By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. THE KING OF FOOD AND BASKETBALL, THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER RICK MAJERUS
There was no coach I enjoyed talking basketball with more than Rick Majerus. He was honest, detail oriented, and had a slew of one liners that made you laugh so hard you felt like you were watching a vintage episode of Seinfeld. Majerus’ death on Saturday at just 64 years old fills me with grief and sadness. I spoke regularly with the legendary coach during the past six to nine months and I can vividly remember a talk we had in early July. He was excited about the new possibilities for the revamped Atlantic 10 as well as the potential he had this year at Saint Louis. Majerus told me the rebuilding part of his job was done, he now had a “program” again. It’s a shame he never got to coach another game but I, like others in the sport feel grateful to have known the man. Rest easy coach, our loss is heaven’s gain.
2. ERICK GREEN LOOKS LIKE A FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICAN
To say he’s playing efficient basketball would be an understatement. A solid performer for the first three years of his college career, Green looks like a different player through Virginia Tech’s first seven games of the season, all of which have been victories. The 6-3 senior is averaging 24.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, and 4.0 RPG. Green is also shooting 51.6% from the field. “He’s got to be considered among the best guards in the country,” first-year Hokies coach James Johnson told me Saturday night after his team upset 15th ranked Oklahoma State 81-71. “He’s playing at an unbelievably high level right now.” Many, including myself wondered how Johnson would adjust to being a head coach after being a career assistant, but he’s showing early on that he may be just what this team needed. The Hokies are playing a new, exciting brand of basketball and are making a conscious effort to push the ball at every opportunity. Only once in Virginia Tech’s first seven games have the Hokies scored less than 80 points. Keep an eye on things this season in Blacksburg. They’re really starting to get interesting.
3. KENTUCKY HAS NO ON-COURT LEADER
And it’s obvious when you watch them play. The Wildcats lost games last week to Notre Dame and Baylor and not once during those tilts did we see one player on Kentucky’s roster step forward and attempt to lead. A lot of people have said that this team’s issues are directly related to their point guard situation but it’s a lot more than that. The Wildcats are talented but lack experience, a proven low post scorer, and the type of toughness that John Calipari’s teams have always exuded. This is a real work in progress, something that people in the Commonwealth haven’t seen in an awful long time.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. UCONN AGAINST NC STATE IN THE JIMMY V CLASSIC ON TUESDAY
Are the Huskies legit? We’ll know after they play the Wolfpack. UConn sent shock waves throughout college basketball after they beat Michigan State early in the season but since then they’ve struggled with mid-major teams like Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and Quinnipiac. Huskies coach Kevin Ollie needs to keep building equity if he hopes to receive a long-term commitment at the end of the season and beating NC State in Madison Square Garden would go a long way. We’re not so sure if UConn’s front line can rebound with the bigger, more talented Wolfpack but we didn’t think they’d be able to hang on the boards with Michigan State either. A big key in this game will be Huskies forward DeAndre Daniels, who will really have to be a factor on the interior against NC State’s talented tandem of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.
2. USC’S ROAD GAMES AT NEBRASKA AND NEW MEXICO
I’m not ready to bail on the Trojans just yet. I watched USC eight days ago against San Diego State and Kevin O’Neill’s team had the game late in the second half but succumbed to bad decision making plus a few questionable calls by the officials. USC is 3-3 but they’ve got ample opportunities to earn quality wins on their schedule. The Trojans should beat Nebraska on Monday and then have a golden opportunity to make a national statement in the Pit on Wednesday night against an undefeated New Mexico team that’s playing at an unbelievably high level right now .
3. HOW WILL FLORIDA RESPOND IN THEIR FIRST TRUE ROAD TEST AT FLORIDA STATE?
We’re expecting really well because we think the Gators are one of the best teams in the country. Florida hasn’t just beaten good teams — they’ve annihilated them. The Gators beat Marquette by 33,Wisconsin by 18, and Middle Tennessee State by 21. Billy Donovan has an exceptionally balanced team, one that has seven different players averaging 7.5 PPG or better. Is this the best team in the SEC? We don’t even think it’s up for debate. It will be interesting to see how Florida does on Wednesday night against a talented but young Florida State team that’s still searching for their identity.
THIS AND THAT:
– Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell has an absolute gem in freshman power forward Jameel Warney. The 6-8 Warney already has had seven rebounds or more in five of the Seawolves seven games and is averaging 11.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG. This kid is one of the better kept secrets in college basketball and should have one heck of a career on Long Island.
– An underrated reason for Wichita State’s 8-0 start is Ehimen Orukpe’s defense. The 7-foot Orukpe grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots in the Shockers win a few weeks ago against Iowa. “He’s been a force,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said ofOrukpe. The Shockers lost four starters from last year’s team but appear to be very much in the mix in the Missouri Valley Conference along with Illinois State, Creighton, and Northern Iowa. This league could warrant three or four bids to the NCAA Tournament.
– What is going on at Drexel? We know the Dragons lost senior guard Chris Fouch for the season with an ankle injury and we know they’ve played a tough early schedule — but we didn’t expect them to be 2-5 after Saturday’s loss at home against Rider. It doesn’t get any easier for Bruiser Flint’s team as Drexel’s next three games are on the road followed by home tilts against Davidson and Saint Joseph’s.
– San Diego State has two special role players in JJ O’Brien and Deshawn Stephens. O’Brien, a transfer from Utah doesn’t have to score to have an impact and has a calmness about himself that’s noticeable as soon as he steps on the floor. Stephens meanwhile, has become the Aztecs’ man in the paint and on the boards. The 6-8 forward is averaging 6.8 PPG and 5.8 RPG and had 12 points and six rebounds in Saturday’s win over UCLA. This team is really good and the favorite in the Mountain West.
– We can’t say Rutgers is a candidate to make a jump in the Big East if they keep on evaporating in tight games the way they did Saturday at Ole Miss. The Scarlet Knights played really well for 32 minutes against the Rebels but got all out of sync once they hit a sign of adversity with about eight minutes to play. Mike Rice’s team has the talent and ability to have a winning season — but do they have the poise?
– He’s not Creighton’s primary point guard but Grant Gibbs is doing an unbelievable job facilitating for the Bluejays. In his last five games, Gibbs has handed out 34 assists and only committed five turnovers. The 6-5 wing has battled knee injuries for the majority of his career but still remains a terrific passer. His IQ is a major reason why Creighton is off to a 7-1 start.
– In about two years, people are going to start comparing George Mason freshman guard Patrick Holloway to a poor man’s Stephen Curry. The 6-1 Holloway doesn’t have great strength yet but he possesses a scorer’s mentality and finds seams in defenses that others players don’t. Once he starts playing more and getting more game experience, Holloway should wind up being one of the nation’s better mid-major players in a few years.
– Charlotte’s surprising 7-0 start will be put to the test on Wednesday night when the 49ers travel to Davidson. Alan Major has done a solid job rebuilding the 49ers program with blue collar guys that exude toughness and a commitment to defense. After winning the Great Alaska Shootout, Major said two of his freshmen, Darion Clark and Willie Clayton have been a big part of that mindset. “They enjoy doing the dirty work,” Major said of Clark and Clayton, two freshmen forwards. “They enjoy being in the mud. We just need that to translate as our identity throughout our team.”
– We’ll know a lot more about Temple sophomore point guard Will Cummings after the upcoming week. The Owls play at Villanova on Wednesday and face Duke on Saturday in the IZOD Center in New Jersey. If Cummings is going to emerge as Temple’s clear floor general, he’ll have to play well this week against two teams that will surely test his ability and toughness. Owls coach Fran Dunphy has said repeatedly that he likes the bounce that Cummings brings to the point guard position but he just needs seasoning. So far this season, Cummings has split ball handling responsibilities with Temple senior T.J. DiLeo, whose averaging 22.8 MPG in relief.
– Robert Morris’ upset of previously undefeated Ohio on Saturday night was primarily because of the flawless game played by junior guard Karvel Anderson. The 6-2 Anderson made all 10 shots he took from the field, eight of which were three-pointers, finishing with 28 points in the 84-76 victory. With Anderson and senior guard Velton Jones, Colonials coach Andy Toole may finally have the firepower he needs to get him over the hump in the NEC.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: USC AT NEBRASKA
TUESDAY: LOUISVILLE AT CHARLESTON, OKLAHOMA AT ARKANSAS, GEORGETOWN VS. TEXAS, UCONN VS. NC STATE
WEDNESDAY: FLORIDA AT FLORIDA STATE, USC AT NEW MEXICO, COLORADO STATE AT COLORADO, OHIO AT MEMPHIS, DAYTON AT ALABAMA
THURSDAY: LONG BEACH STATE AT SYRACUSE
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