RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. While the slate en route to West Virginia’s 8-0 start hasn’t been laced with eventual NCAA Tournament participants (the exception being a neutral court win over Texas A&M), the start is nonetheless impressive for a Bob Huggins-coached squad expected to remain near the top-10 from start to finish. While Da’Sean Butler plays the role of go-to scorer and senior leader, it’s sophomore forward Kevin Jones that’s been the stabilizing force behind the undefeated start. Jones has scored in double-figures every single game for Huggins, including 23 on a wildly efficient 9-10 from the floor in the squeaker against Cleveland State last Saturday. Jones also leads West Virginia in rebounding and has upped his FG% nearly 10 points from his up-and-down freshman campaign. As long as Jones keeps playing consistent basketball, he should complete a formidable frontcourt along with Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith, John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman.
2. Yes, I realize it’s only December, and talking about awards handed out in April seems like a waste of time. Still, just for fun, it’s not out of the question to give Northwestern’s Bill Carmody the early nod for National Coach of the Year. Many preseason prognosticators felt this could be the year the Wildcats break their embarrassing streak of never reaching the NCAA Tournament. When all-Big Ten performer Kevin Coble and complimentary piece Jeff Ryan both went down with season-ending injuries early, all hope was lost. Fast forward to late December and Northwestern has resurrected their season behind the 1-2 punch of Michael Thompson and Jeff Shurna (who should both be back in 2010-11 along with Coble). Carmody’s bunch fell to Butler in November, but have rebounded with wins in Chicago against Notre Dame and Iowa State, a victory at NC State and a home win vs. Stanford.
3. Each and every year, college basketball fans debate which conference holds the mantle as the strongest in the land. A season ago, the Big East clearly garnered that honor. Heading into 2009-10, many felt the ACC or Big Ten would prove the strongest, while the Big East emerged in the early weeks as the frontrunner behind five top-15 teams in Syracuse, West Virginia, Connecticut, Georgetown and Villanova. After that elite group, one can debate eventual in/out status for the rest of the conference. But from top to bottom, no conference tops the Big 12 this season. The best two teams in the nation, Kansas and Texas, reign are supreme at the top. Kansas State is climbing the ranks and Texas A&M appears on the fringe of the top 25. Texas Tech’s first loss came on Saturday at Wichita State following a 10-0 start. Oklahoma State has only one falter and Oklahoma should hit their stride as the season wears on. Even the lower squads like Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri are dangerous. The early nod goes to the Big 12 as the premiere conference in college basketball. Playing the best individual basketball in the conference is not Aldrich or Collins or James or Warren, but Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen.