By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. PARITY WILL BE A RECURRING STORYLINE THROUGHOUT THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON
And there are prime examples of it every day. I sat on press row at Barclays Center last Monday and watched Georgia, a team that lost at home to Southern Miss and Youngstown State, trade blows with Indiana — the No. 1 ranked team in the country — for 30 minutes before the Hoosiers pulled away and won. Indiana has a talented team and they’ll get better once they get freshmen big men Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin eligible in mid-December. But the consensus top team in virtually every poll shouldn’t struggle the way the Hoosiers did against a team like the Bulldogs. Last week we also saw Northern Iowa, a solid mid-major unit in the Missouri Valley Conference, slow down Louisville in a first-round game of the Battle 4 Atlantis before the Cardinals escaped with a narrow victory. The amount of separation between the top teams in the country and the rest is minimal. This will be an unpredictable year in college basketball, one that should see more lower-level teams have a chance of advancing in the NCAA Tournament next March due to the parity that exists in the sport.
2. FLORIDA’S COLLECTIVE BALANCE IS SIMILAR TO 2006 AND 2007
And we all know how those seasons turned out (back-to-back national championships). The Gators don’t have one dynamite super star but there’s a strong balance about this group that’s tough not to like. Florida coach Billy Donovan raved about his team’s multitude of options over the summer and once point guard Scottie Wilbekin works his way back into the starting lineup, this could very well be the best team in the SEC. The Gators have two capable shooters on the wings in Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton along with a pick-and-pop specialist in Erik Murphy. Bouncy forward Will Yeguete is one of the better glue guys in college basketball and Patric Young appears to be close to capable of averaging a double-double in the pivot. A big key for this team moving forward? Freshman shooting guard Michael Frazier. The 6-4 Frazier has a textbook shooting stroke and could really develop into a scoring threat off the bench if he gets more comfortable.
3. TITUS RUBLES IS THE X-FACTOR TO CINCINNATI’S SEASON
And Saturday night’s win over Oregon proved it. The Bearcats and Ducks were in an absolute rock fight for 30 minutes in the finals of the Global Sports Classic and it was Rubles who emerged down the stretch and broke the game open midway through the second half. Displaying a potent face-up game along with the ability to get into the paint, Rubles finished with 13 points as Cincinnati got a big victory over a team that should be right in the mix in the PAC-12. If Rubles can average close to double figures, the Bearcats will have another legitimate scoring threat along with their talented back court of Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, and JaQuon Parker.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. NORTH CAROLINA’S TRIP TO ASSEMBLY HALL ON TUESDAY NIGHT
The Tarheels were severely outplayed in Maui by a tough, pesky Butler team and it will be interesting to see how they respond on the road against the top team in the country. Indiana is coming off a terrific win over a very good Georgetown team in the Legends Classic and Hoosiers coach Tom Crean has been working for four and a half years to get this type of game in Assembly Hall on an annual basis. Indiana is the top team in college basketball and even if North Carolina is still working in some new pieces, it’s still an exciting thing for Hoosiers fans to be able to host one of the most fabled programs in the sport as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. If the Tarheels are going to have any chance to pull an upset, they’re going to need freshman point guard Marcus Paige to be at his best. So far this season, Paige has tallied just 20 assists to 19 turnovers.
2. HOW WILL KENTUCKY RESPOND ON THE ROAD AT NOTRE DAME?
This is the epitome of the kids versus the adults. No team in college basketball strives to have upperclassmen on their roster more than the Irish and as we all know, the Wildcats each and every year are stocked with talented but young first-year players. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey had built his program into a perennial NCAA contender on the heels of experienced transfers and red-shirts and this team is no different. Scott Martin is a sixth-year player and every other player in the Irish rotation has played in the Big East before except for talented freshman wing Cameron Biedscheid. The big key for Kentucky as it will be for the rest of the season will be Archie Goodwin. I’ve been saying since I went to Lexington in the preseason that the 6-4 Goodwin is the Wildcats best bet at point guard and we’ll have a much better idea at how able he’ll be to navigate the Wildcats through the SEC once we see how he performs on Thursday night in South Bend.
3. CAN MIAMI GET A BIG WIN AT HOME VERSUS MICHIGAN STATE?
The Hurricanes have been a trendy pick by many — including myself — in the ACC, and they’ll have a huge opportunity on Wednesday night when they host the Spartans as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Michigan State has beaten Kansas, but they’ve also struggled with some lower-level opponents recently and could have problems with Miami’s versatility. Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga told me in the preseason that if his team stays healthy they should have a terrific season. We’ll have a good idea if that’s possible after Wednesday.
THIS AND THAT:
– The unsung reason for Georgetown’s early success this season is sophomore center Mikael Hopkins. The center spot is the pivotal position in the Princeton offense and Hopkins has manned the spot with consistency. The 6-9 Hopkins has found teammates slashing to the basket from the high post and also remained an offensive threat himself, reaching double-figures in four of the Hoyas first five games.
– Drexel’s disappointing performance in Anaheim over the weekend means the Dragons will once again likely have to win the CAA conference tournament to advance to the field of 68. Drexel still has chances to build an at-large resume with games in late December against Davidson and Saint Joseph’s, but this team has really struggled out of the gate and losing veteran guard Chris Fouch for the season to a foot injury has affected their perimeter depth. Dragons coach Bruiser Flint needs his team to get some confidence back, something that’s been missing early in the season.
– Not many players improved over the summer as much as Iowa State shooting guard Tyrus McGee. Labeled as strictly an outside threat last season, McGee has tightened his handle and gotten exceptionally better at attacking the rim. Through five games, the 6-2 senior is averaging 14.8 points per game while shooting an impressive 47.4% from three-point range. We’ll be shocked if McGee isn’t starting for the Cyclones by the time Big 12 play begins.
– West Virginia freshman wing Terry Henderson is a critical piece for the Mountaineers. The 6-3 Henderson is a knock down shooter when he has space and could really complement the dribble drive ability of both Juwan Staten and Jabarie Hinds. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has talked regularly about the need for someone to step up as an outside threat from the perimeter and Henderson could wind up being the person that fills that void.
– Marshall guard DeAndre Kane is really turning himself into a complete player. The 6-4 Kane, whom we think is the best player in Conference-USA has shown tremendous potential since playing more point guard after Marshall’s expected floor general Kareem Canty was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. In the last two games, Kane has dished out 23 assists and only committed six turnovers. For the Thundering Herd to have a chance to win they need to find a facilitator — and it’s starting to look like that might be Kane, who is now averaging 9.2 assists per game.
– Northwestern may have found a front court tandem in their overtime win over Illinois State on Saturday night. The Wildcats were much better defensively when they paired Jared Swopshire up front with red shirt freshman Mike Turner. The 6-8 Turner isn’t much of a scoring threat but he grabbed 10 rebounds in the 72-69 win over the Redbirds and had the look of a player that will have a big impact for Northwestern this season.
– If you’re looking to invest in a mid-major, buy stock in Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders won 27 games last season and return several key pieces from a team that reached the Postseason NIT and lost to Minnesota. This will be the team to beat in the Sun Belt.
– Clemson has a potential star in sophomore wing K.J. McDaniels. The 6-6 McDaniels has great bounce and is extremely active around the rim on both sides of the floor. An effective shot blocker for someone who primarily plays the small forward position, McDaniels will have a chance to play at the next level if he can continue to develop his outside shot as well as his ability to be a lock down defender.
– VCU may wind up being better than they were last year because of Treveon Graham. The 6-5 Graham is strong enough to guard opposing power forwards when the Rams go to a four-guard lineup and still has the ability to stretch the defense with his outside shooting. Last year, VCU coach Shaka Smart would play Bradford Burgess as a big guard when the Rams would play small ball and Graham may better suited for that role because of his physicality.
– Nobody will want to play St. John’s in February. Red Storm coach Steve Lavin has legitimate depth and four to five different players that could lead his team in scoring on a given night. St. John’s has a capable scorer in D’Angelo Harrison, a burgeoning point guard in Phil Greene, and a dominant shot blocker in Chris Obekpa. If Lavin can get role players like Christian Jones and Amir Garrett to consistently give the Red Storm intangibles on a nightly basis, a top eight finish in the Big East could be a possibility.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: SAN JOSE STATE AT KANSAS; OAKLAND AT TENNESSEE; TOWSON AT LOYOLA
TUESDAY: NORTH CAROLINA AT INDIANA; NC STATE AT MICHIGAN; MINNESOTA AT FLORIDA STATE; IOWA AT VIRGINIA TECH
WEDNESDAY: OHIO STATE AT DUKE; MICHIGAN STATE AT MIAMI; SAINT LOUIS AT WASHINGTON
THURSDAY: MARQUETTE AT FLORIDA; KENTUCKY AT NOTRE DAME
Which college basketball game are you most looking forward to this week? Let us know in the comments section below…