- Let’s start at the top with the #1 ranked Memphis
Tigers. Memphis is the “other” undefeated team
right now but against Gonzaga
in the first half on Saturday, the
country got a sneak peak on how to defend the fast-paced Tigers. When
the Bulldogs took care of the basketball and played a spread out,
contain, 2-3 zone, the Tigers struggled a bit from long range. If you
can keep Memphis out of transition and out of the lane, you have a
chance. Problem is that’s easier said than done and in the
second half Memphis had its way with the Zags for the most part. I
still want to see someone make John Calipari’s talented squad
have to beat them from the outside. Problem is there’s not a
team on the schedule for Memphis who appears to have enough firepower
to compete with these guys except possibly Tennessee.
- I’m starting to really sour on the Big Ten. I’m just trying to figure out who’s for real and on a national scale where the top teams stand. The conference appeared to have one supreme team in Indiana but after watching Saturday’s performance by the Hoosiers I’m having a hard time believing that’s the seventh best team in the country. Everyone has a bad day but the Hoosiers played selfishly in the first half and simply got outworked by an undermanned UConn team. The Huskies arrived in Bloomington with nine scholarship players and without starter Jerome Dyson, and sixth man Doug Wiggins but Kelvin Sampson’s team failed to take advantage. It was a big win for the Huskies and a big win for the Big East conference. Eric Gordon is a star but he got lost yesterday. Gordon will have better days and he is lightning with the rock in his hands and super strong.
What do you say about Wisconsin? This is the second best team in the Big Ten, and I’m not sure they’re a top 25 caliber team. I know, I’m being tough on a team that’s 16-3 on the season with only one blemish on its conference record. But I just don’t like what I see from the Badgers. Even in some of their wins, they’ve played pretty spotty. January 31st we’ll get to see Indiana take on Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. I’m interested to see how this one goes. Let’s see what happens when the top two Big Ten teams meet up. I’m just curious to see how Wisconsin continues to fare on the road in Big Ten play because we know they’re tough at Kohl but remember, they don’t play there in March.
I echo my sentiments about Michigan State. Early on I was on the Spartan bandwagon and I know Tom Izzo will get this team playing well heading into March but the loss at Iowa really bothered me. I can live with the three-point loss at Wisconsin – it’s a super tough place to get a “w”. Maybe my feelings towards the Spartans will swing back the other way because they sure did look good this week in a wins at Northwestern and Minnesota.
- The Big East conference standings look like a New York City street around rush hour. It’s crowded and navigating this league schedule is treacherous. Nothing is a given anymore. I’ll give you an example – Villanova is 12th in the conference and ranked 18th in the country. They won’t be come Monday after two tough losses this week but what a crazy league this is.
Rutgers, who has looked abysmal at times this season, goes to Pittsburgh and handles the Panthers. It was a jaw-dropping 20-2 run and the second straight top 20 opponent to fall victim to the Scarlet Knights (Villanova was the other). That was an absolute shocker to me. Although Jamie Dixon’s roster is minus a couple of key performers it’s hard for me to believe that the Scarlet Knights should win at the Zoo. But let’s give Rutgers its due. Fred Hill is trying to put the Jersey program back on the map and this is a huge stepping stone for the conference. The best news for Hill is that most of the major contributions are coming from two freshmen guards from the Metro area – Mike Coburn out of Mount Vernon, NY(who I covered playing AAU ball a couple of summers ago) and Corey Chandler who hails from Newark, NJ. The future looks bright for this Rutgers team.
As for the rest of the conference, we already mentioned Connecticut, another team that’s tough to gauge. UConn got embarrassed at home by Providence a little over a week ago, since then the Huskies have reeled off three key tournament resume building wins – a home blow out against Marquette, a great road comeback vs. Cincinnati, and a gutty win at Indiana. UConn could be finally hitting its stride. A.J. Price, who KU head coach Bill Self recruited, is finally back and is playing like the guard he was hyped to be. Jim Calhoun coached his tail of showing why he’s a Hall of Famer with two titles to his name.
I’ve learned a lot about watching Georgetown this season. This is not the Hoya team that made the Final Four a year ago because of one thing – no Jeff Green. Green to me took a good Hoya team and made them great. John Thompson’s team cannot be taken lightly and I’ll tell you one thing – they aren’t blowing anyone out but they sure know how to win close games. In case you missed it, the Hoyas beat West Virginia by one in Morgantown on Saturday. Hoyas were up one and the Mountaineers managed to get, what looked like, a wide open layup but Patrick Ewing, Jr. jumped in his father’s body and blocked a drive at the buzzer. Underrated player on this Hoya squad? Jesse Sapp. I’ve seen that kid hit a few big threes when G-town needed them the most this season. Hoyas are still the best team in the Big East this season in my opinion.
There’s not enough time to talk about the rest of the conference, that’s what happens when you have 16 teams beating each other up. I’m sure is maddening if you’re a fan of the conference and intriguing if you’re a fan of college hoops watching from a distance.
- As for the Big 12, well a few questions remain. What to make of Texas A&M who bounced back from three straight losses with a close win at Oklahoma State on Saturday. How good is Baylor? The Bears won a thriller earlier in the week in four overtimes, and then dropped a contest at home to Oklahoma. Hmmmm...Kansas State is playing well especially in Manhattan, and Michael Beasley is a Beast! I can’t decide who would win if he and Kevin Love played one-on-one. I think Big 12 fans have circled Wednesday’s matchup against the Jayhawks on their calendars. Texas seems to be getting lost in the shuffle but I still think the Longhorns are the second best team in the conference – at least at the offensive end. I sometimes question the defense played by Texas teams and they do play a lot of zone but Rick Barnes has a bunch of offensive weapons at his disposal.
- I hope some fans around the country in other time zones are staying up to watch some of these late Pac-10 games. There was a terrific contest late Saturday night between USC and Oregon. USC controlled most of the game in impressive fashion despite an off night from Davon Jefferson. O.J. Mayo, un-phased by the ticket controversy, which by the way is another dumb rule by the NCAA, played the best I’ve seen him all year. Mayo really stayed within the offense and took good shots. The second half was as good an offensive game as I’ve seen by two teams in awhile. Big win for the Trojans in the Pit. For KU, the win at USC is looking better and better especially after Tim Floyd’s squad was able to notch road wins at UCLA and Oregon.
The late show between Oregon State and UCLA was close…for a half and then UCLA simply turned it on. Freshman Kevin Love is an AMAZING talent. Love is so strong and uses his frame so well. You need to watch this kid play if you haven’t yet. The scary thing about the Bruins is they’ve really had very few games with all their key guys at 100 percent. When they get totally healthy it could be scary. Darren Collison was TERRIFIC in that contest last night.
The tight overtime contest Kansas won earlier this season against Arizona is also started to look good. The Wildcats finally look comfortable and they can really score. Jerryd Bayless is healthy and Chase Budinger is so smooth. Look out for the Cats. It’s worth staying up late more than ever to watch some of these Pac-10 battles.
- Oh yeah, the ACC. I didn’t see much action from this conference on Saturday and for right now I’m going to skip talking about Carolina. How about the Dukies? Are they under the radar? Duke is likely going to move up to third in the nation this week and it might be the quietest I’ve ever seen a Blue Devil team. Coach K’s team is simply getting the job done and yes, they lack a true big man, but hasn’t that been the story for Duke for most of the last decade? They make up for it with some outstanding guards and Kyle Singler is just another freshman showing why he was so highly sought after. Jon Scheyer has embraced his role as sixth man and DeMarcus Nelson’s athleticism is fun to watch.