By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. SYRACUSE CAN BEAT ANYONE WITHOUT JAMES SOUTHERLAND
How do I know that? Because the Orange won at Louisville without Southerland on Saturday. And if you’re good enough to beat the Cardinals on their home floor without your best outside shooter, you’re good enough to beat any team in America. Syracuse isn’t the same team without Southerland, but they’re still awfully good. Freshman forward Jerami Grant continues to blossom off the bench and had 10 points and five rebounds in Saturday’s game against Louisville. It doesn’t get any easier for Jim Boeheim’s team though, as the Orange will host Cincinnati on Monday at the Carrier Dome.
2. FLORIDA IS PLAYING AS WELL AS ANY TEAM IN THE COUNTRY
Especially defensively. The Gators dominated both Texas A&M and Missouri this past week and only surrendered 99 points combined in the two games. The scariest thing about Florida? There hasn’t been a point this season where this team has been fully healthy. Watch out for this group in March. The star power of this squad isn’t as strong as it was in 2006 and 2007 when the Gators won back-to-back national titles, but Billy Donovan has a cohesive, unselfish unit that’s all about one thing and one thing only — winning.
3. OREGON IS QUIETLY ONE OF THE MORE COMPLETE TEAMS IN THE COUNTRY
The Ducks are rolling. One week after upsetting Arizona and taking care of Arizona State at home, Dana Altman’s team swept the L.A.-area PAC-12 schools with wins at USC and UCLA. Oregon doesn’t have one single player that’s a star, but collectively this group blends together extremely well. Tony Woods has taken a small step forward offensively from last season and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi has added toughness and rebounding up front. The most impressive thing about the Ducks? They’re starting two freshman guards in Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson and still have a 16-2 overall record and a perfect 5-0 mark in the PAC-12.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. KANSAS-KANSAS STATE ON TUESDAY NIGHT
The careers of Bill Self and Bruce Weber will once again be connected this week when the Jayhawks travel to face the Wildcats in Manhattan. Weber replaced Self in 2003 when Self left Illinois to take the Kansas job, and this will be the first time that both coaches face each other as coaches in the same conference. We’ve all been searching for the best possible contender for the Jayhawks in the Big 12, and right now it looks like it’s Kansas State. Weber has done a tremendous job putting his players in positions on the floor to be successful, and has went to a smaller lineup with Shane Southwell at power forward. Kansas looked vulnerable in their road win against Texas over the weekend and the Jayhawks look like they’re due to stub their toe somewhere soon. Will it be against Kansas State? We’ll find out on Tuesday.
2. IOWA-OHIO STATE IN COLUMBUS ON TUESDAY
Can the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes on their home floor? They certainly have some momentum. Iowa had three difficult losses to start Big Ten play but rallied to win two straight against Northwestern and Wisconsin. If the Hawkeyes are to have a chance at the upset they’ll have to get more out of Josh Oglesby than they did against the Badgers. Against Wisconsin, the sharpshooter only had one made field goal after he torched Northwestern for 14 points and four three-pointers. Fran McCaffery has repeatedly said that the sophomore is a critical piece for Iowa, and he’ll be going against arguably the best defensive perimeter in the Big Ten. This is a golden opportunity for the Hawkeyes while it’s a must-win for the Buckeyes after narrowly losing at Michigan State on Saturday.
3. UCLA’S TRIP TO ARIZONA ON THURSDAY
We’ve been waiting a few years for these two storied programs to once again be major players on the national scene, and now they’ve again become Top 25 programs at the same time. The Bruins are coming off a close loss on Saturday to upstart Oregon while Arizona has looked all season like a team that has the requisites to play deep in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats’ defense was beyond suffocating in their win at Arizona State on Saturday and they’ll need another strong performance to stop UCLA’s talented freshmen trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. When we wake up on Thursday, there will be a buzz surrounding this game. In fact, we already feel it.
THIS AND THAT:
- VCU and Butler have both put themselves in strong positions to remain in the Top 20 for the duration of the season. The Rams secured a big victory when they beat Saint Joseph’s last week in a memorable game in Richmond, while the Bulldogs added to their impressive resume with Saturday night’s thrilling win over Gonzaga. Butler has also already beaten Indiana, North Carolina and Marquette.
- Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is thriving coming off the bench. The 6-foot-10 forward has scored 17 points in each of his past two games and appears to be relishing his role as a specialist in reserve. The Wildcats are 12-5 and 3-1 in the SEC, and will have a very interesting test on Tuesday night when they travel to Alabama.
- Cincinnati’s Titus Rubles is far from a finished product, but the junior forward is slowly adjusting to his role. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, the 6-foot-7 face-up forward has made a huge difference on the boards, and had a real strong game in the Bearcats’ overtime win over Marquette on Saturday. In 35 minutes of work, Rubles scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while only making one field goal, but went 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. Rubles is a work in progress — but he’s getting closer with every game.
- Maryland freshman Jake Layman could wind up being a pivotal piece for the Terrapins simply because Mark Turgeon’s team is void of any consistent outside shooters. Maryland only made one three-point shot in Saturday’s loss at North Carolina, and Layman’s ability to stretch the defense could wind up being a big weapon as this team progresses in the ACC. Layman made four three-pointers in the conference opener against Virginia Tech and also hit a big triple in the second half of last week’s upset over NC State.
- Just when you thought the Atlantic 10 wasn’t that deep, Rhode Island wins at Saint Louis and George Washington upsets UMass in Amherst. There are no nights off in this league, folks. Just a terrific basketball conference.
- Quincy Ford has been Northeastern’s ”X-Factor” en route to the Huskies’ 6-0 start in the CAA. The 6-foot-8 Ford gives Bill Coen’s team a dimension of athleticism that they can’t get from anywhere else on their roster, and he’s scored 41 points in the team’s last two games. Ford, a sophomore, is also pulling down 6.2 rebounds per game.
- Middle Tennessee State looks like the class of the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders are 7-1 in league play and appear to be the runaway choice to win the conference. This team has tremendous balance and a long-range specialist in senior guard Ray Cintron. The 6-foot-0 Cintron is shooting 39.3 percent from outside the arc on the season and has already made four or more threes in a game on four separate occasions.
- Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. look like the best guard tandem in college basketball because their supporting cast is significantly better than it was last season. The Wolverines’ freshmen duo of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have been a major offensive upgrade over the players that preceded them in the starting lineup (Stu Douglass and Zack Novak). Stauskas is shooting 49.5 percent from three-point range while Robinson is averaging 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Playing with better players mean that there’s more people for the defense to pay attention to, and in Michigan’s case, that’s been a major key to career years for both Burke and Hardaway Jr.
- You have to watch Memphis senior forward D.J. Stephens play to truly appreciate his effort. The 6-foot-5 senior lives for contact and regularly looks like he’s playing the game on a trampoline. An unbelievable athlete with great timing, Stephens has given the Tigers a jolt with his presence. Memphis’ starting power forward is currently averaging 6.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
- Miami continues to impress without Reggie Johnson. The Hurricanes are an exceptional defensive team and haven’t had an opponent score over 60 points against them since December 1. Jim Larranaga’s group leads the ACC with a 4-0 record and will host Duke on Wednesday night in Coral Gables. With a win against Michigan State already on their resume, beating the Blue Devils could go a long way in this team’s hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: CINCINNATI AT SYRACUSE, OKLAHOMA STATE AT BAYLOR
TUESDAY: KANSAS AT KANSAS STATE, IOWA AT OHIO STATE, MICHIGAN STATE AT WISCONSIN, KENTUCKY AT ALABAMA
WEDNESDAY: DUKE AT MIAMI, COLORADO STATE AT NEW MEXICO, ST. JOHN’S AT RUTGERS, BUTLER AT LA SALLE
THURSDAY: UCLA AT ARIZONA, WYOMING AT UNLV, VCU AT RICHMOND
Which college hoops games are you most looking forward to this week? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below…