Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. The Big Ten Reaffirms Status as Nation’s Best League. One of the prevailing truths surrounding the beginning of the 2012-13 college basketball season was the Big Ten’s unquestioned status as the nation’s best conference. However you measure conference strength –whether by top-to-bottom depth, high-end quality, or somewhere in between – the Big Ten’s No. 1 perch was not up for debate. The first five weeks of the season has done little to debunk that trope. If anything, the Big Ten’s proven stronger than once believed. The latest testament to the heartland conference’s incredible lineup came Monday night from an unlikely source. Perennial bottom-dweller Nebraska, energized by the arrival of head coach Tim Miles and a newfound commitment to upgraded facilities and financial support from school administrators, made easy work of USC in Lincoln. In a vacuum, that win won’t spawn any grand proclamations of NCAA Tournament potential or league contention. What it will do, on a night best described as a black hole of hoops intrigue, is make people stand up and take notice. It’s not only a statement for Nebraska’s improvements under Miles, but of the incredible depth of the best league in the country.
Your Watercooler Moment. MCW Takes Syracuse To A Whole New Level.
Despite losing key pieces from last year’s one-seed team, Syracuse could be just as potent in 2012-13 with Carter-Williams controlling the offense (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Every year, I find myself glued to one player through the early months of the season. Last season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist captured my undivided attention. He epitomized practically every natural quality I hold dear in the college game: hard work, toughness, leadership, a never-say-die attitude, the willingness to attack the rim with impunity, and in the same breath guard the opposing team’s best player on the defensive end. I can go on, but I’d like to think many of you can empathize with my MKG mancrush. Several candidates made strong cases for my personal fascination early this season – Yogi Ferrell handles the point guard position better than any freshman I’ve seen outside of the John Calipari dynasty line; Otto Porter is as versatile as they come; Marcus Smart just flat out knows how to play – but I’ve reached a verdict. It’s Michael Carter-Williams. On Monday, MCW nearly notched a triple-double in the Orange’s 84-48 win over Eastern Michigan, but my growing attraction to his game began long before his most recent spout of brilliance. MCW is far and away the biggest breakout star on the national scene. Forget his unparalleled vision and passing accuracy, his ability to guard different positions, his penchant for cutting in the land and crafty scoring touch. The biggest reason why MCW has gripped my attention is the massive rippling effect he has on his teammates. He makes everyone around him better, whether through setting up open looks or drawing defensive attention or providing timely defensive insurance. Typically, players with these kind of transcendent skills foist massive responsibilities upon themselves and end up forcing shots and frustrating their teammates. MCW does just the opposite. If you haven’t seen him this season, get to a TV set and DVR the next Syracuse game. MCW is a special player, and he probably won’t be around much longer, so observe while you can.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…