Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thoughts and Observations, Week Two

Here are a variety of thoughts and observations I had for the second week of the 2007-2008 college basketball season:

- Duke is going to be much, much better it was last year. The Blue Devils are more athletic by far and are simply more talented. They might struggle to defend bigger teams once they hit the tougher part of their schedule, but their perimeter group plus freshman Kyle Singler up front is outstanding. Gerald Henderson is a phenomenal athlete and DeMarcus Nelson is playing more as a role player this year, which suits him better. Also, Jon Scheyer, who started last year, is coming off the bench and still scoring 15 points per game. No one is playing more than 25 minutes per game, either.

- Syracuse struggled to beat Siena and St. Joseph’s at home last week, but neither of those close wins should come as much of a surprise. Siena is a contender in the MAAC and knocked off Stanford over the weekend, and St. Joseph’s is one of the top contenders for the Atlantic-10 title. The Orange are still a young team and are breaking in three new starters into the lineup. However, if freshmen Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene continue to play like they have, and Paul Harris continues his tough all-around play, look out.

- Maryland needs to take better care of the ball. The Terrapins struggled to beat Hampton and Northeastern, and then played okay against UCLA but could not get over the hump and really make it a game. The starting lineup for Maryland is averaging 19.2 turnovers per game, including a combined 7.3 from guards Greivis Vasquez (4.8) and Eric Hayes.

- I’m more impressed with Oregon every time I see the Ducks play. They have struggled at times during the first four games of the season, but I really think they are a team who will be much better than people think – and that’s considering many had them in the 14-20 range of the Top 25. With the quartet of guards Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor, wing Malik Hairston and inside-outside forward Maarty Leunen, this team can compete with anyone in the country.

- The SEC West looks like it won’t be as good as many people thought heading into the season. The two favorites, Mississippi State and Arkansas, have both lost already this season, and Alabama fell to Belmont last night at home. MSU lost at home to Clemson, which is not a bad loss but a game a top-20 team should win on its homecourt. Arkansas has been turnover-happy in its first few games, with guards Patrick Beverley, Gary Ervin and Stefan Welsh all sporting assist-to-turnover ratios in the sub-1:1 range. As for Alabama, it’s the point guard issue again. No one has truly stepped up to take over for the injured Ronald Steele and it’s clearly hurting the team in a major way.

- While on the SEC West, I also want to bring up LSU. I know the Tigers aren’t going to very good this year and will likely finish fifth or sixth in the SEC West, but LSU is going to cause several teams major problems later in the year. Anthony Randolph is going to be a star by the end of the season and Marcus Thornton is filling it up offensively. Once Tasmin Mitchell becomes healthy, this team has three legitimate scorers offensively. The Tigers are very long, very athletic and are not going to be fun to match-up with once the newcomers get settled.

- I don’t think the Davidson-North Carolina game from a week ago showed the true potential of either team. Tywon Lawson was in foul trouble most of the game for UNC, and Tyler Hansbrough basically disappeared after he received a technical foul. On the other side, Davidson’s Stephen Curry had a poor shooting day from the field and the Wildcats shot only 39% from the field and 19% from three-point range as a team. Next time you see either team play, expect a much better version of what you saw last week.

- Jon Brockman has been an absolute beast this year. I named him the CollegeHoopsNet Player of the Week last week, as he put up 23 points and almost 12 rebounds per game in his first three games without lottery pick Spencer Hawes. It didn’t seem to matter, as Brockman dominated the paint for Washington, including outplaying Utah’s star center Luke Nevill in a big win when he finished with 31 points, 18 rebounds and held Nevill scoreless for a key 14 and a half minute stretch.

- Connecticut is certainly better than they were last year, but it still has plenty to work on offensively. The Huskies still struggle against zone defenses and are overall not very efficient offensively in the half-court. That is mainly because of their inability to shoot the three-point consistently. A.J. Price has been very solid at the point and Jerome Dyson has been a good scorer, but the Huskies attempt only about 10 three-pointers per game – and hit only about three per game. Furthermore, for all the size UConn has down low, it was outrebounded by 20 against Memphis, and also had fewer blocks than the Tigers.

- Speaking of Memphis, the Tigers’ perimeter duo of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts might be the best in the country. Rose is on another level than most point guards and CDR has been an outstanding player this season, putting up 23 points and seven rebounds per game. On the other hand, wings Antonio Anderson and Doneal Mack need to become more consistent shooting the ball in order for this team to reach its full potential.

- Oklahoma is going to be better than I originally thought this season. Its frontcourt is one of the best in the Big 12, with brothers Blake and Taylor Griffin, and center Longar Longar. Blake Griffin is one of the best freshmen in the country and has been a very good scorer and rebounder this year. Throw in a couple of decent guards in Tony Crocker and Omar Leary, and the Sooners could be a potential NCAA Tournament team if they can get consistent guard play from Crocker, Leary, and Austin Johnson.

- While on the Big 12, how about Baylor? The Bears went to the Virgin Islands won the Paradise Jam, knocking off Wichita State, Notre Dame and Winthrop on the way. Guards Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn, a freshman, have been the stars so far. If the frontcourt doesn’t put up consistent production and take some of the pressure off the perimeter players, Baylor won’t be a contender in the conference though.

- Providence is going to be an up-and-down team this season, but on the good days, the Friars are going to be a very solid team. They really struggled to beat Temple, then blew out Arkansas and then lost to Miami (Fl.) (more on them in a second). One recurring theme, though, has been PC’s inconsistent shooting. Well, actually, it’s been consistent – just consistently bad. 44% and 30% in the first game, 38% and 32% against Arkansas, 35.5% and 30% vs. Miami – that needs to improve. The return of Sharaud Curry from injury will eventually help.

- Miami (Fl.) looks like a sleeper in the ACC if it can continue to play like this. The Hurricanes went to San Juan and won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They are deep – ten players are averaging at least 13.5 minutes per game – and are playing good defense, allowing less than 61 points per game through four contests. One problem could be turnovers, though. Only three players are averaging positive assist-to-turnover ratios; one is a center and the two guards don’t start.

- Stanford needs Brook Lopez back. The Cardinal are simply lacking consistent scoring without him. Anthony Goods has been a solid point producer this season, but no one else is averaging double-figures. Lopez provides a go-to-guy down low as a well as an athletic rebounder and shot-blocker on the defensive end. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when he is returning. For the Cardinal’s sake, hopefully it’s soon.

- Florida hasn’t missed a beat over the course of the summer. Of course, it won’t be as good as last year with the loss of all those great players, but the Gators are still an NCAA Tournament team. Five players are averaging double-figures, including sophomore Marreese Speights, who has dominated down low so far. The freshmen have also played exceptionally well, especially guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas, as well as all-around sixth man Chandler Parsons. The Gators aren’t turning the ball over and are getting balanced production – looks like a successful recipe to me.

- It looks like USC has bounced back from its abysmal opening loss to Mercer at home. The keys? Two things: the return of guard Daniel Hackett, who missed the Mercer contest, and less shooting from O.J. Mayo. Hackett is averaging 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.5 steals and only 1.0 turnover per game since his return. Mayo had 27 attempts in his first game, but has since taken 16 per game, and has shot at least 50% in both games.

- Speaking of Mayo, what about Illinois-Chicago’s Josh Mayo.? The 5-10 guard put up 34 points in the team’s opening win over Bradley, and is currently averaging 17.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. Mayo is also hitting an astounding 61% of his three-point attempts.

- The Virginia vs. Arizona game on Saturday night was the best non-conference, non-tournament match-up of the season on paper. Both teams are expected to make the NCAA Tournament, and I still think they will both make it despite a sloppy 75-72 win by UVA on Arizona’s homecourt. Sean Singletary, despite being bothered by the flu, still had 24 points and 8 rebounds. On Arizona’s side, the perimeter duo of Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger is outstanding, but – like Virginia – it is going to need more consistent inside production to reach the Dance.

- VCU needs secondary scorers to step up in order to help out Eric Maynor. Last year, the Rams had wings B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, both of whom could shoot the ball and drive to the basket. This year, Maynor is getting double-teamed and face-guarded since he is the clear focal point of the offense. Jamal Shuler is doing his best, but he’s not overly efficient at creating his own shot, and Wil Fameni is not getting the inside touches he was last year. Unless other options emerge as scorers, VCU is going to struggle to win the Colonial.

- Rhode Island looks like another quality team from the Atlantic-10. The Rams are now 5-0 after winning the Glenn Wilkes Classic, including victories over UAB and South Florida – although that’s not really saying much since the two teams have combined for losses to Georgia Southern, Buffalo and Cleveland State. Still, URI has a very good inside-outside duo in guard Jimmy Baron and forward Will Daniels, a legit candidate for A-10 Player of the Year. Throw in a variety of quality role players, and this team will be tough.

- Based on what we’ve seen so far, UAB is not going to contend with Memphis for the Conference-USA title – or even a top-four finish. The Blazers are 2-3, including the aforementioned defeat at the hands of Georgia Southern. Plus, the news that starting guard and last year’s leading scorer Paul Delaney is out for the year with a knee injury doesn’t help.

- On the topic of injuries, I can’t say that I’m remotely surprised Louisville center David Padgett is out for at least ten weeks with a broken kneecap. Padgett has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, missing time during both his last two seasons of high school and his first year at Louisville due to knee problems. Padgett likely won’t win an appeal to redshirt this season due to the fact he sat out a year after transferring from Kansas. Oh, and get a message to Derrick Caracter – here’s your chance.

- Although Marquette has struggled in all three wins this season, its perimeter defense is absolutely menacing at times. Before the season, coach Tom Crean said he would put his trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews against anyone in the country defensively, and it’s tough to argue that – although Kansas’ group is better when healthy. McNeal is obviously one of the best defenders in the country, and Matthews and James can also pick apart opposing guards. Don’t forget David Cubillan, either – he played very good defense yesterday against Chaminade.

- UCLA needs Darren Collison back badly. The Bruins have struggled with turnovers early in the season, with Russell Westbrook clearly not providing what Collison does. Collison gets the ball from end-to-end quicker than nearly anyone in the country, is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation, and gets the UCLA offense started. Once he returns, UCLA will be far better than they’ve looked so far, and that’s been pretty good.

- Illinois and Wisconsin are both better than people than people thought in the preseason. The Fighting Illini obliterated Arizona State from the opening tip Monday, starting the game on a 20-0 run. Shaun Pruitt is a dominating big man down low; Brian Randle is a very solid all-around forward; and Rodney Alexander is another athletic frontcourt player. For Wisconsin, Trevon Hughes has become a very good scoring point guard and big man Brian Butch has finally been a consistent option down low. Marcus Landry has plenty of talent, and Michael Flowers is a leader and all-around quality guard. Wisconsin will be a Big Ten contender.

- I like Missouri so far. The Tigers play “40 Minutes of Hell” defensively, pressing teams from the opening tip, forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets. Teams that struggle handling the ball are going to get pounced on by the Tigers (no pun intended). Offensively, Mike Anderson has a variety of good perimeter options in Stefhon Hannah and Keon Lawrence. Plus, his nephew, forward DeMarre Carroll, has been a dominating presence so far this season, averaging 17.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.


  1. You nailed syracuse right on the nose. Well done.

  2. You spoke highly of Florida and their stats, but failed to mention the obscenely weak schedule they've played thus far.