Sunday, November 26, 2006

Notes and Observations, Volume Two

Here are a variety of thoughts and observations I have for the past two weeks of the college basketball season:

- Tennessee could be good later on, but they are not a postseason team right now. They have absolutely no half-court offense--especially when Chris Lofton doesn't score thirty-plus points. Their freshmen take ill-advised shots on the offensive end, especially Ramar Smith. He dribbles way too much, and turns it over often. He does not seem to be in control on a regular basis. Moreover, the Vols can't rebound or defend in the half-court. When their press is not working and creating offense, Tennessee is not a good whatsoever.

- Butler looks better and better with every outing. They seem to be able to force their style of play on nearly any opponent, making it difficult for teams to come back on them with the Bulldogs' ability to limit possessions late in the game. They have a lot of shooters and players that know their role on both ends of the floor. A.J. Graves has been outstanding thus far. They are definitely a team to watch in March.

- Don't worry about North Carolina losing to Gonzaga. They are still very young, and have yet to really use a set rotation. Although they have not looked that great yet, Roy Williams still seems to be looking for the right mix of personnel. Their defense needs to improve, though.

- Gonzaga does not seem to miss Adam Morrison very much. They may not have the dominant player of Morrison or J.P. Batista's caliber, but they have more options and could be tougher to gameplan against. Josh Heytvelt is one of the best big men in the country. He is tough to defend with his back to the basket and has a nice touch off the glass. He also has the ability to take defenders off the dribble from the foul-line and in. Moreover, Matt Bouldin is one of the most underrated freshmen in the country--he is a big-time perimeter scorer.

- Georgia Tech reminds me a lot of last year's Memphis team. They are long, athletic, and deep. Moreover, they have a point guard that is better suited as a scorer. That point guard, Javaris Crittenton, has the ability to breakdown most defenders and get to the basket. He is also quick on the defense end. However, he has not shown that he can run a half-court offense yet. The Yellow Jackets have plenty of options. Lewis Clinch can score, Thaddeus Young is a star, Muhammed Faye can do a variety of things, Ra'Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith can bang inside, and Anthony Morrow can shoot. If they learn how to defend the interior, Tech could be very, very good.

- Memphis is great when they can wear teams down. However, when teams can match their depth and athleticism, they are not as efficient. They are not that great in the half-court, but have plenty of shooters and guys that can get to the basket off the dribble. Chris Douglas-Roberts is good at getting to the rim, while Antonion Anderson and Jeremy Hunt are also scorers on the wing. Robert Dozier needs to step up down low, though. He played only 8 minutes because of foul trouble against Georgia Tech.

- UCLA is the team to beat out west, and would be my #1 team if I had a vote in the AP poll. Darren Collison has done a great job of replacing Jordan Farmar, and could be even better. He is very quick and can create plays for himself and his teammates. Arron Afflalo is becoming the go-to-guy, while Josh Shipp is another scorer on the wing. Up front, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is getting better and better, and Lorenzo Mata is providing the Bruins with an interior presence.

- Kentucky will be solid this season. Randolph Morris could be a dominant center, and needs to be if the Wildcats are going to compete with Florida, Alabama, and LSU. Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are solid scorers on the perimeter. Freshman Jodie Meeks has looked good so far on the wing.

- Marquette has improved drastically since the start of the season. They opened with two close wins against Hillsdale and Idaho State, but have since defeated the likes of Texas Tech and Duke. The win over the Blue Devils was particularly impressive. Dominic James might be the best player in the Big East. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews contribute in a variety of ways on the wing, while Ousmane Barro and Lazar Hayward are playing well up front. If they can find a consistent post presence, the Golden Eagles will make a run in the Big East.

- Duke will be tough to beat once the freshmen develop. Jon Scheyer has demonstrated his shooting ability, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are playing very well up front, and Gerald Henderson has contributed on the wing. As for the returnees, DeMarcus Nelson has looked good, but the same can't be said for Josh McRoberts or Greg Paulus. McRoberts needs to take better shots and has to learn to dominate down low instead of hanging out on the perimeter. Against post-deficient Marquette, McRoberts was 4 for 16. Paulus is turning the ball over too much and is not breaking his defender down enough off the dribble.

- Boston College has problems. They have double-digit losses to both Providence and Vermont, and are struggling. Jared Dudley needs help. He is doing everything he can do, but it is not enough. The point guard play has not been good. Tyrese Rice is scoring well, but he is turning it over four times a game. Sean Williams is a dominant shot-blocker and rebounder, but needs to become more of an offensive force. They miss Craig Smith.

- Maryland is not looking like the point guard-less, chemistry-less team of year's past. D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones are playing very well on the wing, while Ekene Ibekwe has loads of potential down low. If Ibekwe plays the same way he did against St. John's (22 points, 14 rebounds) every night, the Terps will be dominant. Freshman Greivis Vasquez has been impressive, and fellow frosh Eric Hayes has been solid at the point.

- Clemson could be a sleeper team. Their guards can't shoot but they are quick and can get to the basket. James Mays gives them decent offensive production down low.

- Xavier has been good, but they need to find a consistent post scorer if they are to reach their full potential. Stanley Burrell is a big-time scorer and shooter from the perimeter, while forwards Josh Duncan, Justin Doellmann, and Justin Cage are all versatile and talented. They can beat most teams they play against, but they struggle against teams with dominant big men.

- Georgetown is still struggling. Roy Hibbert is demonstrating his vast potential, but Jeff Green needs to become more of a scoring option for the Hoyas up front. Guards Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp are playing well on the perimeter, but the guards struggle against opponents with good backcourts.

- Syracuse looks very good--despite getting outrebounded by nearly 20 against Canisius. Eric Devendorf is a scorer, and Josh Wright has handled the point well. Demetris Nichols is a good scorer on the perimeter, while Terrence Roberts is playing okay down low. Moreover, freshman Paul Harris is starting to come into his own.

- Connecticut is starting to come together and develop as a team. A.J. Price is playing well at the point, while Jerome Dyson has developed into the go-to-guy on the wing for the Huskies. Jeff Adrien anchors the interior. Haseem Thabeet has shown his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess, while Marcus Johnson has played well. A variety of newcomers also contribute, including Stanley Robinson, Doug Wiggins, and Gavin Edwards.

- Pittsburgh has been one of the best teams in the country so far. They seem to have all the ingredients for a long March run. The way they dispatched of a potential ACC contender was eye-opening. Could it be that FSU is overrated or is Pitt really that good? I think it's a bit of both.

- Texas is going to be a lot better in February, obviously. Kevin Durant is one of the best players in the country. He can shoot the three, he can take his man to the basket, and is developing a post game. Once he learns to take better shots, he is going to be nearly unstoppable. A.J. Abrams is becoming a very good scorer on the perimeter, while D.J. Augustin has distributed the ball well.

- Texas Tech needs more scoring options. Outside of Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno, the Red Raiders don't a lot of consistency on the offensive end. If they had a good third option, they could be a sleeper in the Big 12.

- Don't sleep on Iowa State and Missouri. Although they were expected to finish near the bottom of the conference, both teams have been solid. They are a combined 12-0. Missouri is getting adapted to Mike Anderson's up-tempo style, while Iowa State is led by guard Michael Taylor, who is a pure scorer for the Cyclones.

- Ohio State is playing very well without Greg Oden. The nation will get a chance to see how good they really are, though, against North Carolina this week. If the Buckeyes don't find a way to take care of Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright on the inside, this could be a one-sided game.

- Wisconsin was moving along quite impressively--until their loss to Missouri State. Alando Tucker is one of the best players in the country. He can score against anybody due to his ability to put up points in a variety of ways. However, the Badgers needs other options. Kammron Taylor is a good second scorer, but he has been inconsistent all season. Brian Butch has been very disappointing.

- Illinois hasn't had a test yet, but they are playing well. Chester Frazier is playing well in the shoes of Dee Brown, showing the ability to score as well as distribute the basketball. Jamar Smith is a big-time shooter, while Calvin Brock and Trent Meachem are also solid guards. Shaun Pruitt and Warren Carter anchor the frontcourt. They have a big game against Maryland this week.

- Michigan State is going to be a potential NCAA Tournament team. Drew Neitzel is becoming a go-to-guy and has the ability to create for both himself and his teammates. Raymar Morgan is the only other double-figure scorer, but Maurice Joseph can also put up points. Travis Walton is a solid ball-handler and defender. They have a lot of inside depth, led by Goran Suton.

- Michigan has quietly started 7-0. Courtney Sims is finally starting to show his potential that he has demonstrated flashes of throughout his career. Dion Harris handling the point guard role well, while Ron Coleman and Lester Abram are playing well on the wing. Brent Petway has provided rebounding.

- Purdue and Penn State are not NCAA Tournament teams, but they--along with Iowa--could beat some teams they shouldn't. They all have one or two players with the ability to take over a game. Point guard play is key for all three teams.

- Indiana could be a contender in the Big Ten if they can work out the kinks. They are not playing terribly, but there is something wrong with the Hoosiers. They are turning the ball over way too much and commit a lot of fouls. D.J. White needs to stay out of foul trouble and dominate every game he plays. Roderick Wilmont is a good scorer on the perimeter who has to better shots.

- Arizona could lead the nation in scoring. Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams are high-scoring forwards and Jawann McClellan can light it up on the wing. Despite the criticism, Mustafa Shakur makes the Wildcats much better when he is on the floor. He is a very good passer who gets the ball where it needs to be. Ivan Radenovic is a solid all-around big man.

- USC needs Gabe Pruitt back--they are not playing very well without him. They are getting wins, but are not playing to their potential. Nick Young and Lodrick Stewart are doing well on the wings, and Taj Gibson is a double-double threat down low. The Trojans lack another perimeter scorer, though.

- Washington looks like a Pac-10 contender. They are very good down low with Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes. Quincy Pondexter is very athletic and explosive at the small forward spot. Justin Dentmon is an underrated point guard on a national level. He needs to cut down on his turnovers, but he is a solid player.

- Oregon has looked very good--without Malik Hairston. Freshman Tajuan Porter has slowed down since his magical start, but Aaron Brooks is finally playing to his potential. Bryce Taylor and Chamberlain Oguchi are also performing well on the perimeter, while Maarty Leunen is averaging a double-double down low.

- California is an interesting team to keep an eye on this season. Ayinde Ubaka is a big-time player in the backcourt that contributes in a variety of ways, while freshman Ryan Anderson provides the Golden Bears with an inside-outside threat down low. Point guard Jerome Randle is an exciting freshman that could be a spark plug. He is extremely quick, but makes bad decisions at times. However, he is fun to watch and brings excitement. Cal does have weak spots, though. The Bears struggle in transition defense and can't break a press defense at all.

- Alabama is looking a lot better than last season. Jermareo Davidson is extremely dominant at both ends, while Richard Hendrix is a load down low. Ronald Steele is a very good lead guard, and wings Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley are producing from the perimeter.

- Mississippi State is inconsistent but intriguing. They look great at times, and not at all good at other times. They turn the ball over way too much, and lack a third scoring option on a consistent basis. However, Jamont Gordon is a stat-sheet stuffer and Charles Rhodes is a beast down low.

- Arkansas is looking more and more like an NCAA Tournament team. They have a lot of bodies up front, providing the Razorbacks with defense and rebounding. Forwards Charles Thomas and Sonny Weems are good inside-outside players. Weems is quietly becoming one of the best frontcourt players in the SEC. Gary Ervin is not making too many mistakes at the point and is running the offense well.

- The Missouri Valley is once again proving they are cream of the mid-major world. Wichita State has looked like the favorite in the early going of the season. They went to LSU and defeated the Tigers in Baton Rouge as well winning at George Mason. P.J. Couisnard and Sean Ogirri are as good of a duo as you will find in the MVC. Creighton beat GMU over the weekend, despite an awful game from Nate Funk. Once he comes around, look out. Southern Illinois looks good again this season. Their defense is unbelievable. The players never stop moving and are always applying pressure. Their offensive still hits rough patches, though, but Matt Shaw has demonstrated his inside-outside ability. Moreover, Missouri State defeated Wisconsin and nearly knocked off Oklahoma State. Blake Ahearn is an outstanding scorer, and should be known for more than his free-throw shooting exploits. Don't count them out of the MVC race.

- Hofstra needs to develop frontcourt players quickly. They are struggling mightily, even against bad teams. Antoine Agudio and Loren Stokes are playing well, but they can't do it all. The Pride have played four shooters at most times, leaving them very vulnerable down low. If they don't get their act together, the Pride could be looking at a tough season in the CAA. Old Dominion looks like the favorite, with Drexel in the mix. George Mason is also still a very good team. John Vaughan looks very good on the wing.

- Virginia Tech is still not a consistent team. They looked very good early in the season, but then lost to Western Michigan and then also fell to Southern Illinois today. Zabian Dowdell has been a very good all-around player on the perimeter, while Jamon Gordon and A.D. Vassallo have also played well. Big man Coleman Collins is not averaging double-figures and he needs to step up if the Hokies are to make the Big Dance.

- Marist is a team to watch in March. Jared Jordan is outstanding. If you have never seen him play yet, I suggest you do. He does everything extremely well and is one of the best passers in the country. He can shoot, rebound, defend, and handle the ball. He also has a non-stop motor. If the bigs get baskets down low, and stop jacking threes all day, the Red Foxes will be tough. Will Whittington can shoot the lights out.

- Wake Forest has looked good so far. Freshman Ishmael Smith is tied for the nation's lead in assists, while senior center Kyle Visser is putting up about 20 points and 9 boards per game. The Demon Deacons could be a surprise team in the ACC, with wins at Bucknell and at Vanderbilt.

- San Diego State is 6-0. Brandon Heath and Muhamed Abukar are a dominant duo and one of the best combos in the country. JC transfer Jerome Habel missed the first few games of the season, but has stepped in to anchor the paint.

- New Mexico is destroying teams right now. In addition their annihilation of Kansas State, they also have blown out Colorado. J.R. Giddens is averaging almost 21 points and over 9 rebounds per game from the wing, demonstrating his potential. Penn State transfer Aaron Johnson is averaging 11.5 boards per game.

- Air Force could be a tough out in March. They are difficult to defend because everyone can shoot. The offense is always on the move, with constant cutting, moving, and passing. They don't turn it over much, and limit possessions for the opposition. Their ability to dictate tempo is key.

- Washington State is still undefeated, rolling along at 6-0. Derrick Low is showing that he is one the best guards in the Pac-10.

- Fresno State is looking like a WAC contender. Guard Ja'Vance Coleman leads the way, with forwards Dominic McGuire and Quinton Hosley creating match-up problems with nearly every opponent. Nevada could struggle against them. Throw in New Mexico State, and the WAC is very underrated this season.

- Villanova needs more scorers and depth to become a Big East contender. Curtis Sumpter does a lot by himself, but he needs help. Will Sheridan is not playing anything like he did last season down low. They also need a wing scorer--Dwayne Anderson? Scottie Reynolds?

- Kansas State has issues right now. They are not getting any inside production, and their perimeter play has been medicore. David Hoskins is playing very well, but Cartier Martin is not playing the level he did last season. Blake Young and Lance Harris are playing well on the perimeter, the Wildcats need more contributions from the backcourt. It will be interesting to see how Bill Walker meshes with the team when he is eligible to play.

- What is wrong with the Big East this season? Everyone is losing to seemingly lesser teams. Louisville lost to Dayton; St. John's lost to Illinois State; Providence lost to Brown; Georgetown lost to Old Dominion; DePaul looks atrocious; Notre Dame doesn't look like they are going anywhere; Rutgers and Seton Hall have not been impressive; and Cincinnati lost to Wofford. Even the unbeaten teams have struggled: UConn only beat Quinnipiac by 7; Pitt had trouble with Oakland; Marquette nearly lost to Idaho State; Syracuse was not at their best against Canisius. There are only two teams (outside of the four unbeatens) that one can't complain about. West Virginia has not really missed a beat since last season. They obviously aren't as good as last year, but they still have enough players to win games. John Beilein's system is tough to figure out, but it works. South Florida is 3-0 and have a nice forward duo in McHugh Mattis and Melvin Buckley. While some of the Big East's best have been some of the most impressive teams in the country so far, there have been several negatives on the conference's non-conference schedule so far, and it could hurt them in March.

- You thought I would leave you without my take on the Kansas-Florida match-up? It was obviously one of the best non-conference games of the season, and did not disappoint any fan who tuned in (speaking of that, why was it at 11 PM on ESPN 2?). Some of the hype went down after Kansas lost to Oral Roberts, but it lived up to everything. Both teams are clearly two of the best clubs in America, and are legitimate Final Four threats. Florida finally showed some chinks in their armor after last year's National Championship. They did not shoot well from long-range, with Taurean Green and Corey Brewer shooting a combined 13 for 33 overall. Moreover, Florida only had 9 assists the entire game. Both of the aforementioned numbers need to improve. Joakim Noah played well down low, but Al Horford only had 9 points and was saddled in foul trouble the entire game. Another potential problem for Florida could be their lack of a true go-to-guy. Noah is the guy they go to the most during key possessions, but Brewer ended up taking the shot several times, and Green even had shots at crucial junctures in the game. That could be a good thing at times, but it can also lead to confusion late in games. On Kansas' side, I was impressed at the way they outrebounded Florida and kept their big men in check throughout the game. They didn't shoot well from long-range either, but shot almost 54% from the field and hit several clutch free throws. Freshman Darrell Arthur had 19 points and 9 rebounds in only 16 minutes of playing time. He is going to be a well-known player by the time conference play rolls around. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson showed the ability to get into the lane and create plays for themselves and their teammates. Julian Wright was the best player on the floor for the majority of the game. He scored in a variety of ways, was very efficient shooting the ball, and also grabbed ten rebounds. Brandon Rush still seems somewhat overrated to me. He shot 6 for 16 from the floor and only hit one three-pointer, but he did hit some late baskets and contributed in other ways. The Jayhawks' mental lapses late in the game was not encouraging, though. Fouling Corey Brewer and failing to box out on the ensuing miss nearly cost them the game. However, despite the mistakes by both sides, it was a tremendous game between two teams that should be playing in April.


  1. What do you think about Virginia? Is their fast start just a fluke again or are they for real this year?

  2. I think Virginia will makethe NCAA Tournament--despite their loss to Purdue last night.

    Their guards are outstanding and give the Cavs the ability to beat any team that they go up against.