By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. UCLA’S WIN OVER MISSOURI WILL SERVE AS A TURNING POINT IN THE BRUINS’ SEASON
You can’t say Ben Howland doesn’t have momentum now. Friday night at Pauley Pavilion was one of the better moments we’ve seen in recent memory in Westwood as UCLA stormed back from a late nine-point deficit to rally and beat a good Missouri team 97-94 in overtime. The win wasn’t without flaws as the Bruins’ defense still remains a major concern, but Howland’s ability to alter his traditional half court style into a more free flowing attack is agreeing with his personnel. Freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, and Kyle Anderson are flourishing at a quicker pace and Larry Drew has emerged as a quality floor general. The most important thing for UCLA now? To keep things going. The Bruins are 10-3 and will open the PAC-12 this week at home against Cal and Stanford.
2. UNLV’S POINT GUARD SITUATION IS GOING TO BE AN ISSUE AGAINST HIGHER QUALITY TEAMS
We’ve already seen it happen against Oregon and North Carolina, and we’ve got a feeling that the lack of a true floor general could really inhibit the Runnin Rebels against higher level competition. UNLV has one of the most talented rosters in the country but there isn’t one player in their rotation that is comfortable facilitating for others. Everything offensively for Dave Rice’s team is done individually or off the bounce, something that could become an issue once this team begins play in the Mountain West Conference.
3. UCONN CAN NOW FINALLY MOVE FORWARD
And they’ve got the right man to lead them. Kevin Ollie is one of the classiest people I’ve ever met in my life and now he’s got the type of contract (five years) he needs to keep the Huskies’ program among the elite. The biggest area where this commitment to Ollie will benefit UConn is recruiting. Ollie was in a no-win situation when he was given a six-month contract when Jim Calhoun stepped down earlier in the fall, but he will now have the stability needed to lure top prospects to Storrs. Don’t be shocked if the Huskies land a number of verbal commitments in the next few weeks and months.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. THE PAC-12 OPENER BETWEEN COLORADO AND ARIZONA
Are the Buffaloes going to be good enough to challenge for a PAC-12 title? We’ll have a better idea after Thursday night. Colorado won the PAC-12 tournament as well as a game in the field of 68 last year against UNLV, but any team that’s going to be good enough to win the conference this year has to beat Arizona, and right now that looks like a tall task. The Wildcats have a great blend of depth, size, and experience that make them the clear favorite to win the PAC-12. A big match up to watch in this game is the showdown between freshmen big men Josh Scott and Kaleb Tarczewski. Scott has had moments for the Buffaloes early but may lack the physical strength and toughness of Tarczewski, who should get better for Arizona as the season progresses.
2. INDIANA’S TILT AT IOWA
The Hoosiers are deeper and more experienced than they were a year ago but we still have no idea how they’ll respond on the road in the Big Ten. Indiana only won three games away from Assembly Hall last season in conference play and they’ll be tested on Monday against a young, but talented Iowa team that has been itching to make a statement. The Hawkeyes start two freshmen guards in Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and seem to be benefiting from their overall depth. Fran McCaffery said last week that he regularly plans to play 10 or 11 players each game and it will be interesting to see if using that many bodies can wear out the Hoosiers.
3. DREXEL’S SHOWDOWN WITH SAINT JOSEPH’S ON MONDAY
I’ve had this one circled for a long time. I know both teams are struggling but the atmosphere Monday afternoon at the DAC should be flat out terrific. Drexel is 4-7 but remains the CAA favorite and just beat a very good Davidson team. Saint Joseph’s meanwhile is 6-4 and will welcome back forward Halil Kanacevic, who was serving a two-game suspension. The Hawks were picked first in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll and it was mostly because of their front court. With Kanacevic, Ron Roberts, and C.J. Aiken, Phil Martelli has a triumvirate that can match up with most baselines in America. For Bruiser Flint’s team to have a chance, the Dragons’ inside tandem of Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy will have to play at an extremely high level.
THIS AND THAT:
– One of the most impressive things about Duke’s Seth Curry is the way he packages his offense. In the Blue Devils’ win over Santa Clara on Saturday, Curry made shots from long distance, hit runners in the lane, and also got to the rim en route to an impressive 31-point performance. The 6-2 senior has gradually gotten better throughout his three years in Durham and now has emerged as Duke’s go-to-guy on the perimeter. If the Blue Devils need someone to make a basket in the ACC, you can bet Curry is going to be the one taking the shot.
– Tennessee will announce this week whether or not Jeronne Maymon will red shirt during the upcoming season, according to Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin. The 6-7 Maymon has been battling a knee injury and has yet to play in a game this season. Last year, Maymon averaged 12.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG, forming one of the up and coming power forward/center combos in the country with teammate Jarnell Stokes.
– Harvard freshman point guard Siyani Chambers continues to impress. The southpaw dished out nine assists and only committed two turnovers in the Crimson’s 67-62 win at Cal on Saturday night. The 7-4 Crimson look like the team to beat in the Ivy League and will wrap up things in California on Monday night when they visit Saint Mary’s. This has to be one of the better coaching jobs Tommy Amaker has done in his career, especially since he had to totally recalibrate the way his team was going to play after Harvard’s top two players, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey withdrew from school just prior to the season.
– Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway is one of the rare elite players that is truly involved on every play of every game. The Hawks’ 6-2 junior guard averages 15.1 PPG but also guards the top perimeter player on the other team on a nightly basis. Galloway doesn’t complain to referees or even pump his fist after he makes a big shot. He’s a throwback in many ways and pound for pound the best player in the Atlantic 10.
– Florida State guard Ian Miller will work his way back into practice this week and should play major minutes in the Seminoles’ ACC opener on Saturday at Clemson, according to the school. Miller has been battling a foot injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since 12/5. In seven games this season, Miller has averaged 6.7 PPG. Florida State has won four straight since a 4-4 start and will travel to Auburn on Wednesday before beginning conference play.
– Minnesota has very quietly put together a strong 12-1 start but the Golden Gophers need to beat Michigan State on Monday to be taken seriously as a contender in the Big Ten.Tubby Smith has raved about his team’s depth but it will be interesting to see how many players he uses once he gets into the thick of conference play. Through 13 games this season, Smith has 10 different players averaging double-figure minutes.
– Illinois coach John Groce should be commended for the way he’s developed point guard Tracy Abrams. The 6-1 sophomore is doing a much better job of cutting down his turnovers and is a completely different player than he was last season. In Saturday’s win over Auburn, Abrams scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists, had four steals, and only committed one turnover in 35 minutes. No one thought this team would be 13-1 heading into the Big Ten, but Groce has gotten this group to believe.
– Do you believe in Jerelle Benimon now? Towson’s do-everything forward played every second in the Tigers’ 67-66 overtime win at Oregon State on Saturday, scoring 20 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. The former Georgetown Hoya has given Pat Skerry’s program a star and looks like the best player in the CAA. One year after Towson won just a single game, Skerry and the Tigers already have a respectable 5-8 record as they head into league play.
– UConn freshman Omar Calhoun is starting to emerge for the Huskies. The 6-5 Calhoun is averaging 17.7 PPG in his last three contests and beginning to look like a legitimate third offensive option for UConn next to Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The Huskies can’t play in the postseason this year and will have trouble rebounding in the Big East but with Calhoun, Napier, Boatright, and sophomore DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ollie’s team will have a quartet that can trade baskets with anyone.
– There is no one like Scott Machado on this year’s Iona team but the Gaels have better pieces than they did a season ago when they reached the NCAA Tournament. With point forward David Laury and guards Momo Jones, Sean Armand, and Tavon Sledge, Tim Cluess has a team that can regularly score in the 80s or 90s. The sleeper on this team? Freshman guard A.J. English. The 6-4 English has scored in double-figures in three of his last five games and totally changed the feel to this team. If English continues to progress and this team can defend just a little better, Iona could be one of the teams that no one will want to see in late February and March.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: INDIANA AT IOWA, MICHIGAN STATE AT MINNESOTA, CINCINNATI AT PITT, GONZAGA AT OKLAHOMA STATE, HARVARD AT SAINT MARY’S, SAINT JOSEPH’S AT DREXEL
TUESDAY: UCONN AT MARQUETTE
WEDNESDAY: DUKE VS. DAVIDSON, RUTGERS AT SYRACUSE, LA SALLE AT MIAMI
THURSDAY: COLORADO AT ARIZONA, CAL AT UCLA
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