By Jon Rothstein
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– Larry Drew II has been criticized throughout his college career but he’s one of the major reasons why UCLA is flourishing with a smaller, quicker lineup. In the Bruins’ last five games, Drew has dished out 45 assists and only committed 10 turnovers while displaying the type of game management skills needed to elevate Ben Howland’s team to the level they hoped they’d be at prior to the season. The bar however will be raised for Drew on Friday night when UCLA welcomes Missouri and arguably the best point guard in the country Phil Pressey to Pauley Pavilion. Words can’t describe how big this game is for the Bruins, who need a quality non-conference win on their resume.
– A slew of PAC-12 coaches have told me in the past week that they believe Oregon should be a Top 25 team. The Ducks have been impressive early in the season and Dana Altman has proven time and time again that his teams will finish at the top of the league standings on a perennial basis. My only concern with this team? Backcourt experience. Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson are big time talents, but they’re freshmen, and that’s something that can’t be ignored when you’re playing on the road in the PAC-12.
– I’ve seen enough of Hawaii to know they’re capable of winning the Big West. The Warriors have good size and a high-level big man in Vander Joaquim. The 6-10 Joaquim (15.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG) is extremely active around the rim on both sides of the floor and has a tremendous motor. With Joaquim, a player that’s good enough to play in a BCS conference and burgeoning freshman power forward Isaac Fotu, Hawaii should be right in the mix for a conference title and a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
– Baylor coach Scott Drew believes freshman center Isaiah Austin has the biggest upside of any front court player he’s had during his tenure at the Texas school. “He’s the most skilled big man we’ve ever had,” Drew said of the 7-foot Austin, whose averaging 13.9 PPG and 8.7 RPG through the Bears’ first 11 games of the season. “Everyone who watches Isaiah says they just want to see him with 20 more pounds on his body. Once he adds that, he’ll really be a force.” Baylor is one of a plethora of teams in the Big 12 that should finish behind Kansas in the conference standings. Like usual, the league looks like it’s the Jayhawks and everyone else.
– Harvard has another chance to make a national statement as the Crimson embark on a two-game West Coast trip. Tommy Amaker’s team will visit Cal and Saint Mary’s before returning home to face Rice and then begin play in the Ivy League. It’s amazing everything this team has had to undertake after they lost their two best players in Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry before the season. The biggest reason why Harvard’s been able to stay competitive at 6-4? Sophomore wing Wesley Saunders. The 6-foot-5 Saunders has scored in double-figures in every game he’s played this season and leads the Crimson in scoring at 15.8 PPG. Also, he’s not just a scorer. Saunders is grabbing 4.6 rebounds per contest and dishing out 3.4 assists each time he touches the floor.
– Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin is happy with his team’s 12-0 start but knows nothing matters until the Bearcats hit league play. “We have a saying around here,” Cronin said on Wednesday. “Our fate will be decided in the Big East.” Before Cincinnati can begin play in their conference, they’ll first have to deal with a very good New Mexico team Thursday night in the Queen City. “I’m impressed with their execution and their organization,” Cronin said of the 12-1 Lobos. “They’re a really good team.”
– It’s hard not to be a big fan of San Diego State freshman Winston Shepard. The 6-8 point forward handled the ball for the majority of the second half for the Aztecs when they fell by a point to Arizona in the finals of the Diamondhead Classic on Tuesday night. Shepard, who was the biggest recruit to ever commit to San Diego State is just another reason why Steve Fisher’s team looks like the squad to beat in the Mountain West Conference.
– It’d be unfair if we published this blog without mentioning Creighton point forward Grant Gibbs. In the Bluejays’ last five games, Gibbs has dished out 36 assists and only committed four turnovers. That’s an assist to turnover ratio of nine to one. Simply amazing.
– Colorado coach Tad Boyle has identified the Buffaloes’ X-Factor once they hit the PAC-12 part of their schedule — freshman wing Xavier Johnson. “His physical ability makes him a threat to score the ball,” Boyle said of the 6-6 Johnson, who tallied 17 points in Colorado’s last game against Northern Arizona. “If Xavier can start scoring the ball for us, we’ll become a much better basketball team.” The Buffaloes won the Charleston Classic and played several road games including a loss at Kansas in the non-conference portion of their schedule, but are still 9-2 heading into this weekend’s game against Hartford. “I feel really good about where we’re at right now,” Boyle said.
– I’ll be guest hosting the Tim Brando Show on CBS Sports Network today, Friday, and Monday from 10-1 ET. Tune in as we bring you great guests from the college basketball world and much more.
What college basketball game will you be watching this weekend? Let us know below.