By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. DION WAITERS IS SYRACUSE’S BEST PLAYER
Kris Joseph may be leading the Orange in scoring and rebounding but Waiters’ intangibles are a major reason why Jim Boeheim’s team is starting to resemble a runaway train. Syracuse has ten players that could start anywhere in America but over the last three games, Waiters has been incredibly active and efficient. Thriving as the Orange’s sixth man, Waiters immediately changes the game with his defensive ability to get into passing lanes to cause deflections. At 6-foot-4, the sophomore guard has enough size to deny the high post for opponents at the top of Syracuse’s vintage 2-3 zone and on offense, Waiters shot selection and knack for getting easy baskets in transition easily makes him the Orange’s biggest perimeter scoring threat.
2. KANSAS STATE WILL BE A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE BIG 12
Of all the teams I’ve watched early this season, the Wildcats might be the one I’ve most enjoyed. Unselfish, cohesive, and willing to sacrifice, Frank Martin’s group doesn’t have one star to lean on like he has in the past few seasons with Jacob Pullen but there is a feeling that no one player is bigger than this team. Freshman big man Thomas Gipson looks like the perfect complement to Jamar Samuels on the baseline while veterans Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder have anchored the perimeter. Martin also has two solid reserves in lanky big man Jordan Henriquez and jet quick point guard Angel Rodriguez, who both played their best games of the season in Saturday’s win over Alabama. This team will be in the mix with Missouri, Baylor, Texas A & M, and Kansas at the top of the Big 12.
3. ST. JOSEPH’S LOOKS LIKE A POST SEASON TEAM
Whether or not Phil Martelli can will the Hawks into the field of 68 is yet to be determined but one thing is for certain — St. Joseph’s will be playing basketball beyond the Atlantic-10 Tournament. Saturday night’s convincing win over Villanova at Hagan Arena combined with last week’s triumph over Creighton should give the Hawks the jolt it needs to believe they can be a team that can beat anyone on their schedule. Martelli has a solid eight-man rotation and an underrated front court trio in C.J. Aiken, Halil Kanacevic, and Ron Roberts. The lanky Aiken is the top shot blocker in the nation while Kanacevic and Roberts are bruisers on the blocks that are almost locks to produce a nightly double-double between the two of them.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. THE REMATCH BETWEEN GEORGETOWN AND MEMPHIS THURSDAY NIGHT IN DC
These two teams treated college basketball fans to an overtime thriller won by the Hoyas when they met last month in the Maui Invitational and the rematch this week in Washington may be bigger for the Tigers than it is for Georgetown. After Saturday’s loss at Louisville, Memphis has only this game plus a showdown versus Xavier later in the season as opportunities to earn quality non-conference wins to build their NCAA resume. If the Tigers can’t cash in on either, Josh Pastner’s team might put themselves in position to have to win the Conference-USA Tournament for the second consecutive year in order to get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2. SEEING HOW ANDRE CORNELIUS MESHES WITH GEORGE MASON
I spoke to Patriots coach Paul Hewitt this past week and he sounded generally pleased with his team’s 7-3 start but you could tell in his voice how anxious he is to see his group with their most experienced back court player. “We’re a good team,” Hewitt said last week. “But we’re going to be an even better team when we get Andre back.” Cornelius, who was suspended for the first semester, is as seasoned as they come for George Mason, averaging 27 minutes a game the past two seasons while providing the Patriots with an accurate outside shooter. His return Wednesday against Duquesne should push sophomore Bryon Allen into a reserve role after he performed admirably at point guard during Cornelius’ absence.
3. HOW SETON HALL RESPONDS ON THE ROAD AT DAYTON
Kevin Willard has the Pirates at an impressive 9-1 mark considering the question marks surrounding this team at the beginning of the season — but Seton Hall has yet to have a true road game, and it was be interesting to see how they respond at one of the toughest places to play in America. Dayton has shown impressive signs of promise early on with wins over Alabama, Fairfield, and Minnesota and first-year coach Archie Miller has the front court pieces to match up with Herb Pope in big men Josh Benson and Matt Kavanaugh. The biggest key to this game might be the battle at point guard between Pirates senior Jordan Theodore and Flyers floor general Kevin Dillard.
THIS AND THAT:
– There were several positives in Rutgers’ 67-58 win over Stony Brook on Saturday but the biggest might have been the offensive production of junior center Austin Johnson. The big man gave the Scarlet Knights a legitimate low post scoring presence and finished with nine points and four rebounds in 28 minutes of action. “If he plays the way he did today in the Big East, we’re going to be a good team when we get into the conference,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said Saturday after the win. Johnson will also be aided by the return of Rutgers freshman big man Kadeem Jack, who could push Johnson out of the starting lineup and into a scoring reserve role that better suits his skill set.
– Pitt sophomore forward Lamar Patterson is quickly becoming a box score filler for the Panthers. The 6-foot-5 wing is averaging 8.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game and has become the “glue guy” for Jamie Dixon. When starting point guard Travon Woodall returns from injury the Panthers should have a unique blend of pieces on the perimeter, with Patterson, Woodall, and sharpshooting senior two-guard Ashton Gibbs.
– Don’t be surprised if Davidson gives Kansas all it can handle Monday night at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The Wildcats won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere after playing earlier this season against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and after consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Charlotte, New York native Bob McKillop will ensure that his team will be ready to go on one of the game’s greatest stages. Look for Davidson to feature the interior duo of Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks early in hopes of getting Thomas Robinson into foul trouble.
– One of the major questions entering this season in the Big Ten was who would replace Michael “Juice” Thompson at point guard for Northwestern and Wildcats freshman Dave Sobolewski has answered the bell. Poised and steady, the 6-foot-1 is averaging less than a turnover per game for Bill Carmody’s squad.
– One of the more anticipated non-conference games of the year will occur on December 28th in Dallas when Baylor takes on Mississippi State. The Bears and Bulldogs both have all the ingredients for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament and both features two of the nation’s best front courts.
– Add BYU’s Matt Carlino to the list of players that left UCLA and could have helped the Bruins this season. The southpaw guard scored 18 points in 24 minutes during the Cougars 86-83 loss to Baylor on Saturday and should form a potent back court duo with BYU teammate Charles Abouo.
– Not many positives can come out Cincinnati’s brawl with Xavier but the suspensions to Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodji have forced the Bearcats to play smaller and it’s drastically helped in their offense. In two wins this week over Wright State and Radford, Mick Cronin started 6-foot-3 guard Jaquon Parker at power forward and Cincinnati scored 101 and 78 points in both games. Even when Gates returns, look for Cronin to surround him with Parker, Sean Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon, and Cashmere Wright.
– Look for the Missouri Valley Conference to earn multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Creighton, and Indiana State all have major non-conference wins and are capable of competing with just about anyone in the country.
– Florida is Final Four good. The Gators dismantled Big 12 contender Texas A & M by 20 on Saturday and the game wasn’t even that close. If forward Erik Murphy emerges as a potential pick and pop threat to go with this team’s guard play, the rest of the SEC will have a hard time stopping this team from scoring.
– Speaking of Billy Donovan’s team, they will likely be the first team to get a look at Florida State point guard Ian Miller when the 6-foot-3 sophomore makes his debut Thursday night in Gainesville. Miller should be the missing piece that makes Leonard Hamilton’s team a major factor in the ACC.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: DAVIDSON AT KANSAS, CREIGHTON AT TULSA, TEMPLE AT RICE
TUESDAY: BUCKNELL AT SYRACUSE, UAB AT VCU, OLD DOMINION AT RICHMOND, BUTLER AT GONZAGA
WEDNESDAY: TEXAS AT NORTH CAROLINA, SETON HALL AT DAYTON, DUQUESNE AT GEORGE MASON
THURSDAY: SAINT MARY’S VS. BAYLOR, MEMPHIS AT GEORGETOWN, FLORIDA STATE AT FLORIDA, ILLINOIS AT MISSOURI