By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. UCONN WILL WIN OVER 23-24 GAMES AND CHALLENGE LOUISVILLE IN THE AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
The Huskies showed signs of brilliance in Friday night’s 78-77 win over Maryland at the Barclays Center, and even though they only beat the Terps by a single point, there was more than enough reasons to believe that Kevin Ollie’s squad will be a top 15-20 team all season. Shabazz Napier may very well be the best guard in college basketball and UConn has several quality secondary scorers in Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, and Lasan Kromah. Who is the X-factor for this team? It could be 6-11 freshman big man Amida Brimah. Long and active, Brimah finished with five points, three rebounds, and three blocks against Maryland.
2. UCLA FRESHMAN ZACH LAVINE IS GOING TO BE A MAJOR PROBLEM FOR PEOPLE IN THE PAC-12
Just ask Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. LaVine had 14 points in the Bruins 72-67 win over the Dragons at Pauley Pavilion, including 11 in the first half. “We had no answer for him,” Flint said after the game. An incredible athlete that excels in the open floor, the 6-5 LaVine could be UCLA top offensive player after Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.
3. JOSH SMITH WILL HAVE TWO HIGH-LEVEL YEARS AT GEORGETOWN
It may have been only one game, but Smith was beyond dominant in the Hoyas’ loss to Oregon on Friday. Georgetown featured Smith with regularity and he responded with 25 points in 27 minutes. When the big man catches the ball in the low post, he’s either going to score or get to the foul line. The main reason why the Hoyas fell to Oregon? They couldn’t make a shot, only connecting on a single three-pointer in 15 attempts. It’s going to take some time for Georgetown’s perimeter players to get used to having higher percentage looks thanks to the fact that they’re now playing with a low post scorer like Smith that can open up the floor.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK
1. THE CHAMPIONS CLASSIC ON TUESDAY IN CHICAGO
Does it get any better than this? Four of college basketball’s blue bloods — Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, and Duke — get together in what is a dream doubleheader. The Wildcats and Spartans will kick things off in what should be a fascinating showdown between one entirely new team (Kentucky), and one that’s beyond experienced (Michigan State). Meanwhile the nightcap with Kansas and Duke will feature two of the top freshman in the country in the Jayhawks’ Andrew Wiggins and the Blue Devils’ Jabari Parker. This is the one event each season that makes November feel like the first weekend in April.
2. ARIZONA’S TRIP TO SAN DIEGO STATE ON THURSDAY
The entire West Coast will be glued to this one. The Wildcats may represent Sean Miller’s best chance to reach a Final Four since he’s been a head coach while the Aztecs are one of the longest teams in college basketball. San Diego State will start four players over 6-foot-7 and have the type of length that could remind people of the 2010 West Virginia team that reached the Final Four. Arizona’s outside shooting will likely get its first legitimate test of the season as the Wildcats invade one of the sport’s most underrated venues in Viejas Arena.
3. TOWSON’S CHANCE TO MAKE A NATIONAL STATEMENT
Are the Tigers one of the better mid-majors in college basketball? We’ll have a better idea after this week. Pat Skerry’s team will host a young Temple squad on Thursday night in Baltimore and then travel to Villanova on Sunday. The one thing Towson has going for itself against both of these opponents? Fifth-year senior Jerrelle Benimon. The 6-8 forward may have the best chance of any player in college basketball this season of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He’s that good.
THIS AND THAT:
– The most impressive stat line of the opening weekend? Duke point guard Quinn Cook scored 21 points, had eight assists, and didn’t commit a single turnover in the Blue Devils win over Davidson. If Duke is to be the team many expect it to be, Cook will be the key.
– VCU won’t be able to replace Troy Daniels’ outside shooting with one player, but the guy most likely to fill the void may be sophomore Melvin Johnson. A big time offensive talent with serious range, Johnson made three three-pointers in 17 minutes and finished with 11 points in the Rams’ rout of Illinois State. The 6-3 Johnson could be a major weapon off the bench for Shaka Smart.
– You think Penn State missed Tim Frazier? The fifth-year senior scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out four assists in the Nittany Lions win over Wagner on Saturday. It was the first game back for Frazier after suffering an Achilles injury last November that sidelined him all of last season. I’m really looking forward to seeing this squad on Saturday at the Palestra against Penn.
– Speaking of the Quakers, I was thoroughly impressed with their one-two punch of Tony Hicks and 6-11 big man Darien Nelson-Henry when I saw them against Temple on Saturday. Hicks is a big-time scorer who finished with 28 points in the loss, and Nelson-Henry is a strong option in the pivot. Don’t be surprised if Jerome Allen’s team winds up as the top challenger to Harvard in the Ivy League.
– I had a really nice chat with former UConn coach Jim Calhoun prior to Friday’s game against Maryland at the Barclays Center. The one player he couldn’t stop raving about? Rodney Purvis. The 6-4 guard will sit out this year after transferring from NC State and be eligible next fall for the 2014-15 season.
– Another year, another Gonzaga big man breaks out? Skilled southpaw Sam Dower tallied 21 points and 17 rebounds in the Wildcats’ opener over Bryant over the weekend and looks like he’s ready for a big year. I’ve always loved Dower’s feel and ability to use angles well around the rim. Remember, it’s not that Dower hasn’t been good the last few years, he was just stuck playing behind Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk.
– Dangerous game for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers tonight at UAB. Several Conference-USA coaches have told me they feel the Blazers have a legitimate chance to be right in the mix for a league title. UAB has two solid veterans in Rod Rucker and Jordan Swing, along with an impact newcomer in JUCO guard Chad Frazier.
– Manhattan’s 99-90 double-overtime victory at La Salle on Saturday was easily the biggest win of Steve Masiello’s coaching career. The Jaspers controlled the game for much of the second half, then lost the lead, but rallied to pull out the victory. Masiello has six players — Mike Alvarado, George Beamon, Shane Richards, Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey, and Rhamel Brown — that could have some sort of impact in most BCS leagues. The key to this team after watching Saturday’s game in Philadelphia? Andujar. The skilled forward is a mid-major version of UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and creates mismatches on a regular basis against traditional big men. Andujar finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and three steals against the Explorers.
– Fordham is going with a four-guard lineup to start the season, and it will be a lot easier to continue that alignment if Rams’ freshman Jon Severe plays as well as he did in the team’s opener. The highly touted combo guard scored 28 points and made seven three-pointers in Fordham 87-67 win over St. Francis (PA).
– Shout out to one of the good guys in the business — St. Francis (NY) coach Glenn Braica — whose team beat Miami in overtime on Friday night. The Terriers have a commuter campus in the heart of Brooklyn Heights with minimal resources, and they went on the road and beat “The U”. College basketball. Where the unexpected becomes the ordinary.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: URI AT SMU, BYU AT STANFORD
TUESDAY: LSU AT UMASS, NC STATE AT CINCINNATI, VCU AT VIRGINIA, FLORIDA AT WISCONSIN, KENTUCKY VS. MICHIGAN STATE, DUKE VS. KANSAS, TENNESSEE AT XAVIER
WEDNESDAY: WRIGHT STATE AT GEORGETOWN
THURSDAY: ARIZONA AT SAN DIEGO STATE, NORTHWESTERN AT STANFORD, TEMPLE AT TOWSON
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