By Jon Rothstein
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– If UCONN doesn’t start winning, they’ll officially overtake UCLA this season as college basketball’s biggest disappointment. There are many different reasons why the Huskies have struggled this season but the first thing that sticks out when you watch this team play is a noticeable lack of urgency. In addition to that, it seems the skill sets of UCONN’s front court have struggled to mesh. A year ago, Jim Calhoun often played bouncy wing Roscoe Smith at power forward in hopes of maximizing his athleticism and ability to face the basket as a way to complement Alex Oriakhi’s brute strength on the block. That duo has seen minimal time together on the floor as Calhoun has often used Oriakhi or sophomore Tyler Olander on the high post with freshman center Andre Drummond on the block. It’s hard to believe this team has lost four straight games with the talent they have on their roster.
– Syracuse’s showdown with St. John’s on Saturday at Madison Square Garden has a little more juice with the reinstatement of Orange big man Fab Melo but the real intriguing story line in this game is whether or not the Red Storm can be competitive. St. John’s may start five freshmen but over the last week and a half, this group of first year players look like they can compete with anyone in the country. It will be interesting to see if St. John’s, led by freshmen D’Angelo Harrison and Maurice Harkless have the moxie to trade blows with a powerhouse like Syracuse.
– Scary stat — all of Ohio State’s Big Ten wins have been by double figures.
– It’s becoming more and more clear that the “X-Factor” moving forward for Florida State is sophomore forward Okaro White. The 6-foot-8 White has used his speed and quickness at power forward to generate easy baskets against bigger defenders and has scored in double figures in three of the Seminoles last five games. Since Leonard Hamilton has opted to change his lineup and play three guards together, the move of White from the wing to the interior has given Florida State another threat offensively.
– Not many people thought that Fairfield would be 11-10 after 21 games and only have a 6-4 record in the MAAC but Stags coach Sydney Johnson still believes his team is capable of putting things together in early March. “I don’t see a big gap between us and the top of the league,” Johnson said following Fairfield’s 71-62 loss last week to Iona. The inconsistencies of the Stags can be attributed to a number of different factors but the biggest one has been the inconsistent play of their back court. For Fairfield to be playing it’s best basketball when the MAAC Tournament begins, they’ll need more out of Houston transfer Desmond Wade, whose been up and down all season.
– Wisconsin has played themselves back to the top of the Big Ten standings with six consecutive victories and the key for the Badgers to challenge Ohio State for a conference title is Ben Brust. The 6-foot-1 sophomore guard gives Bo Ryan’s team a different dimension when he scores the ball at a high rate. Wisconsin is 7-1 in games that Brust scores in double figures.
– Keep an eye on Texas A & M freshman forward Daniel Alexander. The Texas native has scored double figures in each of his last two games, including an 11 point, seven rebound effort in last night’s 63-60 loss to Baylor. Alexander isn’t the most athletic player on the floor but has a really good feel and sports a high basketball IQ. This will be a solid four year program guy for Billy Kennedy and the Aggies.
– Speaking of Baylor, the Bears continue to show their grit. In the win over Texas A & M, Baylor got a huge 3-pointer late from Pierre Jackson, who has solidified himself as Scott Drew’s go to guard. “You want to put your team in the best situations possible and we’re better when he’s starting,” Drew said of Jackson earlier this week. “The biggest thing that’s impressed me about Pierre is that the bigger the moment, the better he plays.”
– This is without question the best year I can remember for the Atlantic-10 — the league deserves four bids to the NCAA Tournament. The only team I’d bet my money on to get there? Temple.
– Drexel has now won ten games in a row and 16 of 17. The biggest reason why the Dragons are built to give Bruiser Flint his first NCAA Tournament appearance? Better perimeter shooting. Drexel is shooting 36.5% from 3-point range and have gotten a big offensive lift from 6-foot-5 freshman wing Damion Lee, who scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds in last night’s 61-53 win over Northeastern.
Will UConn turn it around? Sound off below…