Five observations from this past week:
1. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger has had the most impressive freshman performance. Sullinger scored 40 points and grabbed 13 boards in a win over IUPUI. He made 12 field goals and converted 16 free throws in the game. In the two road wins in the state of Florida -- over the Gators and Seminoles -- Sullinger was a force with double-doubles in both games. If Ohio State is to get to the Final Four, it will be because they have one of the top frontcourt scorers.
2. The Mountain West is going to be a sensational four-team race. San Diego State has the look of a potential second weekend NCAA tournament team. The Aztecs are off to a sensational start, regardless of venue. BYU dismantled Arizona and remains undefeated as well. UNLV did lose at Louisville over the weekend, but the Runnin’ Rebels had been impressive up to that point with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. And New Mexico has only one loss (at Cal).
3. St. John's has the look of an NIT team. Steve Lavin is recruiting at a national level and the buzz is real with the Red Storm in Queens and in the city. But losses to St. Bonaventure at home and at Fordham don’t bode well for an NCAA bid. Former coach Norm Roberts had St. John's as a gritty bunch but they were still an unskilled crew that played hard to stay in games. The skills haven't dramatically changed and it’s going to be hard for this group to win enough games to be in contention for a berth.
4. Two hidden gems that must be recognized are South Carolina freshman point Bruce Ellington and Iowa State junior Scott Christopherson. South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said at SEC media day that he had a worthy replacement for Devan Downey. He raved about Ellington's ability to be a scorer and a lead guard. Ellington was just that in two huge wins for the Gamecocks. He scored 14 points in a victory over rival Clemson and then 18 in a win over nearby Wofford. He did have six turnovers in each game, but still led the one-loss Gamecocks to two key wins. Christopherson led Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State Cyclones to a huge win over rival Iowa with 30 points in Iowa City. Christopherson played all 40 minutes and made seven 3s Friday night. He had already scored 29 in a win over Drake. The Cyclones are a surprising 8-2 so far under Hoiberg.
5. The Pac-10 is once again going to have trouble getting multiple bids. Washington went to Texas A&M and lost on David Loubeau’s block of an Isaiah Thomas shot. This was UW’s first true road game. Arizona has had two chances away from home and missed so far, losing to Kansas in Las Vegas and BYU in Salt Lake City. USC did have the home win over Texas, but has already lost to Rider, TCU and Bradley. UCLA doesn’t have anything to show yet. Washington State has the look of a possible NCAA team after beating Gonzaga at home, but the Cougars will need to do something on the road. Expect the Huskies to grab one of the bids and after that it’s wide open to see who can land the second and third bids, assuming the Pac-10 goes that deep in March. But for the second straight season, don't be surprised if the Mountain West has more bids than the Pac-10.