Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
– Outside of Duke, if there’s one team in the ACC that I’m not concerned about, it’s Maryland. The Terps are sitting at a pedestrian 11-6 on the season, but Gary Williams challenged his team on numerous occasions in the non-conference and that strategy should pay off as we head into February and March. Despite losing three senior starters and integral pieces in Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, Maryland hasn’t lost by double digits yet this season, a list of competitive contests that includes Pittsburgh, Duke, Illinois, Villanova, Temple and Boston College. The blown 12-point second half lead at Villanova last Saturday had to be the most heartbreaking for Gary and his staff, a true road game against a top ten team squandered when the jump shot evaded them and their guards forgot that Jordan Williams is their best player for about a six minute stretch. Williams continues to play phenomenal basketball and has to be second behind Jared Sullinger as far as true back-to-the-basket post presences are concerned in college basketball. He’s rebounding at a sky-high rate, drawing fouls with great frequency, shoots 56% from the field and rarely makes bad decisions. The Terps currently rank first in the entire country in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to shoot just 40% from inside the arc on the season. Other than road trips to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, along with a visit to College Park from Duke, it wouldn’t stun me if the Terps ran the table during the rest of ACC play. At 22-9 (11-5) or 21-10 (10-6) with a stellar RPI/SOS, Williams won’t be sweating come Selection Sunday.
- Williams has been a monster in the post for the Terps
– Speaking of Selection Sunday, I released my first Bracketology of the season on Monday and what stood out had to be the Big East garnering 11 bids to the NCAA Tournament out of 16 conference representatives. That is a staggering total and not necessarily controversial. The team that was closest to the bubble in this week’s edition from the Big East was Marquette, who, like Maryland, posted a plethora of competitive losses to elite teams. Had the Golden Eagles just hung on to an 18-point lead late in the second half at Louisville last Saturday, they would be a shoe-in for the bracket. It’s truly been the perfect storm for the Big East this season in terms of collecting bids with the ACC, SEC and Pac-10 experiencing lackluster campaigns and overachievers relative to preseason expectations like Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame and St. John’s all throwing their names into the ring for possible berths. I expect the Big East to collect an absolute minimum of nine teams into the NCAA Tournament this season. The most likely squads to sink into NIT status are probably Cincinnati and St. John’s, but the former has collected such a breadth of victories already and the latter has quality wins at West Virginia and home against Georgetown and Notre Dame with plenty more opportunities ahead.
– This surprising statistic was pointed out during the North Carolina-Virginia Tech contest last Thursday and bears repeating: if Harrison Barnes just made one more field goal per game (these stats compiled before the Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech games), his numbers jump to 14.1 PPG, 47% FG and 40% 3pt. To put that into context, Kentucky’ s Brandon Knight, who has been viewed publicly as putting together a respectable freshman campaign, is averaging 17.5 PPG, 46% FG and 41% 3pt. The pressure placed on Barnes’ shoulders as a preseason All-American and savior of such a heralded program was considerable, and despite his perceived struggles, most believe that this kid’s basketball future remains extremely bright. Barnes is still considered by most NBA scouts and general managers as a top five pick in next year’s Draft. While not the near-consensus number one selection he was anointed months ago, nobody would blame Barnes if he left Carolina after this season to make millions as a lottery pick. Despite all of that, it’s my personal opinion that remaining at Chapel Hill for a sophomore year would do wonders for Barnes. If John Henson and Tyler Zeller elect to return, Carolina will contend for an ACC title. As a second-year player, the pressure and spotlight would wane dramatically from this season. Barnes would also have another year at school to refine, perfect and develop his game and he’d still receive boatloads of publicity and attention playing at a premiere basketball institution. If the stigma wasn’t so strong today for star freshmen staying another season, this decision would seem obvious. I’d like to think a kid with the awareness and intelligence of Barnes will ignore that noise.
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