By Jon Rothstein
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– One of the major keys to San Diego State’s 6-1 start is Utah transfer JJ O’Brien. The 6-7 forward has blended perfectly alongside the Aztecs’ talented perimeter of Xavier Thames, Chase Tapley, and Jamaal Franklin and given Steve Fisher one of the better glue guys in the country. “The game never gets too fast for him,” Fisher said of O’Brien earlier this week. “He’s a guy that we believe can play five positions on the floor for us. He’s going to get better scoring the ball too.”
– I can’t believe I’m writing this but Nebraska has two really big opportunities to make a national statement in their next two games. The Cornhuskers host Creighton tonight and then travel to Oregon on December 15th. Nebraska’s 6-1 start is very surprising, especially considering the fact that Tim Miles is only in his first year of what many, including myself felt would be a long and arduous rebuilding process.
– Louisville should be able to survive without Gorgui Dieng as long as Stephan Van Treese continues to play at a high level. In the Cardinals last three games, the 6-8 Van Treese has grabbed 26 rebounds and been a fierce presence on the back boards. Rick Pitino’s teams always get better as the season moves along and Van Treese’s expanded minutes means Louisville will be even better when Dieng returns from a wrist injury.
– Dayton has turned into a sneaky good Atlantic 10 team in their second season under Archie Miller. The Flyers won at Alabama on Wednesday night and have a really solid perimeter duo of Kevin Dillard and Vee Sanford. If Dayton can get the type of production they got from Josh Benson against the Crimson Tide (19 points, six rebounds) throughout their conference schedule, this is another team that has a chance to compete for a bid to the NCAA Tournament out of the Atlantic 10.
– Florida hasn’t beaten as many quality teams as Duke and didn’t come into the year with the pedigree of Indiana, but the Gators are playing better basketball right now than anyone in the country. Florida won on the road last night at Florida State by 25 and have already trounced Wisconsin and Marquette by double figures.
– USC’s arduous non-conference schedule is taking its toll. The Trojans are now 3-5 after last night’s loss at New Mexico and will next host Minnesota on Saturday. I saw Kevin O’Neill’s team in October and thought they were a gritty squad that could win between 16-18 games and challenge for the postseason. Any hopes for a turnaround will hinge on how well USC’s two starting guards, Jio Fontan and J.T. Terrell play offensively.
– Fairfield will announce on Thursday that it has extended head coach Sydney Johnson’s contract through the 2019 season. Johnson is well liked, respected, and has already proven he can take a team to the NCAA Tournament after what he accomplished at Princeton. This is a wise move by Stags AD Gene Doris.
– Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has started freshmen guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons in the Hawkeyes last two games and it will be interesting to see if that holds to form on Friday against in-state rival Iowa State. McCaffery told me in the preseason that it may take him a while to settle on a rotation because of how deep Iowa’s roster is, but the sooner this team finds a rhythm the better. The Hawkeyes lost key non-conference games to Wichita State and Virginia Tech and don’t have any other opportunities to get a quality win outside the Big Ten other than their showdown on Friday against the Cyclones.
– If you haven’t seen UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, you need to find out the next time the Rebels are playing and set your DVR immediately. The 6-8, 240 pound Bennett is a massive physical specimen and is incredibly gifted offensively around the rim. Keep in mind, UNLV doesn’t have a pure point guard to initiate their offense so most of Bennett’s scoring opportunities are created by himself. Through the first few weeks of the season, this has been by far the best freshman in the country.
– It’s time for people to start paying attention to the job that Pat Skerry is doing at Towson. The Tigers beat a solid Vermont team on the road last night and already have four wins after only accumulating one throughout all of last season. Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon has been a monster on the block (14.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG) through the team’s first eight games and he alone should keep Towson in most games they play once they hit the CAA.
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