By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. MISSOURI’S BACK COURT DESERVES TO BE MENTIONED AMONG THE ELITE IN THE SPORT
The Tigers’ perimeter triumvirate of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, and Earnest Ross wasn’t mentioned in the same breath at the start of the season with the back courts at UConn, Memphis, Louisville and Oklahoma State, but that will all change moving forward. Clarkson, Brown, and Ross all scored more than 20 points in Missouri’s win over UCLA on Saturday in Columbia, and that trio should make Frank Haith’s team an interesting squad to watch heading into the SEC. The Tigers have serious, serious firepower.
2. UMASS SHOULDN’T BE REFERRED TO AS “THIS YEAR’S LA SALLE”
And that doesn’t mean that the Minutemen can’t reach the Sweet 16 or beyond like the Explorers did last March. The reason why UMass shouldn’t be considered this year’s La Salle is because with the rate they’re going, they won’t be playing in the First Four — they’ll be in one of the other 64 slots in the NCAA Tournament. Derek Kellogg’s team is playing as well as anyone to start the season and already has wins over LSU, New Mexico, BYU, Nebraska, Boston College and Clemson. In Saturday’s win over BYU, Chaz Williams had 32 points, 15 assists, and just one turnover. If he isn’t the favorite for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, I don’t know who is.
3. WISCONSIN HAS SERIOUS EQUITY HEADING INTO THE BIG TEN
The Badgers will have to navigate arguably the toughest conference in college basketball to earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, but if they do that they’ll be in excellent shape down the road thanks to the work they’ve already done. Bo Ryan’s team already owns wins over St. John’s, Florida, West Virginia, Saint Louis, Virginia and Marquette. Those types of “resume victories” will be huge down the line when seeding comes into play. Why is it okay to talk about seeding and the Badgers in early December? Wisconsin has never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten standings since Ryan has been in Madison. Remember, there are three sure things in life. Death, taxes, and Bo Ryan.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. BOISE STATE’S TRIP TO RUPP ARENA
Kentucky’s brutal December stretch continues with a Boise State team that has every intention of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. The Broncos don’t have the physical ability to match up with Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, but they do possess one critical element that the Wildcats lack — experience. The Broncos have three veteran scorers in Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks, and Jeff Elorriaga that won’t be intimidated by the allure of playing in one of the sport’s most prestigious venues. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky handles Boise State’s spacing and ability to spread the floor from four different positions.
2. KANSAS’ SHOWDOWN WITH FLORIDA ON TUESDAY NIGHT IN GAINESVILLE
Both of these teams are far from where they’re going to be in a few months but the Jayhawks and Gators are still two of college basketball’s brand name programs. Bill Self has a team filled with talented pieces but they’re still a ways away from being a cohesive unit. Florida meanwhile, has been devastated by injuries and just needs to get everyone healthy before they actually take inventory of what they have. This should be a solid battle between two teams that could each use a quality non-conference victory before the holidays.
3. FINDING OUT HOW COMPETITIVE NEW MEXICO STATE WILL BE WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT ARIZONA
Why am I so intrigued with the Aggies? They look like a team that could be a nuisance to play as a 14 or 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State has a returning core that played in the field of 68 a year ago, led by talented combo guard Daniel Mullings. This is also the first game Arizona will play after being ranked No. 1 and it will be interesting to see how they respond against a quality mid-major that’s sandwiched on the schedule between UNLV and Michigan.
THIS AND THAT:
– Colorado sophomore center Josh Scott is getting a little better with each game. The 6-10 big man scored 14 points on nine shots in the Buffaloes’ win over Kansas on Saturday and is averaging 12.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season. Scott really showed his ability to be a pick-and-pop threat against the Jayhawks and is starting to display a knack to regularly extend the defense from the high post.
– Keep an eye on South Florida freshman Chris Perry. The 6-8 power forward has posted back-to-back double doubles and had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the Bulls’ win over Alabama on Saturday. Stan Heath has two legitimate front court building blocks in Perry and freshman John Egbunu.
– Cincinnati’s lack of half court offense was alarming Saturday at New Mexico. Mick Cronin’s teams have always defended at an elite level, but this group needs to find another scoring threat next to Sean Kilpatrick. The two likeliest candidates? Freshmen guards Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson.
– If Baylor’s Rico Gathers didn’t play behind Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin, he’d be one of the most productive big men in the country. The 6-8 power forward grabbed 13 rebounds in 22 minutes in the Bears’ win over Kentucky last Friday and is averaging 7.1 RPG in just 15.9 MPG.
– Stanford just can’t seem to catch a break with injuries. The Cardinal only had Anthony Brown for four games last season due to a hip issue, then lost Rosco Allen in the preseason with a stress fracture, and now will be without Aaron Bright for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. Bright’s role had been diminished this season but he was still a veteran guard that could come in and spell Brown and Chasson Randle. Johnny Dawkins’ team is currently 6-2.
– It’s officially “Code Red” time for Saint Joseph’s. I don’t want to sound like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men and go Colonal Jessup here, but the Hawks need to understand what’s at stake in each game they play. The non-conference schedule has come and gone and Phil Martelli’s team has yet to earn a victory that could benefit their resume in March. Saint Joseph’s lost at home on Saturday night by 30 to Villanova and were beaten to virtually every loose ball throughout the 40 minute affair. The next game for the 4-4 Hawks? Drexel on 12/18.
– The best freshman in the Big 12 that no one is talking about? Texas’ Isaiah Taylor. The combo guard is averaging 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game and has brought an infusion of energy to the 8-1 Longhorns.
– Did you see that St. John’s team that beat Fordham by 46 the other day? That’s what happens when all the talent on the Red Storm’s roster clicks at the same time. Scary, isn’t it?
– Purdue freshman Kendall Stephens looks like he’s going to be Boilermakers’ three-point specialist. In 10 games, Stephens has made 22 three-point shots and is shooting 39.6% from behind the arc.
– The worst part about finals week? Fewer games on the college basketball schedule. One thing I learned a long time is that a day has a better chance of being special if you know there’s eventually going to be a tip-off somewhere.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: BRYANT AT NOTRE DAME
TUESDAY: BOISE STATE AT KENTUCKY, KANSAS AT FLORIDA, GONZAGA AT WEST VIRGINIA
WEDNESDAY: NEW MEXICO STATE AT ARIZONA, BOSTON UNIVERSITY AT GEORGE WASHINGTON
THURSDAY: MARYLAND AT BOSTON COLLEGE
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