By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. YANCY GATES HAS BECOME A MAJOR FORCE
For a player who was the center of Cincinnati’s brawl earlier this season against Xavier, Gates has responded like a pro. After coming off the bench for the first few games after serving a six game suspension, the 6-foot-9 senior has finally resembled the player many thought he’d be when signed up to play for Mick Cronin four years ago. In Cincinnati’s last five games, Gates has grabbed 50 rebounds and been a monster presence in the paint. “He’s become a winner,” Cronin said of Gates. By virtue of a tie breaker over Georgetown and South Florida, Cincinnati will get a double bye in the Big East Tournament and not play until Thursday at Madison Square Garden. If Gates continues to play at this level, there’s no one in the conference this team can’t beat.
2. REGGIE BULLOCK HAS BECOME AN INDISPENSABLE PIECE FOR NORTH CAROLINA
He isn’t the first person people put in bold print when they think of the Tarheels but since Dexter Strickland was lost for the season with a knee injury, Bullock has become an incredibly valuable piece for Roy Williams’ squad. Matched up nightly with the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, Bullock has become a lock down defender and a capable scorer. If he’s making shots from deep, North Carolina is an incredibly difficult team to beat.
3. SETON HALL HAS TO WIN AT LEAST TWO GAMES IN THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT TO REACH THE FIELD OF 68
The Pirates weren’t just disappointing with their loss at DePaul on Saturday night — they were embarrassing. Needing a win to cement their place in the field of 68, Seton Hall was trounced by 28 against a team that is at the bottom of the Big East standings. I’ll be the first one to say how much better DePaul is than their conference record and how much progress Oliver Purnell has made in his second year in Chicago but if you’re Kevin Willard’s team, you just have to play better than that. In order to offset the loss, the Pirates will have to win at least two games this week in the Big East Tournament in order to have a chance at the field of 68. Seton Hall opens up Tuesday night at 7 against Ed Cooley and Providence.
4. SOUTHERN MISS DOES NOT DESERVE AT AN LARGE BID TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
No team in college basketball has failed the eye test in the past few weeks more than the Golden Eagles. Despite an incredibly high RPI and wins over Colorado State, Memphis, and South Floirda Southern Miss hardly looks like an NCAA Tournament team. Larry Eustachy’s club has recently lost to Houston, UTEP, Marshall, and UAB while needing a late basket to beat Rice. That’s not the type of performance you want when you’re trying to clinch a bid to the field of 68. Unless this team wins the Conference USA Tournament, it’s hard to see how they’re worthy of a bid versus other teams sitting on the bubble.
5. DION WAITERS WOULD BE A FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICAN IF HE PLAYED ANYWHERE OTHER THAN SYRACUSE
Waiters is a joke. Far and away the most talented player on the Orange, the 6-foot-3 combo guard makes plays so spectacular that he gives you the impression that could play in the NBA right now. If Waiters was at any other program other than the one he’s in, he’d be a featured guard that would average in excess of 20 points per game. Instead, Waiters is at Syracuse and just one critical piece in Jim Boeheim’s arsenal. If he wasn’t and stayed in college another year and was at a different school, he’d resemble the way Dwayne Wade looked during his junior season at Marquette.
FIVE TEAMS YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Fran Dunphy is hands down the most underrated coach in the country and this is by far his best team ever — kinda scary, right? The Owls have a veteran perimeter led by senior point guard Juan Fernandez and a burly big man up front in red shirt senior Micheal Eric. Temple can play fast or slow and has the ability to trade baskets thanks to the talented scoring ability of guards Khalif Wyatt and Ramone Moore. This team has Sweet 16 potential — at least.
2. SAINT LOUIS
Rick Majerus’ best team at his latest stop features a new wrinkle for the veteran coach — a nine man rotation. “I’ve never done before it my life,” Majerus said last week in reference to the rotation being so deep. “My assistants talked me into it and it’s worked out.” Has it ever. The Billikens are 24-6 and don’t have one dominant player but will be a nuisance to play against because of how terrific they are defensively and how little they turn the ball over. This team will be a headache for anyone they see in the NCAA Tournament.
An assistant coach told me there’s only three words muttered when someone brings up Belmont — DO NOT SCHEDULE. The Bruins have been on the cusp of winning a game in the field of 68 and this could be the year they finally break through. Veteran coach Rick Byrd has nine players he plays in double figure minutes and a terrific breakdown guard in Kerron Johnson. Belmont also shoots a blistering 37.8% as a team from 3-point range — that’s beyond impressive.
4. IOWA STATE
Fred Hoiberg has the Cyclones peaking at the right time and a major reason why is the play of Minnesota transfer Royce White. The 6-foot-9 hybrid forward is a match up nightmare and more than capable of dominating the game without scoring. “He’s the best passing big man I’ve ever been around at any level of basketball,” Hoiberg said recently. In addition to White, Iowa State has a plethora of shooters in Scott Christopherson, Chris Babb, and former Michigan State guard Chris Allen, who played in two Final Fours with the Spartants. Hoiberg runs a pro style offense with no true post player and no true point guard — a style that will be difficult to deal with on a short turnaround in the NCAA Tournament.
5. FLORIDA STATE
The Seminoles may still be suspect taking care of the basketball but this remains a team that has the athleticism and physicality to stand toe to toe with just about any team in the country. Leonard Hamilton’s team has 11 juniors and seniors and most of them were integral parts of last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16 and lost to VCU. If the Seminoles can make some outside shots as they did in their victories against Duke and North Carolina, they’ll be a very difficult team to beat on a neutral floor.
FIVE UNDER THE RADAR NAMES TO KNOW HEADING INTO CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK
1. VELTON JONES, ROBERT MORRIS
Built more like a full back rather than a lead guard, Jones has NCAA Tournament experience and is the main reason why the Colonials are once again in the NEC title game. Think a mid major version of former Kansas guard Sherron Collins.
2. TOMMY BRENTON, STONY BROOK
Power forward does a little bit of everything and deserves a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
3. MIKE CAFFEY, LONG BEACH STATE
This freshman guard isn’t the first person people think of when they bring up the 49ers but his presence allows Long Beach State senior Casper Ware to move off the ball offensively. Caffey will play a big role in deciding whether or not Dan Monson’s team can reach win the Big West Conference Tournament.
4. ROB JONES, SAINT MARY’S
Undersized power forward doesn’t get a lot of hype when it comes to the Gaels but he’ll play a critical role against Gonzaga in the WCC Finals on Monday night. A walking double double, the 6-foot-6 Jones will need to be at his best as he goes against the Bulldogs massive tandem of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre.
5. FRANTZ MASSENAT, DREXEL
The southpaw floor general is worth paying to see. After an inconsistent freshman season shooting the ball, Massenat has become incredibly more accurate as a sophomore. All that remains for he and the Dragons is winning one more game and taking Drexel to where they’ve never been under Bruiser Flint — the NCAA Tournament.
FIVE THAT COULD BE ONE AND DONE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Cavaliers are terrific defensively and have a stud in Mike Scott — but what else?
2. NOTRE DAME
Starting to think Mike Brey has squeezed everything he can out this overachieving group that’s shocked just about everyone in college basketball.
The Bears talent is off the charts — but will it mesh?
The Gators are a different team without the intangibles of Will Yeguete.
The Hoosiers are terrific at home and can really shoot it — but will that translate on a neutral floor?
THIS AND THAT:
- The NCAA Tournament will be better if Harvard is in the bracket. The Crimson will have to play Penn in a one game playoff if the Quakers win at Princeton on Tuesday night but still may deserve a chance to play in the field of 68 due to a strong non conference schedule that included a win over Florida State. Tommy Amaker has two front court players in Keith Wright and Kyle Casey that could play in the Atlantic-10 and a terrific freshman wing in Steve Moundou-Missi. “They’re built for the NCAA Tournament,” Columbia coach Kyle Smith said after the Lions fell to Harvard 77-70 in overtime on Friday night. “They’ve got size that doesn’t exist in our league.”
- Villanova junior guard Maalik Wayns may not have had the type of season he wished for but he’s going be a terrific pro. Due to certain NBA rules, defenders aren’t going to be able hand check Wayns the way college defenders would, giving him more opportunities to blow by people off the bounce. Wayns has also turned into a reliable long range shooter in pick and roll situations, making him more than someone who can just get into the paint and finish. Look for him to resemble a young Tim Hardaway once he gets into the league.
- Marquette big man Davante Gardner returned from a knee injury Saturday against Georgetown and had a major impact tallying eight points and eight rebounds in the Golden Eagles 83-69 win at Georgetown. With Gardner back in the fold, Buzz Williams now has a legitimate low post scorer that his team can throw the ball to in the half court if the pace gets slower in the post season — that’s a major thing.
- In case you haven’t heard, San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin is really good. The 6-foot-5 Franklin is a match up nightmare and has scored over 30 points in two of his last three games. The Aztecs aren’t being talked about much on the national scene but have won four in a row after a three game losing streak. Keep an eye on Steve Fisher’s team.
- I’ve never in my lifetime seen a BCS Conference like the PAC-12 this year in basketball. We are just days away from the conference tournament and still no one has any idea who is going to win. The league’s most talented team, Washington hasn’t beaten an NCAA team all season. Talk about puzzling.
Do you think Seton Hall has any chance at making the tourney? Sound off below…