By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. TENNESSEE WILL NOT MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
And that statement comes just hours after the Volunteers announced that Jeronne Maymon will red shirt and miss the season due to a knee injury. Maymon, a potential All-SEC forward averaged 12.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG last year and was set to form one of college basketball’s best power forward/center combos along with teammate Jarnell Stokes. Let me say this: I like Cuonzo Martin’s team. They’re tough, they defend, and most of all, they take on their coach’s mindset with their ferocity. But Tennessee’s offensive struggles will be the reason why this team misses out on the NCAA Tournament. Without Maymon, we just don’t see this team getting enough easy baskets to make the field of 68.
2. OHIO STATE WILL HAVE A TOUGH TIME WINNING ON THE ROAD IN THE BIG TEN
Was this team overrated to start the season? It’s starting to look that way. The Buckeyes have a terrific scorer in Deshaun Thomas who’s surrounded by several solid role players, but there’s no second alpha dog to help with the scoring on a consistent basis. Without that secondary play maker, it’s going to be tough for this team to win away from Columbus in the Big Ten. Conference play is a different animal when you play on the road and when you’re competing in the best league in college basketball, earning victories away from home is an arduous task. Just ask Illinois, who lost in their Big Ten opener to a young and inexperienced Purdue team that probably won’t even come close to finishing in the top half of the league.
3. SAINT JOSEPH’S IS SLOWLY ROUNDING INTO FORM
The Hawks may have expected to enter the Atlantic 10 with a mark better than their 8-4 record, but they’ve had players in and out of the lineup for one reason or another and have also had to deal with nagging injuries. Now though, it seems like things are starting to click. Halil Kanacevic has played in two games since being suspended for his actions against Villanova and Tay Jones and Langston Galloway are really starting to emerge as one of the more underrated back courts in college basketball. It may be only early January, but Saint Joseph’s has two big opportunities in the first eight days of their conference slate. The Hawks host Butler on Wednesday and then travel to VCU on January 17th. With wins already against Notre Dame and Harvard, Phil Martelli’s team can really enhance their NCAA resume with wins over the Bulldogs and the Rams in the early portion of the Atlantic 10 schedule.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. NOTRE DAME’S TRIP TO CINCINNATI ON MONDAY NIGHT
The Irish might be the best kept secret in the country while the Bearcats are coming off an awful defeat at home on Saturday to St. John’s. The Red Storm are a young and talented team, but if Cincinnati truly has dreams and aspirations of competing for a Big East title and going deep in the NCAA Tournament, they can’t be losing games like this at home. Notre Dame’s potent offense gives Mike Brey one of his best teams ever and this will truly be a fascinating contrast in styles. The Irish showed in their 93-74 win over Seton Hall this past weekend that they want to push the ball and score as frequently as possible, while the Bearcats will do everything they can to bring this game into the mud. Pull up a chair and enjoy this one, it should be a doozy.
2. ARIZONA’S FIRST ROAD CONFERENCE GAME GAME AT OREGON
The Wildcats are like a cat, they’ve got nine lives. No team in college basketball has pulled out more close victories early in the season than Arizona and they will be truly tested when they go to Eugene on Thursday. The Ducks are a borderline Top 25 team and have all the requisites to finish in the top three of the PAC-12. The big difference in this game could be back court experience. Sean Miller has Mark Lyons developing into a “Mariano Rivera” type closer while Oregon has two freshmen in their back court in Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. The Wildcats have been tested several times this season — but never in this type of road setting.
3. UNLV AND NEW MEXICO IN THE PIT ON WEDNESDAY
There’s just something about this venue that gets people excited. New Mexico continues to be a perennial contender in the Mountain West Conference and the Runnin Rebels have assembled one of the more talented rosters in the country. The Lobos have one of the more underrated perimeters around headlined by hidden gem Kendall Williams, while UNLV is still trying to manufacture their offense without a true floor general. We hate to keep sounding redundant when discussing Dave Rice’s team, a unit that we really like, but until the Runnin Rebels prove they can win in hostile situations with their current back court situation, it’s going to be a major point of emphasis in every big game from here on out.
THIS AND THAT:
– Bruce Weber is quietly doing a very good job in his first year at Kansas State. The Wildcats don’t have one truly dominant player, but they have a lot of solid pieces and are buying into Weber’s system. Kansas State has now won five in a row and are 12-2 overall after Saturday’s 73-67 win over Oklahoma State. Wildcats senior guard Rodney McGruder had 28 in the win over the Cowboys and sophomore forward Nino Williams is starting to emerge as the glue guy this team needs to finish in the top half of the Big 12 and compete for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
– Miami has regrouped nicely with two wins over La Salle and Georgia Tech since they returned home from the Diamondhead Classic. The Hurricanes won’t have Reggie Johnson until at least the middle of February as he recovers from a thumb injury, and the competition in the ACC is set to increase drastically during the upcoming week. Jim Larranaga’s team will travel to North Carolina and then return to Coral Gables to host a surging Maryland team next Sunday night.
– Eric Atkins is officially the most underrated point guard in college basketball. Notre Dame’s junior floor general put on an absolute clinic in the Irish’s 93-74 win over Seton Hall on Saturday, scoring 17 points, dishing out 10 assists, and only committing two turnovers. Mike Brey’s team has scary good offensive talent and the type of outside shooting that will be invaluable on the road in league play.
– We’ve loved Michigan State whenever they’ve went small this year and used Branden Dawson at power forward. The 6-6 Dawson is a match up nightmare at the four and can easily use his speed and quickness to go around bigger defenders. In the Spartans’ 84-61 win over Purdue on Saturday, Dawson regularly sliced up the Boilermakers’ defense en route to a 14 point, 11 rebound performance in just 27 minutes worth of work.
– Rutgers looked like a different team on Saturday in their win over Pitt when Jerome Seagears started at point guard and Eli Carter came off the bench. Seagears, who had been battling a slump throughout the early portion of the season, ran the Scarlet Knights’ offense with poise and finished with seven points, six assists, four rebounds, and just two turnovers in the 67-62 victory. Look for Mike Rice to potentially keep Seagears in the starting lineup while bringing Carter off the bench in a “Vinnie Johnson” type role.
– St. John’s freshman forward Jakarr Sampson will be the Big East Rookie of the Year — and it may not even be close. Sampson is above and beyond any freshman in the conference in terms of productivity and should only get better as he gets more comfortable in league play. The 6-8 forward has scored in double figures in all but three games this season and is also a terror on the boards. The Ohio native is currently averaging 13.9 PPG and 7 RPG.
– Manhattan junior Rhamel Brown is a specimen. The 6-7 big man has totally changed his body from last season and looks like he’s physically ready to play in a high-major conference. Even though the Jaspers are 4-10 and battling significant injuries, Brown has been a bright spot. The Brooklyn native is currently averaging 11.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG.
– Bucknell’s two-point loss at Missouri on Saturday reminds me of when Cornell almost beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in 2010. While the Big Red didn’t win that game, it gave them the confidence they needed to believe that they could play with anyone in the country and a few months later they wound up making the Sweet 16. This Bucknell team has similar capabilities and a real star in big man Mike Muscala. Against the Tigers, Muscala scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against one of the better front lines in all of college basketball. The Bison are for real.
– UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a rebounder he is. The 6-8 forward has grabbed 12 rebounds in each of the Bruins’ last two games is averaging 8.9 RPG this season. Ben Howland’s “speed ball” approach appears to be agreeing with UCLA. The Bruins are 12-3 and have won seven games in a row.
– Niagara’s Juan’ya Green has been unbelievably efficient lately. The 6-3 sophomore has made 19-of-29 shots and averaged 26 PPG in the Purple Eagles’ last two games (both wins). Niagara is 7-7 overall and 3-1 in the MAAC. They’ll be in Jersey City on Friday night to take on St. Peter’s.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: NOTRE DAME AT CINCINNATI
TUESDAY: PITT AT GEORGETOWN, OHIO STATE AT PURDUE, ALABAMA AT MISSOURI
WEDNESDAY: BUTLER AT SAINT JOSEPH’S, LOUISVILLE AT SETON HALL, MINNESOTA AT ILLINOIS, RUTGERS AT ST. JOHN’S, UNLV AT NEW MEXICO,
THURSDAY: ARIZONA AT OREGON, MICHIGAN STATE AT IOWA, UMASS AT SAINT LOUIS
Your thoughts on the CBB scene? Let Jon know in the comments…