By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. NEVER PICK AGAINST KANSAS AT PHOG ALLEN FIELDHOUSE
I believed in Colorado. I had already seen the Buffaloes about a half-dozen times this season and thought they had what it took to push Kansas in Lawrence on Saturday. Boy was I wrong. The Jayhawks finally looked like a vintage Bill Self team when they routed Colorado 90-54 and had all five starters in double figures. Red shirt freshman Ben McLemore is starting to emerge as Kansas’ go-to scorer and Kevin Young is adding toughness and intangibles. The Big 12 as a conference is wide open — except for the top. Like usual, the league runs through the Jayhawks. And we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
2. THE BIG TEN IS BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT
There was a consensus heading into the season that the Big Ten was without question the best conference in college basketball and it looks like the league is even more competitive than we originally thought. Illinois’ impressive win over Gonzaga on Saturday night means the Illini are more than capable of pushing for a spot in the top third the conference standings. Iowa is another team that figures to get better as the season progresses as evidenced by their big win over in-state rival Iowa State, and Minnesota continued their impressive start (10-1) with a road victory at USC. Don’t be surprised if the Big Ten winds up getting eight bids in the NCAA Tournament.
3. GERON JOHNSON NEEDS TO BE ON THE FLOOR FOR MEMPHIS
What was missing for the Tigers when they lost two games in the Battle 4 Atlantis? An X-Factor like Johnson. It took the 6-3 guard a little time to get comfortable but now he’s put together a stretch of three really good games for Memphis, who will host Louisville next Saturday. In his last three outings, Johnson is averaging 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest. Josh Pastner raved about his team’s balance and Johnson’s emergence should only give the Tigers another threat. Through eight games, Memphis has seven different players averaging 7.9 PPG or better.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. THE ANNUAL HOLY WAR BETWEEN SAINT JOSEPH’S AND VILLANOVA
There’s nothing like rivalries in college basketball and the one between the Hawks and the Wildcats is one of the best in the sport. Villanova has had a difficult start to the season while Saint Joseph’s has showed small flashes of brilliance mixed in with some inconsistency. Phil Martelli’s team has to get back to playing the way they were a few weeks ago when they beat Notre Dame at the Barclays Center. The Hawks have six really good players and all the requisites for a terrific season, but they got blown out when they traveled to Creighton two weeks ago and are still searching for capable reserves who can help extend their rotation. Villanova will be sure to have a raucous home crowd ready to go at the Pavilion, but the Wildcats will have to show more offensive prowess to have a chance to pull the upset. Jay Wright’s team has scored 70 points or more just once in their last six games and that was in an overtime loss at La Salle.
2. RUTGERS’ RESPONSE ON TUESDAY AT THE RAC AGAINST GEORGE WASHINGTON
The Scarlet Knights are officially a mercurial team. Rutgers turned the ball over 25 times in their win over Iona on Saturday and we’re officially starting to question if this squad will ever be able to handle any type of adversity. Mike Rice has the personnel to have a solid season but there’s something missing with this group. The Scarlet Knights built a 22-point second-half lead against Iona and nearly saw it evaporate. For Rutgers to become what they’re capable of becoming they’re going to have to get mentally tougher, and they’re also going to have to get more out of sophomore guard Jerome Seagears. After a promising freshman campaign last year, Seagears has been a non-factor early. It will be interesting to see how this team responds on Tuesday against a George Washington team that’s probably a year away from being a factor in the Atlantic 10.
3. CAN TOWSON KEEP IT GOING ON WEDNESDAY AGAINST TEMPLE?
For those who haven’t noticed, the Tigers are quietly making a major turnaround. After only winning one game all of last season, Pat Skerry has led Towson to a 4-5 start and the Tigers were within a possession of Georgetown in the final minutes on Saturday. We’re not saying this team is ready to challenge for a CAA title this season but Towson remains an intriguing story and their trip to Temple on Wednesday night will provide another stern test. The Owls were the latest victim to Duke’s dominance over the weekend but still have a solid squad that will look to get back on track at home.
THIS AND THAT:
– They’re not the first names people think of when they think of Michigan,but Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford are two valuable pieces for the Wolverines. Horford has made a difference on the backboards in Michigan’s last two games (nine rebounds) and played spurts of solid post defense in the team’s win over Arkansas on Saturday. Albrecht meanwhile is a capable backup to Trey Burke at point guard and will need to play patches of capable minutes off the bench if the Wolverines are to wind up competing for a Big Ten title.
– Ohio State sophomore LaQuinton Ross is starting to emerge as a legitimate scoring threat for the Buckeyes. The 6-8 forward has scored in double figures in three of Ohio State’s last four games and is developing into a reliable option next to the Buckeyes’ big three of Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith. Ohio State’s coaching staff firmly believes Ross can be one of their more productive players but he just needs time and seasoning. Remember, Ross and the rest of the Buckeyes’ sophomore class — Amir Williams, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson didn’t get ample amounts of playing time last season because of the talent level that was already in the program.
– Dayton and La Salle are two really good teams in the Atlantic 10 that are heavily under the radar. The common theme surrounding these squads? Dynamite guard play. The Flyers have one of the better floor generals people don’t know about in Kevin Dillard and Tyreek Duren has emerged as a big time shot maker for the Explorers. Both of these teams are legitimate threats to push for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
– I’m now officially concerned about George Mason’s point guard play. The Patriots have everything else needed to win the CAA and be a stalwart mid-major team, but their decision making in close games is absolutely killing them. Already this season, George Mason has had turnovers and poor execution cost them in non-conference tilts against New Mexico, Maryland, and most recently Northern Iowa, who beat the Patriots 82-77 in overtime on Saturday. Paul Hewitt needs one of his play makers — either Bryon Allen or Corey Edwards to step forward and solidify things at the most important position on the floor or this is going to be a lingering issue all season.
– It’s going to take a special team to finish ahead of Harvard in the Ivy League. I saw the Crimson in person on Friday night against UConn and their unselfishness and defensive tenacity was unbelievable. Harvard lost its two best players before the season in Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry but the Crimson but will be right in the mix for an Ivy League title because of their cohesiveness. “I’ve learned through eight games that we can be a scrappy defensive team,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the Crimson’s loss to UConn. “But we can’t go through the lulls we’re going through offensively and keep giving ourselves large deficits.” There shouldn’t be many lulls for Harvard with Wesley Saunders on the floor. The 6-5 Saunders is a big time offensive talent (15.9 PPG) and should be a major scorer for the next three years he spends in Cambridge.
– Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum is on an absolute tear to start the season. Through 10 games, the 6-3 guard is averaging 24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 3.1 APG. McCollum is also shooting 51.9% from three-point range and 50.9% from the field. The Mountain Hawks have two big games coming up in the next month starting Thursday at North Texas. Lehigh will also visit VCU on January 5th.
– I still can’t believe USC is 3-6. The Trojans have had ample opportunities to get quality non-conference wins but have yet to cash in. Kevin O’Neill’s team has talented pieces but can’t seem to mesh as a group. USC still has a few chances to build some momentum before they begin play in the PAC-12 as the Trojans will travel to Georgia and host Dayton before conference play begins.
– Oregon State’s Eric Moreland is one of the better rebounders in college basketball. A jumping jack at 6-10, Moreland has great timing and instincts around the rim. A red shirt sophomore, Moreland is averaging 11.6 RPG for the Beavers, who still could be a factor in the PAC-12 despite playing the rest of the season without starting center Angus Brandt, who is done for the year with an ACL injury.
– New Mexico is a different team when Chad Adams plays well. The 6-6 Adams excels as a stretch four-man for the Lobos who have played plenty of four-guard sets this season. A nimble athlete with good range, Adams can extend the defense with his shot making and present mismatch problems for opponents because of his versatility. New Mexico is 10-0 and will host rival New Mexico State on Saturday. You can see the game on CBS Sports Network.
– Michigan State has always been a power team under Tom Izzo but the Spartans look like they may be more fluid offensively this year if they play smaller. Izzo has regularly used lineups this season with bouncy wing Branden Dawson at power forward. This allows Michigan State to play three guards together and highlight the abilities of perimeter talents like Keith Appling, Travis Trice, and Gary Harris.
SET THE DVR:
* THIS IS A LIGHT WEEK DUE TO FINALS
MONDAY: LONGWOOD AT GEORGETOWN
TUESDAY: SAINT JOSEPH’S AT VILLANOVA, GEORGE WASHINGTON AT RUTGERS
WEDNESDAY: TOWSON AT TEMPLE, DEPAUL AT ARIZONA STATE
THURSDAY: WICHITA STATE AT TENNESSEE
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