By Jon Rothstein
» More Columns
THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. THE ATLANTIC 10 STILL GOES THROUGH SAINT LOUIS
There may be other teams that have come to the forefront early in the season like UMass, VCU, or George Washington, but this conference still goes through the Billikens. The defending Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champions are terrific defensively and took Dayton out of everything they wanted to do on Saturday. Jim Crews’ team is 15-2 and has only lost to two undefeated teams — Wisconsin and Wichita State.
2. THE ACC HAS BEEN INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTING
This was supposed to be the best conference in the history of college basketball. So far, it’s been anything but. The two best teams in the ACC right now? Two new additions from the old Big East — Syracuse and Pitt. The recent struggles by both Duke and North Carolina only compound what has been a disappointing start for a league that was filled with massive preseason hype. Last summer, several coaches talked about this conference being so strong that it would warrant eight or nine NCAA bids on an annual basis. There’s no way that’s going to happen this season.
3. JORDAN WOODARD IS THE KEY TO OKLAHOMA
Lon Kruger may have better scorers on his roster, but this freshman point guard is the guy who makes the Sooners go. In Saturday’s win over Iowa State, Woodard managed the game like a veteran quarterback in the NFL playoffs and scored seven points, dished out five assists and only committed one turnover. Oklahoma is playing a faster pace this season, featuring multiple guards, and that’s why Woodard has been able to be so effective. The 6-foot-0 floor general is averaging 12.1 PPG and 4.6 APG for the Sooners, who are 13-3 and 2-1 in the Big 12.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. KANSAS/IOWA STATE ON MONDAY AT HILTON COLISEUM
Let’s be candid. These programs don’t care for one another. The Jayhawks are Big 12 royalty and the Cyclones are the new team on the block. Iowa State had Kansas on the ropes twice last season and is craving a win Monday night in the worst way. Bill Self’s team lost four games during an incredibly difficult non-conference slate, but is starting to resemble a team that is really hitting its stride. For the Cyclones to have any chance to win, they’re going to need a big effort from DeAndre Kane, who suffered an ankle sprain in Saturday’s loss vs. Oklahoma. I’m hearing if Kane can walk, he will play. That’s good news for Iowa State, who can make a statement with a victory tonight at Hilton Coliseum.
2. VIRGINIA’S TRIP TO CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM
Duke is desperate and the Cavaliers are coming off a 31-point win on Saturday at NC State. Sounds like a good story line right? Tony Bennett’s team isn’t overly flashy but they guard you for 40 minutes and have an incredibly underrated point guard in freshman London Perrantes. Duke is coming off a loss at Clemson and the Blue Devils don’t look like a very tough team right now. I wouldn’t want to play Virginia if I wasn’t tough. The Cavaliers are going to push Mike Krzyzewski’s squad. That’s a guarantee.
3. VCU’S SHOWDOWN AT GW ON TUESDAY
This game wreaks of opportunity. Mike Lonergan told me before the season that in order for his team to take the next step they would have to win their important home games. They’ll have a chance to do just that on Tuesday against Shaka Smart and the Rams. VCU wants to play as fast as possible while Lonergan wants to manage the game like a chess match featuring Bobby Fischer. Tip off is Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
THIS AND THAT:
– Teams in the ACC are having an awfully tough time adjusting to Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, especially in the Carrier Dome. The Orange have played two conference home games and have held Miami and North Carolina to a combined 89 points.
– Texas A & M is 2-0 in SEC play and one of the biggest reasons why is Alex Caruso. The Aggies were left without their expected starting point guard when J’Mychal Reese was dismissed from the team earlier this season and Caruso has stepped in admirably. In two conference games, Caruso has 19 assists and just four turnovers.
– Who is the breakout star in the Big Ten? It could be Richard Pitino. Minnesota’s first-year coach may be 2-2 after four league games but he took Michigan State to overtime on Saturday in East Lansing and has had a chance to win each conference game he’s played. I was concerned how the Gophers would do this season after losing three starters off last year’s team that reached the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, but Pitino has really got his guys to respond and play at a high level.
– If Arkansas wants to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, it has to beat Kentucky on Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena. That may sound crazy, but it’s the truth. The Razorbacks are a different team when they play at home and need to cash in on one of the few opportunities they have to earn a resume building win. Mike Anderson’s squad let one slip away in Saturday’s overtime loss vs. Florida.
– There’s not many point guards in America playing better than Cal’s Justin Cobbs. In three Pac-12 games, Cobbs is averaging 19.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. The Bears are 3-0 in league play and 12-4 overall.
– St. John’s showed its promise in Saturday’s loss against Villanova, but it also showed why it’s such a frustrating team at times. The Red Storm have the talent and ability to take teams like the Wildcats and Syracuse to the limit, but they can’t seem to close the deal in the game’s final minutes. Steve Lavin’s team is 0-3 in the Big East and 9-6 overall.
– Michigan State freshman Kenny Kaminski is emerging as a role player. The 6-8 forward made a combined 10 three-point shots in back-to-back wins this week over Ohio State and Minnesota. Look for Kaminski’s minutes to potentially expand as Big Ten play moves along.
– I’ve never seen a team have a season like Vanderbilt. The Commodores looked like an NCAA caliber squad last summer but have since lost 80 percent of its projected starting lineup for several different reasons. Murphy’s Law? It certainly feels that way.
– Former VCU assistant Will Wade is off to a strong start in his first year at Chattanooga. The Mocs have won six consecutive games and are 4-0 in the SOCON.
– There’s such a fine line between winning and losing in conference play. Penn State and Utah have each lost two games by a single possession. It really is that close.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: KANSAS AT IOWA STATE, VIRGINIA AT DUKE
TUESDAY: VCU AT GEORGE WASHINGTON, KENTUCKY AT ARKANSAS, WISCONSIN AT INDIANA, OKLAHOMA AT KANSAS STATE, PITT AT GEORGIA TECH
WEDNESDAY: NOTRE DAME AT MARYLAND, GEORGETOWN AT XAVIER, UNLV AT NEW MEXICO
THURSDAY: UCONN AT MEMPHIS, UCLA AT COLORADO, ARIZONA STATE AT ARIZONA, OHIO STATE AT MINNESOTA