By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. YOGI FERRELL IS INDIANA’S X-FACTOR
He doesn’t wow you with any one thing he does, but Ferrell was brilliant in the Hoosiers’ win over Michigan on Saturday night. The freshman point guard ran Indiana’s offense with the focus of a surgeon, played tenacious defense, and knocked down all eight of his free throw attempts in the win over the Wolverines.”He’s wiser than his years,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Ferrell. “He’s at his best in big environments.” Ferrell finished with 14 points and five assists. His continued growth will be paramount for this team moving forward.
2. OREGON REALLY MISSES DOMINIC ARTIS
And it’s beyond obvious. After a fantastic start to the season, the Ducks lost their freshman floor general to a foot injury about two weeks ago and it’s really jolted their offense. Oregon turned the ball over a combined 42 times in losses to Oregon and Cal last week, and failed to show the type of poise that was synonymous with this team when Artis was on the floor. The Ducks need their floor general back — and in a hurry!
3. SAINT LOUIS HAS REGAINED THE LOOK OF AN ATLANTIC 10 FAVORITE
And they’ve done so in convincing fashion. The Billikens beat Butler and Dayton last week by a combined 46 points and looked like the team many envisioned when the season began. In fairness to Saint Louis, their preseason wasn’t without a slew of off-the-court distractions. Between Rick Majerus’ passing — Keith Carter’s decision to transfer — and a foot injury that sidelined Kwamain Mitchell for the first semester — the Billikens were struggling to find any sort of rhythm. Right now though, this is clearly the hottest team in the Atlantic 10. Saint Louis has won four games in a row and has a 16-5 overall record with a 5-2 mark in league play.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. OHIO STATE’S REMATCH WITH MICHIGAN
The Wolverines were beaten soundly when they traveled to Columbus a few weeks ago and they’ll be looking to bounce back in a major way after falling to Indiana over the weekend. We’re well aware that Ohio State has the best perimeter defense in the Big Ten, but we’re just not sold on their offense on the road in a big spot. The Buckeyes’ coaching staff is hoping that sophomore wing LaQuinton Ross can step forward and be a secondary scorer next to Deshaun Thomas, but he’s yet to reach double figures in conference play.
2. NOTRE DAME’S TRIP TO SYRACUSE ON MONDAY
Neither of these teams is playing particularly well and it will be interesting to see who comes out of this game with a victory. The Irish are still getting accustomed to playing without Scott Martin while the Orange simply look like a depleted basketball team. Without Dajuan Coleman and James Southerland, Syracuse is short on capable bodies who can play, something that was obvious in their loss at Pitt last Saturday. This is a critical game for the Orange and a major opportunity for Notre Dame.
3. NC STATE’S SHOWDOWN WITH DUKE ON THURSDAY AT CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM
The Wolfpack were the consensus pick to win the ACC at the beginning of the season, but they now sit with a 5-4 mark in conference play after Saturday’s narrow defeat to Miami. What do we make of Mark Gottfried’s team? They’re as talented one through six as any squad in college basketball, but they lack the type of role players they had last year (Deshawn Painter, Alex Johnson, C.J. Williams) that were instrumental in this team’s run to the Sweet 16. We’re very curious to see how NC State plays Thursday in Durham.
THIS AND THAT:
– Detroit is a mid-major school that could be a factor in the NCAA Tournament if they’re fortunate enough to win the Horizon League. The Titans have five starters that average in double figures, led by Ray McCallum at 18.6 PPG. Detroit lost last year to Kansas in the round of 64 but have all the requisites to be a nuisance in March if they can play their way into the field.
– Purdue freshman big man A.J. Hammons will have a monster 2013-14 season for the Boilermakers as a sophomore. The 7-foot Hammons is incredibly skilled around the rim and has a soft touch inside the paint. The 280 pound center scored 49 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in Purdue’s two games this past week against Indiana and Northwestern. This will be an All-Big Ten caliber player next season.
– The Florida coaching staff privately believes that the development of freshman shooting guard Michael Frazier will play a major role in how far the Gators can go in March. The 6-4 sharpshooter is a three-point specialist and could be a key weapon in reserve once the postseason begins. Frazier is currently shooting 43.9% from long range on the year and has made eight three-point shots in the Gators’ last three games.
– You can’t measure what Will Sheehey does for Indiana with a box score. The 6-7 swing man brings unbelievable intangibles to the Hoosiers on a nightly basis and regularly guards several of the opponent’s top offensive options. Indiana has multiple players who regularly get the spotlight — but not enough credit goes to Sheehey — a player who always seems to be around a loose ball whenever it hits the floor.
– Butler coach Brad Stevens said the biggest thing that he’s learned from playing in the Atlantic 10 is that he needs to add more depth to his program. “It’s something we’re going to have to address,” Stevens said in regards to lengthening his rotation. “We don’t play that many guys to begin with. You see now with how physical this league is and how quick certain turnarounds are, you’re going to need more bodies.” It will be interesting to see how Butler performs during the second half of the season — especially in the front court. The physical pounding that the Bulldogs’ big men have taken so far this year has to be much more taxing then what they dealt with last season in the Horizon League.
– Pitt’s best offensive lineup is when J.J. Moore is at power forward and Cameron Wright is on one of the wings. Moore’s ability to stretch the defense creates better spacing while Wright is an accurate offensive player that doesn’t force things. This isn’t Jamie Dixon’s most talented team, but Pitt is quietly 18-5.
– This will be the year that Andy Toole gets over the hump and takes Robert Morris back to the NCAA Tournament. The Colonials have lost in back-to-back NEC title games to LIU but this group seems primed to change things. Velton Jones, Coron Williams, and Karvel Anderson give Toole three guards that can score the ball at a high level, and Russell Johnson is a crafty veteran that knows how to pick his spots. This is also a very balanced team. Robert Morris has six players on their roster that average 8.8 PPG or better.
– It wouldn’t be a news and notes type column without mentioning the depth of the Mountain West Conference. This league should push for at least four bids to the NCAA Tournament — but are Air Force and Boise State really going to be part of the conversation? Judging by last weekend, absolutely. The Falcons beat San Diego State and the Broncos upset UNLV at home.
– An underrated game this week will be Thursday night when Belmont plays at Murray State. The Bruins are a perfect 9-0 this year in the Ohio Valley, while the Racers have slipped a bit and sit at 6-2 in league play. For all the preseason hype that Murray State received, there’s more than a legitimate chance that they won’t make the NCAA Tournament if Belmont wins the league. The Racers’ best resume win was against St. John’s in the Charleston Classic, and that alone probably won’t be enough for them to receive consideration for at-large bid to the field of 68.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: NOTRE DAME AT SYRACUSE, OKLAHOMA AT IOWA STATE
TUESDAY: FLORIDA AT ARKANSAS, MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE
WEDNESDAY: STANFORD AT ARIZONA, LOUISVILLE AT RUTGERS, MINNESOTA AT MICHIGAN STATE, CINCINNATI AT PROVIDENCE, UCONN AT ST. JOHN’S,
THURSDAY: INDIANA AT ILLINOIS, NC STATE AT DUKE, COLORADO AT OREGON
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