By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. DUKE’S ROLE ALLOCATION IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
The Blue Devils have three known commodities in Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and point guard Quinn Cook, but after that everything is in flux. It’s going to take some time for Mike Krzyzewski to determine which ancillary pieces fit best with Duke’s main three components. The Blue Devils have three capable wings in Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulamon and freshman Matt Jones along with three solid frontcourt role players in Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee. Once those two spots are defined, Duke will be a better basketball team simply because their continuity will be improved.
2. DAYTON WILL BE A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE ATLANTIC 10
The Flyers were beyond terrific in the Maui Invitational, scoring wins over Gonzaga and Cal while nearly upsetting Baylor. Dayton has slightly altered the way they’ve played during the past few seasons, and now uses a focus on having skilled players at all spots on the floor. Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert looks like he’s emerged as this team’s go-to guy while Devin Oliver has become a legitimate pick-and-pop five man. This team belongs in the conversation with VCU, Saint Louis and UMass atop the Atlantic 10 standings. They’re that good.
3. VILLANOVA HAS RETURNED TO NATIONAL PROMINENCE
The Wildcats made a statement this past weekend by winning the Battle For Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. With victories over Kansas and Iowa, Jay Wright’s program re-established the culture they had when they went to the Final Four in 2009. For a few years, Villanova had players in their program that came to the Main Line with high pedigree but little substance. That’s not the case anymore. Wright’s two freshman — Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart — are two blue-collar system guys who embrace their roles. The most impressive thing about this first-year duo? Both were on the floor in crunch time on Saturday night against the Hawkeyes.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. FLORIDA’S TRIP TO UCONN
Two of college basketball’s elite programs will square off on Monday in what will be a stern test for both teams. The Huskies have yet to lose a game this season while the Gators were only defeated when they played at Wisconsin. Florida has gotten a boost in the past two games thanks to the return of veteran point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was out for the early part of the season with a suspension. Wilbekin’s return has had a major effect on sharpshooter Michael Frazier, who’s made 10 three-point shots in Florida’s last two games. Billy Donovan’s team has a distinct edge in the middle against UConn with veteran big man Patric Young manning the pivot, and it will be interesting to see how the Huskies respond against Young inside.
2. INDIANA VS. SYRACUSE IN THE ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE
The Hoosiers will be looking for payback against the Orange after Jim Boeheim’s team knocked Indiana out of the NCAA Tournament last March in the Sweet 16. Tom Crean has a young team that’s probably a month or two away from being at their best. The key in this game? How Indiana does against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The Hoosiers had all sorts of problems attacking the Orange defense last year in the Sweet 16 and it will be interesting to see what types of adjustments Crean makes Tuesday night in the Carrier Dome. One thing Indiana will have to do to have a chance to pull the upset? Find a way to slow down C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, who have both been off the charts to start the season.
3. MARYLAND’S TILT AT OHIO STATE ON WEDNESDAY
Mark Turgeon’s team has drastically improved since they lost at home two weeks ago vs. Oregon State, but being competitive on the road against the Buckeyes will be a tall task. The Terps still don’t have a reliable active point guard with Seth Allen on the shelf for about another month with a foot injury. Without a consistent ball handler at their disposal, Maryland will attempt to run consistent offense against a defense led by one of the best on-ball defenders we’ve seen in recent memory in Aaron Craft. I firmly believe that the Terps will be a contender in the ACC when Allen returns, but they’ll need to play really well without him just to have a chance on the road in Columbus.
THIS AND THAT:
– Missouri’s perimeter is going to be awfully tough to stop in the SEC. The Tigers’ trio of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross are currently averaging a combined 52.1 PPG through seven games, with Brown shooting an impressive 46.7 percent from three-point range. Frank Haith’s team will get a chance to make multiple national statements this week. Missouri hosts both West Virginia and UCLA in the next six days.
– UMass coach Derek Kellogg told me that he’s very happy with the Minutemen’s 6-0 start, but feels that in order for them to legitimately have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 they need to find a quality eighth or ninth man in their rotation.
“That could be the difference between being a good team and a great team,” Kellogg said in reference to expanding his team’s depth. “We need someone else to add something to our top seven.”
The two top candidates for UMass to fill those roles are rugged sophomore forward Tyler Bergantino and 6-foot-5 freshman guard Demetrius Dyson. UMass is at Eastern Michigan on Tuesday and hosts BYU on Saturday on CBS Sports Network (1:30 PM ET).
– Maryland sophomore Jake Layman is an emerging star. The 6-foot-8 forward is leading the Terps in scoring at 16.4 PPG and has made 23-of-45 three-point shots so far this season. Think another Chandler Parsons.
– Virginia freshman London Perrantes is quietly making a major impact for the Cavaliers. The point guard has handed out 19 assists and only committed two turnovers in the team’s last four games. The hardest part about playing Tony Bennett’s team? Virginia has multiple players who can be the assassin. You can’t just key on one guy.
– Duquesne is going to pick some people off in the Atlantic 10. The Dukes battled Pitt for 30 minutes on Saturday and showed major signs of promise despite suffering a loss. Jim Ferry’s team has an All-Atlantic 10 player in UAB transfer Ovie Soko (18.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and better perimeter scoring than they had last season thanks to the additions of Tra’Vaughn White and freshman Desmond Ridenhour.
– If you haven’t bought stock in Pitt’s James Robinson, you better call your financial adviser ASAP. The Panthers’ sophomore point guard has 34 assists and just six turnovers so far this season.
– Colorado is a better offensive team than they were last season, but I’m still not sold on the Buffaloes defensively post Andre Roberson. Colorado’s next four games — at Colorado State, Kansas, Elon and Oklahoma State in Las Vegas.
– Syracuse associate head coach Mike Hopkins told me at a preseason practice that the Orange had to get more offensively out of the center position this year. So far through seven games, Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita are only averaging a combined 12.5 PPG and 12.2 RPG.
– If Butler can get freshman guard Elijah Brown to be consistent, the Bulldogs have a chance to be an absolute nuisance in the Big East. The problem with Brown is he’s a feast or famine type scorer and Butler needs him to be somewhere in the middle.
– St. John’s sophomore center Chris Obekpa has 35 blocks in his last five games. The best shot-blocker in the country? It’s not even close.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: FLORIDA AT UCONN, MERCER AT OKLAHOMA
TUESDAY: MICHIGAN AT DUKE, INDIANA AT SYRACUSE, NOTRE DAME AT IOWA
WEDNESDAY: MARYLAND AT OHIO STATE, NORTH CAROLINA AT MICHIGAN STATE, WISCONSIN AT VIRGINIA
THURSDAY: WEST VIRGINIA AT MISSOURI, PROVIDENCE AT RHODE ISLAND
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