.8 points per game in his first year in College Station and will likely need to score with even more efficiency this year for the Ags to be successful. But is that enough for Kennedy’s club to make significant improvement?

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Grading the Big 12’s 2011-12 Season: Bottom Half

Posted by dnspewak on April 5th, 2012

With the 2011-12 campaign now just a memory, it’s difficult to actually remember all of the drama and agony the Big 12 experienced during the last five months. Kansas’ thrilling loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational seems like ages ago, as does the Jayhawks’ first loss to Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. Remember when Missouri and Baylor were only a few of the remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball? Or when Texas found a way to lose game after game in the most heartbreaking fashion? These memories are hard to digest, but you’ll probably never forget the Border War drama between Kansas and Missouri, nor will you forget Iowa State’s rise thanks to the brilliant play of Royce White. The Big 12 kept playing until the final game of the 2011-12 season, ending with Kansas’ loss to Kentucky in the title game on Monday. And with the conclusion of this wild campaign, the final grades are in. Kansas earns an A+. Big surprise. Texas A&M earns an F. Big surprise, too, but for different reasons. The other eight teams settled into a grade somewhere between those two extremes.

We’ll cover the bottom half of the league today, and the top half tomorrow.

10. Texas Tech (8-23, 1-17)

Gillispie's First Year in Lubbock Wasn't Great


The Red Raiders get a free pass in Billy Gillispie‘s first season. Playing almost exclusively with newcomers, Texas Tech had no chance this year. Robert Lewandowski was the only senior on the roster, but not even he could lead this team to any sort of success. Their inexperience was just too much to overcome. The Red Raiders were plagued by turnovers all season and they never got consistent point guard play. Jordan Tolbert emerged as the leading scorer in the frontcourt, and he played the most consistent basketball on the team from November through February. Still, even after a last-place finish, Texas Tech should not worry about the state of this program. Gillispie’s success at UTEP and Texas A&M proves he can win in this state, and he’ll have almost everybody back next season.

9. Texas A&M (14-18, 4-14)


Sorry, A&M. You fail. Picked in the pre-season to win the Big 12, the Aggies suffered through a nightmare year, though there are extenuating circumstances to consider here. Coach Billy Kennedy learned of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the fall, which kept him sidelined for fall practice and away from his team during critical teaching moments. As a first-year coach, Kennedy never had the chance to establish himself to his new players. Adding to the woes, many of those players missed time themselves with injuries. Star wing Khris Middleton had surgery on his knee in November and sat out part of Big 12 play. Point guard Dash Harris missed a handful of games, too, and his backup Jamal Branch transferred before conference play. Kourtney Roberson played only nine games before his season ended due to injury as well. As the troubles mounted, the losses began to pile up. The Aggies simply could not score because of all the roster turnover and the lack of creators on the offensive end. We thought this team could muscle its way to a Big 12 title by playing with the principles former coach Mark Turgeon instilled, but that never happened. Now, Kennedy must revamp this program and forget about the 2011-12 nightmare.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.16.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2012

  1. First, for your disturbing, what-is-wrong-with-the-world news, the Southern Miss band apparently chanted a racial/xenophobic slur at Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez. Several things strike us about this particular incident. First of all, it’s shameful a visible group like the band would involve itself in these sorts of shenanigans. Second of all, chanting “Where’s your green card?” to Rodriguez actually makes no sense, considering he’s from Puerto Rico (learn your geography). Third of all, we wonder if these people would have had the guts to chant this at Frank Martin, who is of Cuban heritage, but was born in Miami. We’re guessing that’s a no.
  2. Frank Haith has worked his magic at Missouri all year, partly because of his businesslike demeanor. You will often hear Kim English, for example, talk about Haith’s preparation and attention to detail. Whether you’d like to give Haith or Mike Anderson credit for this dream season, you can’t deny Haith has done a masterful job taking someone else’s players and adapting them to his own coaching style.
  3. Marcus Denmon and Kim English are nursing minor injuries, but they seem to be nothing more than small distractions. At this point, everybody is banged up. It’s still worth mentioning that Denmon is dealing with a foot problem and English has sore quads. Ever the comedian, English said coach Frank Haith will need to erase his lob play from the playbook. As if English could ever throw down an alley-oop off a lob– not that we could even come close, of course.
  4. Billy Kennedy has a message for you: don’t worry about him at Texas A&M. He says he’s here to stay in College Station, less than a year after a Parkinson’s diagnosis. After a disastrous first season, Kennedy will bring back a few starters and must now rebuild his program to fit his image and personal style. Now that his health is improving, that should be an easier task.
  5. Tad Boyle‘s a smart guy. That’s why he coaches Colorado and has them in the NCAA Tournament. Still, it’s a little humorous to see him make a statement like this in regards to the Big 12 vs. the Pac-12: “All I can tell you is coming from the Big 12, which is a heck of a league, and coming into the Pac-12, which is a heck of a league, the difference in respect factor is huge,” Boyle said. “The difference in talent and ability and quality of play is small.” Um, no. Not this year.
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Texas A&M Ready to Leave Nightmare Season Behind It

Posted by dnspewak on March 8th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. He filed this piece after Kansas’ 83-66 victory over Texas A&M. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

The two teams selected in the pre-season to win the Big 12 met in the league tournament on Thursday afternoon.

In a quarterfinal.

That’s all you need to know about this disastrous season for ninth-seeded Texas A&M, which survived a first-round game against Oklahoma but fell to regular-season champion Kansas 83-66 on Thursday. “I mean, being here for three years, [I've] never lost this many games. It’s hard on everybody. Just hate losing,” junior Khris Middleton said. Five months ago, the Aggies (14-18) appeared to have it all: a first-year coach with a successful track record at a powerhouse mid-major, a budding star in Middleton and an experienced roster to surround him. Billy Kennedy‘s team would surely carry over the defensive principles instilled by Mark Turgeon, and Middleton, Dash Harris and David Loubeau formed a solid core of upperclassmen.

Khris Middleton Is Already Looking to His Senior Season After Thursday's Loss.

But this is a cruel game. And life is cruel in general. First, Kennedy learned of a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in the fall, which kept him away from the team during critical practice time leading up to the beginning of the season. That left him helpless to establish himself as a new head coach in this program. As Kennedy began to regain his energy and return to his old self, however, the injury bug hit his team in a major way. Middleton missed several weeks during non-conference play after knee surgery and then missed a stretch of time during Big 12 play. The team lost its point guard, Harris, for most of February, and it lost Kourtney Roberson in late December. Backup point guard Jamal Brach transferred, too. By now, you’re starting to get the point, and you can probably guess what happened.

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Big 12 Tourney First Round Reaction: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Texas A&M 62, Oklahoma 53

It didn’t matter how many shots they had missed during the first 36 minutes of the game. At least Texas A&M‘s three leaders remembered how to make jumpers when it counted most. Three-pointers by Dash Harris and Khris Middleton, sandwiched between a mid-range jumper by David Loubeau, spurred a late 8-2 run to seize a 62-53 victory over Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. Defensively, the Aggies held Oklahoma scoreless from the 2:52 mark until Cameron Clark‘s layup with 50 seconds remaining. That effort on the defensive end, according to coach Billy Kennedy, sealed the game.  “Our guys really bought into our defensive game plan of limiting the post,” Kennedy said. “And we made big shots when we needed to.”

Texas A&M used a late run to defeat Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

How the Aggies Won: By dominating the boards, they made up for a poor offensive showing by earning second-chance points. In addition to the 13 offensive rebounds, the Aggies also knocked down their free throws (15-17) and locked down the Sooners on the other end of the floor. They did not play particularly well, and they did benefit from the fact that ever Oklahoma player not named Romero Osby and Sam Grooms was a non-factor offensively. Grooms said his team’s offensive mistakes led to the Aggies’ decisive second-half run. “When you give Big 12 teams the opportunity to go the other way and make plays, they’re going to do it,” Grooms said.

What’s Next: Texas A&M now advances to face Kansas in the quarterfinals. In Lawrence, Kennedy’s team fought the Jayhawks for the majority of the game, even without an injured Harris. In Kansas City, though, it’s hard to expect a repeat performance. The Aggies will need Harris, Loubeau, and Middleton to play well for an extended period of time, not just the final four minutes of the game. In the other locker room, a subdued Sooners’ squad must now move on to next season after the loss of three seniors. “The guys returning have to crank it up for sure,” coach Lon Kruger said. “We’ve got to learn how to compete a lot harder.”

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RTC’s Big 12 Tournament Primer

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

After fighting through rush hour traffic and perhaps one of the windiest days in Missouri state history to reach Kansas City, we’re all set to kick off the Big 12 Tournament Wednesday night with a, well, rather bland matchup between Oklahoma and Texas A&M at 6:05 PM. As the weekend wears on, though, the drama will heat up about Missouri and A&M’s betrayal to the SEC, about a potential Border War showdown in the final, and about Texas’ last-gasp desperation to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team-by-team look at what’s important this weekend, as well as a few predictions (sure to be wrong, knowing our track record) and other analysis.


1. Kansas (26-5, 15-2): For the eighth-straight season, the Jayhawks earned one of the top two seeds in the Big 12 Tournament. Big surprise. Now, it must survive the next three games — and that potential showdown with second-seeded Missouri — to solidify themselves as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Missouri (27-4, 14-4): As painful as that overtime loss in Lawrence was on February 25, the Tigers could erase that memory entirely with a Big 12 Tournament championship this weekend. To even reach the title game, though, the Tigers would need to defeat either Texas or Iowa State for the third time this season. And that’s never any easy  thing to do. At least nemesis Kansas State is on the other side of the bracket.

Marcus Denmon Probably Wants Another Shot at Kansas in the Finals

3. Iowa State (22-9, 12-6): Look at that– the Cyclones have cracked the Top 25, another sign of Fred Hoiberg’s masterful coaching job this season. They said The Mayor couldn’t do it — his transfers would blow up in his face and it would doom Iowa State to another finish in the cellar. Hardly.

4. Baylor (25-6, 12-6): Besides a chance to earn more quality wins to improve seeding before Selection Sunday. it’s probably more important for the Bears to simply gain a little positive momentum before the Big Dance. After a blistering start, this team finished 1-5 agains the top three teams in this league and ended the season on a modest 4-4 note. At least one guy doesn’t need any more momentum, however. That’s Pierre Jackson, who torched Iowa State for 35 in a loss.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.28.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 28th, 2012

  1. As if life weren’t complicated enough in Columbia with this weekend’s loss to rival Kansas, Missouri learned this week they will now need to hear about another NCAA probe involving head coach Frank Haith‘s days at Miami. This time, the NCAA has ruled Hurricanes’ center Reggie Johnson ineligible because his family received improper travel benefits from a member of Haith’s coaching staff. The incident is unrelated to the Nevin Shapiro accusations that surfaced last summer, so it’s another problem to keep an eye on for Haith. He said he will cooperate with the investigation.
  2. Once again, Kansas is your Big 12 champion. The Jayhawks wrapped up the regular season league title with a win Monday night over Oklahoma State, a victory not nearly as enthralling as Saturday’s comeback in Lawrence. Still, as Bill Self has done over and over again, his team took care of business and did not let the critics get into its head this winter. Way back in the fall, even Self said he had concerns about this year’s team. He wasn’t alone. But this is Kansas. This program wins Big 12 titles, and this year was no different.
  3. Senior Night is always special and important, especially when a player like Keiton Page is involved. Page, such an important piece to Oklahoma State for four years running, finished with 29 points in his final game at Gallagher-Iba in the loss to Kansas. Criticize him all you want — and there’s certainly parts of his game deserving of such criticism — but this guy never quits. He’s a senior in every sense of the word.
  4. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy channeled his inner-Pat Knight by ripping his team and questioning their scholarship money, all in response to a loss this weekend to Oklahoma State. Much like Knight famously criticized his seniors at Lamar last week, Kennedy said his Aggies “were cheating on the job.” The loss dropped A&M to 4-12 in Big 12 play, a fairly amazing statistic considering yours truly predicted it to win the Big 12 in the preseason. Whoops.
  5. Baylor had no trouble with Texas Tech last night in Waco, rolling to a 77-48 victory. The Senior Day win was important for this graduating class, which has won the most games in school history. Made up of Quincy Acy, Fred Ellis, and Anthony Jones, the senior class has won 95 games since arriving on campus and is likely to crack 100 before they’re finished as Bears.
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Three To Go: What’s At Stake for Big 12 Tournament Seeding

Posted by dnspewak on February 23rd, 2012

After more than two months of wars and 15 games in the books, the Big 12 Tournament scenarios are looking a little clearer. Either Kansas or Missouri will win the conference and earn the top seed. Texas Tech will finish last. And Texas will probably find a way to lose another close game to ruin its RPI. With three games to play, here’s a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team in the final week and a half of regular season play:

1. Kansas (13-2)

  • Schedule: vs. MU, at OSU, vs. Texas
  • Highest possible seed: 1 
  • Lowest possible seed: 2
  • Bottom line: Beat Missouri on Saturday. That’s it. With a victory, the Jayhawks would wrap up another Big 12 title barring a collapse in the final week of the season.

Round Two in Lawrence Could Result in a Big 12 Title For KU (AP/L.G. Patterson)

2. Missouri (12-3)

  • Schedule: at KU, vs. ISU, at TTU
  • Highest possible seed: 1
  • Lowest possible seed: 3
  • Bottom line: Win out. Do that and the Tigers at least have a share of the title in their last season in the conference.

3. Baylor (10-5)

  • Schedule: vs. OU, vs. TTU, at ISU
  • Highest possible seed: 2
  • Lowest possible seed: 5
  • Bottom line: The Bears cannot earn that elusive two-seed unless they A) win out and B) Missouri loses out. That’s not going to happen, so Scott Drew’s team will likely either play a six-seed on Thursday night or occupy one of the #4 vs. #5 slots on Thursday afternoon.
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College Basketball’s Hits and Misses

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2012

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

Crystal balls are in full supply every November. We pour through every known statistic to find that overlooked All-American candidate. We criticize the coaches for their preseason picks and condemn the AP poll for overrating Duke. National player of the year rankings are compiled and there’s an inevitable temptation to put some serious coin on that perfect Final Four sleeper at 25/1. It all seems so easy.

Of course, there’s a reason why we don’t all own private islands in the Caribbean. Some of our predictions compare to Nostradamus’ best work while others blow up in our faces. You can’t win them all. For every successful prediction, there’s one you’d like to forget. Here’s a brief rundown of what many considered conventional wisdom before the season and whether those statements turned fall under the category of hits or misses:

Zeller has been spectacular as a freshman

HIT: Cody Zeller is Indiana’s program-changer

The expectations heaped on the broad shoulders of the youngest Zeller were enough to overwhelm even the most talented freshman. His much-publicized pledge was immediately viewed as Tom Crean’s major recruiting breakthrough and a significant step toward Indiana reclaiming old glory. Zeller has exceeded even the most optimistic projections, leading Indiana to two marquee wins over Kentucky and Ohio State and a yearlong spot in the national rankings. The Washington, Ind., native is averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and hitting 64 percent of his shots while providing Crean a post presence to counterbalance Indiana’s outside shooters. Zeller’s instant impact has Indiana one year ahead of schedule in their treacherous post-Kelvin Sampson rebuild and, with a star-studded class entering Bloomington for 2012-13, even more national acclaim is in store should Zeller return for a sophomore season.

MISS: Xavier is a final four sleeper

Immediately after Tu Holloway opted for a final year at Xavier over the NBA Draft, the Musketeers were labeled a top-25 shoe-in and popular Final Four pick. After all, Chris Mack’s first two seasons as head coach produced an extraordinary 29-3 conference record and most key contributors were returning for a program that has experienced their fair share of March success in recent years. The story of Xavier’s season hasn’t exactly stayed on course. The Musketeers are 9-9 since that ugly brawl with Cincinnati, Holloway apparently doesn’t enjoy basketball anymore, suspensions and inconsistency have plagued Frease and the once-popular Musketeers may be NIT-bound following their loss Tuesday at UMass.

HIT: Tom Izzo has a team more to his liking

After discarding malcontents from a roster that slipped from number two in the nation to 19-15 overall last season, many prognosticators examined Sparty’s new-look roster and jumped back on the bandwagon. That faith has been rewarded in spades. Draymond Green is a Cleaves-type leader and a surefire All-American. Equally coachable and talented underclassmen Keith Appling and Brendan Dawson are stars in the making. Derrick Nix is finally in shape and Adreian Payne outplayed Jared Sullinger during the team’s statement win over Ohio State. Izzo’s squad is clearly embracing his philosophy of rugged defense, well-executed set plays and an unwavering effort on the boards, ranking second in the nation in defensive efficiency and third in rebound margin. This is a confident team climbing the polls and zeroing in on a Big Ten title and number one seed.

MISS: Andre Drummond is the missing piece to another Connecticut Final Four run

I was covering a high school football game in late August when Andre Drummond stunned the college hoops world and shunned another year of prep school to walk on with the defending national champs. I’ll never forget re-doing my preseason top five on the spot: North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State and Syracuse in order. Despite the departure of Kemba Walker, lottery picks Drummond and Jeremy Lamb paired with emerging talents Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier appeared sufficient enough to warrant a spot in the top five. What we neglected to remember was that Drummond was a raw, unseasoned, 18-year old center with no low post moves. It was a considerable step up to the Big East after simply overwhelming all opposition at the high school level. His lackluster 9.9 points per game, 32 percent free throw shooting and on-court chemistry issues with Oriakhi can attest to that. Drummond is still a future lottery pick and defensive menace, but his arrival hasn’t vaulted Connecticut to nearly the heights anticipated on that late summer day he opted to join the Huskies.

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