By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. ROOSEVELT JONES GIVES BUTLER A DIFFERENT DIMENSION
And it’s a dimension that allowed the Bulldogs to upset top-ranked Indiana. The 6-4 Jones excelled as a point forward on Saturday against the Hoosiers and dominated the game before fouling out prior to overtime. In 29 minutes of action, Jones scored 16 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out seven assists while allowing Rotnei Clarke to play primarily off the ball for Brad Stevens’ team, who year after year continue to show their tremendous fight and resolve. Stevens showed Jones clips of former NBA star Anthony Mason a year ago in hopes of enhancing Jones’ point forward skills, and it appears as if all those hours spent watching film are paying off. If Jones continues to play at a high level, there’s no limit for this team in the Atlantic 10.
2. NOTHING REALLY IS FOREVER
Especially with the way conference realignment has dominated collegiate athletics over the past year. No one expected the Big East to survive after all the defections it recently suffered but on Saturday, the seven Catholic schools in the league officially announced that they planned to separate themselves from their current affiliation. This to me is all a situation that could have been avoided.The Big East wouldn’t have been the same conference without Pitt, Syracuse,and West Virginia,but if former commissioner John Marinatto had passed on SMU, Central Florida, and Houston and just held firm while evaluating his options, the league would be in a much different situation than it is today. That one move and the acquisition of those three schools will ultimately be the start of what was the end of the best basketball league we had in collegiate athletics.
3. I’D PAY TO WATCH CHRIS OBEKPA PLAY
And while St. John’s may be a work in progress this season, they’re never going to be out of a game because of this 6-9 freshman shot blocker. Obekpa has already blocked five or more shots in six separate games this season, and is second in the nation behind Kansas’ Jeff Withey (5.6 BPG) in average shots blocked per game. Obekpa (5.3 BPG), D’Angelo Harrison, and JaKarr Sampson give the Red Storm a triumvirate that can make them competitive in the Big East. The question now is, can they become consistent?
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. THE ANNUAL TILT BETWEEN CINCINNATI AND XAVIER
There will be plenty of chatter prior to this game about the ugly brawl that occurred between these two schools last season but that should all dissipate by tip off. Cincinnati looks like a legitimate Big East title contender while Xavier seems to be developing a new identity with freshman point guard Semaj Christon leading the charge. The 6-3 Christon is scoring the ball at a high level and he’ll be pushed severely by the Bearcats’ tenacious full-court pressure. No team in college basketball is more comfortable in a rock fight than Cincinnati and any team that gives them their first defeat is going to be forced to win in the mud. Be prepared for a grinder, this one won’t be pretty.
2. STANFORD’S TRIP TO NC STATE ON TUESDAY
This isn’t just a big game for the Cardinal, it’s a big one for the entire PAC-12. The best way for this conference to get more national respect is to win big games against other high-level BCS schools, and Stanford has a golden opportunity on Tuesday when they travel to NC State. Johnny Dawkins’ team had high hopes entering the season after winning last year’s Postseason NIT and while they suffered some early injuries, there’s still plenty of reasons for optimism as long as sophomore guard Chasson Randle starts shooting the ball better. Last year as a freshman, Randle shot 43.8% from three-point range. This season, he’s only shooting 21.6% percent. Nevertheless, the Cardinal have a chance to win this game as long as they can rebound against the Wolfpack’s strong interior tandem of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell. Howell may be the least appreciated player in America considering his credentials (14.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG) and is easily the most consistent player on NC State. In a world of people seeking instant gratification, this 6-8 senior has worked his way to becoming one of the best players in the ACC.
3. DAVID LAURY’S DEBUT FOR IONA THURSDAY AT LA SALLE
I’ve had this game circled on my calendar as soon as the schedules came out this year and it has all the makings of a tilt that will be played at an incredible pace. La Salle has one of the more underrated back courts in the country with Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, and Ramon Galloway while Iona is slowly becoming a mid-major power under Tim Cluess. The best news about this game for the Gaels? They’ll finally have the services of David Laury. The 6-7 transfer is a poor man’s Royce White and has serious point forward skills. While his conditioning may take some time to refine, his instincts won’t. Iona is a completely different team with Laury in the lineup.
THIS AND THAT:
- Don’t forget about Miami in the ACC. The Hurricanes aren’t mentioned in the same breath as NC State, Duke, or North Carolina — but they should be. Jim Larranaga’s team has four senior starters and a burgeoning point guard in sophomore Shane Larkin. The 5-11 Larkin is averaging 15.3 PPG while leading the team in assists at 3.9 per contest, and shooting an impressive 51.9% from three-point range. Another great thing about Miami? Front court depth. The Hurricanes have two sturdy options off the bench in veteran Julian Gamble and freshman Tonye Jekiri.
- One thing that was abundantly clear in Indiana’s overtime loss to Butler on Saturday was that the Hoosiers were much better when Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey were on the floor down the stretch instead of Christian Watford. Watford, a 6-9 senior is a puzzling player. A lethal shooter with great range, Watford looks like he has all the requisites to be an All-Big Ten player but simply doesn’t have his motor turned on every time he plays. For the Hoosiers to get where they want to go, they’re going to need Watford to be more consistent than he’s been so far this season.
- No one has worse luck than Northwestern. Every year the Wildcats think they’re on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament and every year they find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. Bill Carmody will now have to play the rest of the season and the entire Big Ten slate without his best player and leading scorer in Drew Crawford, who will miss the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. Crawford’s injury and the preseason suspension of JerShon Cobb for the entire year means Northwestern’s projected two top scorers won’t be on the floor when they play in the Big Ten. Ouch.
- UNLV coach Dave Rice believes Runnin Rebels freshman forward Anthony Bennett could be another Larry Johnson. “I don’t want to compare Anthony as a freshman to Larry as a senior but there are definite similarities,” said Rice, who played with Johnson on the 1990 national championship team at UNLV. “They both could really score in a number of ways and could beat opponents in a numbers of ways. Like Larry, the biggest thing about Anthony is he’s a really great teammate.” The 6-8 Bennett is currently averaging 20.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. If there’s a better player in college basketball, we’d like to see him.
- Arizona’s come from behind win over Florida on Saturday night was a monumental victory for Sean Miller and a frustrating loss for the Gators. Florida had the game in hand and a comfortable six-point lead with under two minutes to play before falling victim to poor ball handling down the stretch. Another thing that helped the Wildcats? A smaller lineup. Miller opted to close the game with Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom, and Solomon Hill together, which is something he mentioned as a possibility earlier in the week. “A smaller lineup is something we’ll do in certain situations,” Miller said on Thursday. “We want to be bigger if we can in order to maximize our offensive rebounding and ability to protect the rim, but since we have the pieces to go small, we’ll do it in certain instances.” This Arizona team is clearly the squad to beat in the PAC-12 and should be tested in a few weeks in the Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii. San Diego State, Miami, and Ole Miss are also in the field.
- I’m really looking forward to getting a look in person at Jim Baron and Canisius on Wednesday when they play Temple in Philadelphia. The Golden Griffins are off to a 6-2 start and only trailed Syracuse by 3 at the half on Saturday night at the Carrier Dome. Canisius has three players that have already played in higher level leagues in Billy Baron, Isaac Sosa, and Freddy Asprilla as well as a lethal scorer in Harold Washington. This will be a stern test for Fran Dunphy and the Owls.
- We’re still not sure what to make of Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks were inspiring in early wins over Notre Dame and Harvard but they really played poorly down the stretch in last week’s loss at Villanova, and now will be without versatile forward Halil Kanacevic for the next two games due to a suspension. This team needs to build some momentum before they begin play in the Atlantic 10.
- New Mexico guard Kendall Williams had 15 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in the Lobos’ 73-58 win over New Mexico State on Saturday. Underrated? Absolutely. “Kendall deserves to be mentioned among the elite guards in college basketball,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said last week of the 6-4 Williams. “Look at who we’ve played. We played UConn who has two terrific guards and Kendall was the best perimeter player in that game.” Here’s another thing — the Lobos are 11-0. Guess they’ve been reading those press clippings in Albuquerque about UNLV and San Diego State competing for the top spot in the Mountain West Conference this year.
- One of the bright spots in Fordham’s 2-8 start has been sophomore big man Ryan Canty. The 6-9 forward is averaging 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in his last five contests. It’s been a tough stretch for Rams coach Tom Pecora but Canty appears to be a solid building block for Fordham, who has mostly underclassmen in their rotation.
- Missouri guard Jabari Brown is expected to make his debut for the Tigers on Monday night against South Carolina State. The 6-5 Brown is a big time talent and the likely candidate to eventually start at shooting guard when Missouri begins play in the SEC. “He gives us another guy with a high IQ,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said last week. “He’s got a really good feel for the game.” Haith has a front line strong enough to compete for a conference title with Laurence Bowers, Earnest Ross, and Alex Oriakhi but he needs to give Phil Pressey some back court help after Michael Dixon’s dismissal. Brown could very well be that guy and that fills that void and word is he’s been the Tigers best shooter in practice.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: DETROIT AT SYRACUSE, UNLV AT UTEP
TUESDAY: RICHMOND AT KANSAS, STANFORD AT NC STATE, WESTERN KENTUCKY AT VCU, LONG BEACH STATE AT UCLA
WEDNESDAY: XAVIER VS. CINCINNATI, NORTHERN IOWA AT UNLV, ILLINOIS STATE AT DAYTON, CANISIUS AT TEMPLE,
THURSDAY: IONA AT LA SALLE, ROBERT MORRIS AT ARKANSAS
Your thoughts on the Big East shakeup? Be heard in the comments…