I tend to watch an obscene amount of college basketball. Some might argue that it is not healthy, but I prefer to think of it as work-related research. But there has to be some good that comes out of this college basketball obsession, right? Well if there is such a thing, it is the fact that I tend to follow lots of games and storylines. So every week, I will hit the big stories of the week in college basketball. Here would be Week 1:
(1) When we look back at this first full tournament week, the focus is likely to be on the amazing run made by Butler in the NIT. We had Jay Bilas on our show tonight and he made the valid point that Butler’s victories over Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga were all impressive, but included no actual top-notch victory. Maybe so. But Butler was picked to come in 6th place in their conference this season and simply was not all that great last season. To win four games, against four GOOD, even if not great, teams is quite impressive. Folks, it is time to realize that the mid-major is around to stay. Yes, Butler was fortunate to not have to play UNC….but they beat every team in their path and now have real hardware for a program that is consistently solid. Salute to them!
(2) The losses of Florida and North Carolina this week both showed more about them than the teams that defeated them. The Florida-Kansas game was one of the best November clashes in many years…..lots of excitement, fairly well played, and tons of talent on the floor. But as crunch time hit, it was clear that there is some debate as to who the “go to” player on Florida really is. Joakim Noah may be the best player on the team, but he isnt great at creating a shot one-on-one. Taurean Green is an amazing shooter, but tends to defer and thus Corey Brewer is often the focus of the offense. I am a huge Corey Brewer fan, but if I were Florida, I would not have him taking my final two shots. For UNC, a recipe was shown for defeat…..if you man up and play tough with the Heels, they will often back down. Gonzaga played an aggressive, banging style that caused some of the UNC players (not named Hansborough) to retreat a bit….then they hit some outside shots, built up a big lead, and the UNC freshmen got flustered. These are the two (along with Kansas) most talented teams in America….they will come around…but they are both beatable, and the recipes for their debate have been crafted.
(3) I know a lot of people love Mark Few and some hope he will one day be approached about UK’s head position. But remember that what one does at a school like Gonzaga may or may not translate at other programs. Case in point, the guy who built the Gonzaga program, Dan Monson. Monson moved to Minnesota four years ago and has done nothing to revitalize the program. At the “Old Spice Classic” (which was hardly classic), the Gophers lost to Marist, Southern Illinois and Montana. Think Dan may miss Spokane?
(4) My early pick for most overrated team? Try LSU and John Brady. While I love the Big Baby, this team is being given way too much credit for a good tournament run last year (with favorable matchups) and not enough consideration of what was lost. LSU came into the season ranked 6th in the country and I think a case can be made that they are the fourth best team in the SEC. I like Brady’s team to have a solid season, but as the loss to Wichita St shows, they arent elite.
(5) Beware when people tell you that teams in major conferences that have previously not shown an ability to win have all of a sudden “turned the corner.” Case in point: Depaul and Virginia Tech. Much was made this year about how both teams would be heading to the Big Dance and about how Jerry Wainwright and Seth Greenberg were turning around dormant teams. Now Depaul has lost to Bradley, Northwestern and a bad Purdue team and Virginia Tech has lost to Western Michigan and Southern Illinois. Sometimes a tree is just a tree folks and programs that have shown little, will still show little.
(6) Can you imagine watching a Northwestern basketball game? In their last two games they have scored 49 and 40 and have WON BOTH GAMES. Unless you miss Bernard Cote, I recommend skipping those games on the dish….
(7) I think there should be a serious discussion as to whether the Missouri Valley Conference deserves to be considered close to a major conference. It has long passed Conference USA (Memphis excluded) and now has teams that can beat anyone. Creighton is a top 25 caliber team, Bradley continues to win, Missouri State beat Wisconsin, Southern Illinois played well at the Old Spice, Wichita St took out LSU….folks this conference wins and wins consistently. I plan on heading to a game this season out there, and I think you will see more “old school” solid basketball than anywhere else.
(8) I will make you a prediction. In three years, Ole Miss will be contending for the SEC West title and Andy Kennedy (if he hasnt been snapped up) will get credit as one of the best young coaches in America. He is setting the backdrop for solid recruiting and has started well this season. They may be sleeping in Oxford, but Kennedy may awaken these old Rebs just yet.
(9) Wasnt it nice to see Duke lose to Marquette in a game where they were not upset, but the clearly better team won? Dominic James is one of the most exciting young players in the country and Tom Crean is one of the ten best coaches in the land. And folks, Duke, while still being Duke, is not quite the Duke they were five years ago in talent. Sure they have McDonald’s All Americans, but there is just something a step off about this bunch….and I kind of like it.
(10) If it werent Kansas and Bill Self, I would say they are my pick (Oral Roberts loss or not), to win the national championship. But it is Kansas and it is Bill Self, so I am reserving judgment.
Watch out for College of Charleston….they are no pushover….