|This story originally published on FrankHoops.com|
How good is the
We'll have a much better idea sometime late into Sunday night in Seattle, after the Huskies and Gonzaga have wrapped up what should be the most entertaining and frenetic showdown of the first December college hoops weekend.
The teams have shared just a single common opponent in a University of Idaho team that the Bulldogs struggled to beat (69-60 in their home opener). Four evenings later the Huskies tagged the Vandals by 23 points.
But a truer indication, naturally, of just how good Gonzaga is can be derived with a glance at its scores in the EA Sports/Maui Invitational, which show the Bulldogs knocking off a couple of projected NCAA tournament clubs (Maryland and Michigan State) while losing to expected Final Four participant Connecticut on a turn-around jumper by Denham Brown with a second to play in the event's title game the night before Thanksgiving.
Coach Mark Few's Bulldogs are missing a couple of key players in senior wing Erroll Knight (knee surgery) and red-shirt freshman post Josh Heytvelt (a fractured ankle suffered in Lahaina during the first half with Connecticut), while the Huskies are without a senior starter, post Mike Jensen (shoulder surgery).
But a freshman, Jon Brockman, is more of a scoring threat in the post than is Jensen. He'll be the Pacific 10 Conference's Freshman of the Year.
Brockman, defensively, could have a tough go of it, though, if he's called on to check Gonzaga senior J.P. Batista 1-on-1 down low. No one at the EA Sports/Maui Invitational had much luck trying.
And the Huskies' Bobby Jones, regarded in most circles as the top 1-on-1 defender in the Pac 10, will face the toughest test he's likely to face in his senior season whenever he's matched up with the best offensive forward in the country in Adam Morrison.
Look for both teams to score in the 90s and for the Bulldogs to win it on a Morrison 3-pointer with Jones draped all over him. Or something like that.
BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY
Each has feasted on the likes of Samford, Binghamton, Belmont, Stony Brook, Lehigh and Rider, with the Sooners' average winning margin being 21.5 points and the Wildcats' a Washington-like 36.3.
The exhibition schedule is officially over Saturday, guys.
Watch for the Sooners to crowd the
Villanova jump shooters while Coach Jay Wright's defenders will try to
keep the ball from going into
Barring one of those 17 3-point field goals performances the Wildcats turned in against Lehigh, the Sooners' superior strength inside and the under-appreciated (nationally) play of Kelvin Sampson's guards, especially Terrell Everett, should enable Oklahoma to leave town 5-0.
*All things considered – namely, the loss of their top seven players off their national championship team – the University of North Carolina Tar Heels acquitted themselves quite impressively during an eventual 68-64 loss Tuesday night to a Illinois squad that, despite heavy losses of its own from that national title showdown in St. Louis, looked good enough to contend for a Big Ten title.
David Noel is having a more-than-solid senior season for Roy Williams and Tyler Hansbrough is on track to be the national Freshman of the Year for the Tar Heels. Even with so many freshmen as part of the equation, UNC should win enough games within and outside the Atlantic Coast Conference to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
And just how good could Williams' crew be a year from now, when the current freshmen are sophomores (and, after Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard looks like the best of the bunch) and lock 2006 McDonald's All-Americas Brandan Wright, Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington are in the starting lineup?
It will be very, very good – as in national championship-contender good.
The Tar Heels play Kentucky in
Lexington Saturday and, in most instances, that would be the glamour matchup of
the weekend. But not on this weekend, not with the games that will take place in
*More on Illinois: The Illini were able to escape Chapel Hill with a 5-0 record despite something well short of an All-America performance out of last season's Big Ten Player of the Year, guard Dee Brown (six of 19 shoots, including 0-for-6 on 3's, five turnovers and only three assists).
He's much better than that, of course. And that's why, along with fellow returning starter James Augustine and several other players, including Brian Randle and Marcus Arnold, red-shirts on the team that won 37 games, the Illini will be in the hunt to the very end for another Big Ten title.
Michigan State has had some impressive moments (and, of course, some of the other kind, if you recall that unsightly 22-point loss to open the season against the University of Hawaii) but hasn't played like the clear favorite to win the Big Ten that some – myself included – painted the Spartans.
Illini, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana (how about that effort by Marco Killingsworth against Shelden Williams and Duke in Bloomington Wednesday night?) and Ohio State are all capable of winning the Big Ten.
*The Missouri Valley Conference
could have flexed its muscles again this week but
Northern Iowa (at home to Iowa on Tuesday) and Creighton (when it plays host to Nebraska on Dec. 11) will have more opportunities to seize some national pizzazz, however.
*Nebraska and Kansas State, considered second-tier teams in the Big 12, had wins Wednesday that should have gotten your attention in a hurry.
The Cornhuskers slapped
As if we needed reminding . . . the Big 12 Conference is going to be a lot more than just a Texas-Oklahoma battle for first place this season.
*How easily was 6-10 Nick Fazekas (35 points and eight rebounds) scoring in Phog Allen Fieldhouse Thursday night while leading Nevada to a 72-70 victory over Kansas that improved the Wolfpack's record to 4-0?
With 17 NBA employees in the building, suffice to say that Fazekas, a junior, helped his pro stock considerably.
The guy probably has the most dependable set of hands in the college game right now, at least among players in his size range. And that shooting touch – whether releasing the ball in the lane, along the baseline and or anywhere near the 3-point line – is second to none when it comes to 6-10 and taller players.
An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com