By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW MEMPHIS DOES IN CONFERENCE PLAY
The Tigers are no longer in Conference-USA and that’s just what they were reminded of when they were beaten at home on Saturday by Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ ferocity wore down Memphis by the middle of the second half, and this is exactly the type of competition Josh Pastner’s team will now endure on a regular basis since they’re in the American Athletic Conference. Every team the Tigers play isn’t going to be as ferocious as Cincinnati but it’s worth noting that the bar will be significantly raised for Memphis each time they take the floor. Next up for the Tigers? A date Thursday with Louisville at the KFC Yum Center.
2. NOTRE DAME WILL STILL BE A FACTOR IN THE ACC
Nobody figures out things better during the course of a season than Mike Brey. The Irish lost their best player a few weeks ago when Jerian Grant was forced to withdraw from the school for academic reasons, but that doesn’t mean Brey won’t have this team in position to compete for a spot at the top of the ACC Standings. Notre Dame won’t be the same team as it was with Grant in the lineup, but they still have a chance to be very effective. The Irish showed tremendous grit in their win over Duke on Saturday in South Bend and have some promising freshmen in Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, and Demetrius Jackson. Keep an eye on Notre Dame.
3. BRIANTE WEBER’S STAR RISES A LITTLE WITH EACH GAME HE PLAYS
And that’s good news for VCU. Weber put on an absolute show on Friday night when the Rams beat a very good Stony Brook team, who should be in the NCAA Tournament if they take care of business in the America East. Weber scored 14 points, dished out nine assists, had seven steals, and committed no turnovers in the win over Seawolves and single handedly broke the game open at the start of the second half. VCU may have started out a little slow, but they’re 12-3 heading into the Atlantic 10 and still look very much like they’re on their way to winning 25-plus games.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. BAYLOR’S TRIP TO IOWA STATE ON TUESDAY
The Big 12 is looking more and more like it has a legitimate case to be called the deepest league in college basketball and these two teams represent two of the conference’s best squads. Scott Drew’s team has only lost to Syracuse in the finals of the Maui Invitational while the Cyclones are still undefeated. The key match up in this game? How will Baylor’s big men — Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin — adjust to Iowa State’s front court of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang and their ability to extend the defense. Hilton Coliseum will be rocking for this one.
2. OHIO STATE’S DATE IN EAST LANSING WITH MICHIGAN STATE
This is Big Ten basketball at its best. Sparty has been off the charts since losing to North Carolina a month ago and the Buckeyes are playing like a vintage Thad Matta team. Michigan State has taken things to another level in the second half of its two conference wins against Penn State and Indiana, and seems to get stronger as the game goes along. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues against a veteran team like the Buckeyes.
3. HARVARD’S ANNUAL VOYAGE TO STORRS TO PLAY UCONN
The Crimson come into this game trying to earn a key non-conference win. The Huskies are attempting to end a two-game losing streak. UConn got off to an 0-2 start in the AAC after losses to both Houston and SMU on the road and returning home to play Harvard is not exactly going to be any easier. Tommy Amaker’s team has good depth and possesses the type of size up front that could give the Huskies fits on the glass. Don’t be shocked if the Crimson leave Storrs with a victory on Wednesday.
THIS AND THAT:
– One of the biggest things that stood out to me from over the weekend? The renovations at Moody Coliseum. Larry Brown has put SMU in a position to be a national story because of the players that he’s recruited but now it looks like the Mustangs will also have a formidable home court advantage as well. The upgrades at SMU’s home arena brought a big game feel when the Mustangs beat UConn on Saturday and that’s great news for the American Athletic Conference, who need the Dallas school to continue to rise in all areas.
– I really underestimated just how good Creighton was prior to the season. The Big East due to injuries and suspensions isn’t the conference we expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean the Bluejays aren’t still a lethal team that can do damage. Creighton has culture, a first-round pick in Doug McDermott, and the type of “know how” that oozes from winning programs. I was concerned about how this team would react in a higher level league without a stalwart like Gregory Echenique, but they’re doing just fine without him.
– How does Pitt’s one-point loss to Cincinnati look now?
– South Florida simply cannot function without Anthony Collins. The Bulls have lost four straight games without their junior point guard and just aren’t the same team without Collins, a player that led South Florida to two NCAA Tournament wins in 2012. Stan Heath said he hopes Collins can play Thursday when South Florida visits Temple.
– Kansas State has won nine games in a row and is now 11-3 after Saturday’s upset win over Oklahoma State. A big reason for the Wildcats’ success? Their freshmen trio of Jevon Thomas, Wesley Iwundu, and Marcus Foster. Bruce Weber’s first-year players weren’t hyped up much before the season but they’re now contributing on a regular basis. Keep an eye on Thomas, who had eight points and five assists against the Cowboys.
– Long Beach State is 3-1 since getting UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb eligible with the only loss coming at Missouri. The 6-5 Lamb is averaging 20.8 PPG through four games and gives the 49ers another capable perimeter scorer next to veteran guard Mike Caffey. The Big West is still somewhat open, but Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine will all be tough to beat.
– Rhode Island’s win over LSU on Saturday in Baton Rouge could be the type of win the Rams need to get things going. The Rams were thought to be a trendy pick to do damage in the Atlantic 10, but are only 9-6 heading into league play after starting center Jordan Hare left the team in the preseason. Next up for Rhode Island? A home date with Saint Louis on Tuesday (7:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network).
– If Cal can ever get healthy, the Bears could be a serious challenger in the Pac-12. Mike Montgomery’s team has a veteran point guard in Justin Cobbs and solid bigs in Richard Solomon and David Kravish. The most important thing for Cal right now? Getting both Ricky Kreklow and Jabari Bird back healthy as soon as possible. The Bears don’t have a quality front court sub for Solomon and Kravish and regularly used Kreklow up front as an undersized power forward. He and Bird need to heal quickly as this team moves forward in the Pac-12.
– Did anyone else think Houston would be 2-0 in conference play? Me neither. The most impressive thing about the Cougars’ posting back-to-back wins over UConn and South Florida? They did it without three starters — L.J. Rose, Danuel House, and J.J. Richardson. James Dickey’s club will next host Cincinnati Tuesday at 9 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
– St. John’s may have the most talent in the Big East, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to win in the Big East. The Red Storm were embarrassed Saturday at Georgetown and are now 0-2 in league play. Next up? Villanova on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: MARYLAND AT PITT
TUESDAY: OHIO STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE, BAYLOR AT IOWA STATE, SAINT LOUIS AT RHODE ISLAND, CINCINNATI AT HOUSTON
WEDNESDAY: KANSAS AT OKLAHOMA, HARVARD AT UCONN, ILLINOIS AT WISCONSIN, BOISE STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
THURSDAY: MEMPHIS AT LOUISVILLE, CAL AT OREGON, ARIZONA AT UCLA
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