By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. THERE ARE NO GREAT TEAMS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL
That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of very good teams but with three months of the season behind us, I think it’s safe to say that parity is still dominating the sport. There’s not one squad in college basketball that’s playing even remotely close to the way Kentucky was in 2012 or even the way Louisville was a year ago. We all better count on another crazy NCAA Tournament in March.
2. VILLANOVA’S BENCH WILL DETERMINE ITS LONG-TERM FATE
The Wildcats were able to beat both Kansas and Iowa early in the season in the Bahamas because their top reserves — Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart, and Kris Jenkins — all played at an elite level. Villanova is 19-2 overall and will put themselves in position for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, but advancing in the field of 68 will depend on the Cats’ bench. If Ennis, Hart, Jenkins and senior point guard Tony Chennault can perform at a high level in reserve, Villanova will be a much harder team to play in six weeks.
3. FLORIDA IS EVERYTHING THAT’S RIGHT ABOUT COLLEGE BASKETBALL
All season long we’ve heard about elite freshmen or dominant individual talents, but very rarely do we hear about a team playing as a unit each and every time they take the floor. That’s what Florida is and that’s what makes them special. The Gators may not have a surefire lottery pick on their roster, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of winning a national title. Florida has a senior point guard in Scottie Wilbekin and several capable pieces that all play for the common goal of winning. This team would be one of the my picks to reach the Final Four if today was Selection Sunday.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK
1. IOWA STATE’S TRIP TO STILLWATER ON MONDAY NIGHT
This feels like an NBA game from the early 1990’s. Remember Jordan vs. Drexler? This is Smart vs. Kane. Oklahoma State has been in a bit of a tailspin lately but the Cowboys have a chance to right their ship on Monday night at home against Iowa State. Marcus Smart came into the Big 12 as the consensus pick for conference player of the year but DeAndre Kane has worked his way into that conversation with the way he’s played so far this season. This individual match up should be incredibly fun to watch and it highlights a game that Oklahoma State needs to win.
2. WICHITA STATE’S BATTLE WITH INDIANA STATE ON WEDNESDAY
The Shockers’ 23-0 record will be put to the test after this trip to Terre Haute. The Sycamores have an underrated coach in Greg Lansing, who privately believes that his team is good enough to find its way into the field of 68. The best way for Indiana State to make the NCAA Tournament? Beat Wichita State on Wednesday. This isn’t a particularly strong year for the Missouri Valley Conference, but this game should be the best 40-minute period of the regular season.
3. ARIZONA’S GAME AT OREGON ON THURSDAY
At the start of the season these looked like the two best teams in the Pac-12. Right now, the Ducks are still a major mystery while the Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season after Saturday’s defeat at Cal. Oregon is a loaded offensive team but the Ducks’ lack of defensive prowess could limit their effectiveness against Arizona. This is a big opportunity for Dana Altman’s team to regain some of the swagger they had in November and December.
THIS AND THAT:
– St. John’s performance on Saturday against Marquette reiterates why the Red Storm will be a feared team in the Big East Tournament in March. Steve Lavin’s team is ultra talented and will be playing on its home floor in the postseason. This is a story line to keep an eye on moving forward, especially if the Big East doesn’t have any teams step to the forefront behind Creighton and Villanova.
– Did Kentucky find a “close out” lineup during its win on Saturday at Missouri?. The Wildcats finished the game against the Tigers with Andrew and Aaron Harrison in the back court, James Young on the wing, and Alex Poythress and Julius Randle up front.
– The long-term potential for Harvard changes a bit without Kenyatta Smith. The 6-8 big man is now done for the season after re-injuring his foot last week in practice. Smith averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore and was supposed to be a major piece in the middle for the Crimson this season. When I was in Cambridge in October, Tommy Amaker told me that the key to Harvard was getting regular production in the pivot. I’m not saying I expect another team to win the Ivy League, but the chances of the Crimson winning a game or two in the NCAA Tournament may be significantly more difficult without Smith in the fold.
– Until someone proves otherwise, Davidson is still the team to beat in the SOCON. The Wildcats have the league’s best player in De’Mon Brooks (18.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and a gem in Miami (OH) transfer Brian Sullivan (12.3 PPG). Bob McKillop’s squad is 8-1 in conference play.
– Saint Joseph’s has given itself a chance to enter the bubble picture. The Hawks are now 5-2 in Atlantic 10 play after Saturday night’s win over UMass and will host Saint Louis and VCU in the next six days. If Phil Martelli’s club gets a split in these next two games, it might be right in the thick of things in March.
– A mid-major team to keep an eye on moving forward? Mercer. Bob Hoffman is playing 11 guys 9.8 minutes per game or more and that formula has already resulted in wins at Ole Miss and against Seton Hall. The Bears could be the 14 or 15 seed you don’t want to face in the round of 64.
– Amadeo Della Valle is slowly becoming more reliable as a scorer for Ohio State. The 6-5 wing has scored a combined 19 points in the Buckeyes’ last two games and had 11 on Saturday in Ohio State’s win at Wisconsin. For a team that desperately needs scoring, Della Valle’s role becomes more and more important moving forward.
– What has happened to Florida State? Leonard Hamilton’s squad showed major flashes of promise early but has lost four of its last five games and fell to Clemson at home on Saturday. The Seminoles are really struggling at 13-8.
– Iona is a mid-major version of the 1989 Illinois team that reached the Final Four with Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty, and Stephen Bardo. The Gaels start five players between 6-4 and 6-7 and switch every ball screen defensively. Tim Cluess has a legitimate chance to take Iona to three NCAA Tournaments in three seasons.
– The biggest thing I took away from Syracuse’s win over Duke on Saturday? Rakeem Christmas finished with seven points, 10 rebounds, and six blocked shots. The big man is slowly getting more productive for the Orange, who are now 21-0 and off to the best start in school history.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: IOWA STATE AT OKLAHOMA STATE, XAVIER AT VILLANOVA
TUESDAY: MISSOURI AT FLORIDA, KANSAS AT BAYLOR., OHIO STATE AT IOWA
WEDNESDAY: WICHITA STATE AT INDIANA STATE, SAINT LOUIS AT SAINT JOSEPH’S, LA SALLE AT UMASS, OKLAHOMA AT WEST VIRGINIA, STANFORD AT CAL, SAN DIEGO STATE AT BOISE STATE
THURSDAY: OREGON AT ARIZONA, UCONN AT CINCINNATI
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