One Month In, It's Too Early To Pass Judgment
THE RUNDOWN Three teams I still believe in Iowa: Yes, the Hawkeyes lost to Wichita State and Virginia Tech in back-to-back games. At the time, however, few knew how good both teams were. The Shockers are ranked nationally and Virginia Tech could have been prior to Saturday's loss at West Virginia. Iowa could still be a dangerous squad in the Big Ten. Its defense has made dramatic strides since last season. Aaron White is one of the most underrated leaders in America. Since giving up 95 points to the Hokies in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Hawkeyes have been more disciplined. They could rise again once Big Ten play begins. Kentucky: Three Wildcats (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress) are ranked in the top 10 of Chad Ford's top 100 NBA prospects. So Kentucky doesn't have a talent problem. It has a youth problem, a point guard problem, an inexperience problem. The Cats were not as good as they thought they were and now they know it. But I think falling out of the Top 25 takes some of the pressure off this young team. It's the perfect platform for a turnaround. They just need Ryan Harrow to evolve into a leader and a trustworthy point guard. North Carolina State: The Wolfpack is a good team now. But the question is whether it's as elite as the preseason rankings assumed. NC State looked ordinary in its losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan, but it's still one of the nation's most versatile and talented teams. Its defense has been suspect (No. 95 in defensive efficiency), but it has been tougher in the past two games, wins over UConn and Cleveland State. C.J. Leslie's on-again/off-again pattern is always a concern, but he has been more consistent in recent outings. With Leslie dialed in, the Wolfpack can move up the rankings again.
The Weekly Forecast
7 p.m.: Saint Joseph's at Villanova (ESPNU)
8 p.m.: Norfolk State at Illinois (ESPN3) Thursday
7 p.m.: Wichita St. at Tennessee (FS-South) Friday
7 p.m.: Charlotte at Miami (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: LSU at Boise State Saturday
2 p.m.: Indiana vs. Butler (CBS)
2:30 p.m.: Louisville at Memphis (FSN)
2:30 p.m.: Iowa vs. Northern Iowa (BTN)
4 p.m.: Alabama at VCU (CCS)
4:30 p.m.: Notre Dame vs. Purdue (ESPN2)
7 p.m.: Belmont at Kansas (ESPNU)
8 p.m.: Michigan vs. West Virginia (ESPN)
9 p.m.: Kansas State vs. Gonzaga (ESPN2)
10 p.m.: Florida at Arizona (ESPN)
11 p.m.: Creighton at Cal (PACN) Sunday
3 p.m.: Western Kentucky at Murray St. (ESPN3)
6 p.m.: Eastern Kentucky at Illinois (ESPNU)
Places To Be This Week
Knoxville, Tenn. (Wichita St. at Tennessee): The weekday pickings are slim this week; we have finals to thank for that. But anyone who has taken notice of Wichita State's 9-0 start should be interested in this one, because the Shockers should get a true test on the road in Knoxville. The Volunteers, meanwhile, will be looking to jump-start their offense; they've scored 45, 36 and 38 points in each of their three losses.
Coral Gables, Fla. (Charlotte at Miami): It was easy to dismiss Charlotte's 7-0 start, because most of those wins came against bad or mediocre teams. Davidson is not that, and Alan Major's team got a road win against the Wildcats last week. That result made it much more difficult to write off the 49ers as a product of their early schedule, and now they get another road barometer against a big, physical Miami team -- one that already knocked off Michigan State.
Indianapolis (Crossroads Classic): Not only is the Crossroads Classic just an excellent event on its own merits -- there's something special and even state tournament-esque in the way it brings four fan bases together under one fieldhouse roof -- but it also has the benefit of good basketball. With a young Purdue team struggling to find consistency early in the season, Notre Dame-Purdue might be a straightforward affair. But the Indiana-Butler finale should be a real highlight, provided the Bulldogs can keep the pace low and the scoring at bay.
Memphis, Tenn. (Louisville at Memphis): The renewal of this rivalry couldn't come at a more crucial time for the Tigers. A lackluster showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis had Memphis locals loudly doubting coach Josh Pastner and Pastner rethinking his guard positions, moving Joe Jackson (a long-time point guard) to the 2. Memphis responded by drubbing a solid Ohio team 84-58, but it will take more than that to convince the fan base this team is really hunting for a national title. What better way, then, but a win over Louisville?
Brooklyn, N.Y. (Michigan vs. West Virginia): Before this season, the best team John Beilein ever coached came during his West Virginia days, when Mike Gansey and (especially) Kevin Pittsnogle shot their way into the national consciousness in 2005. (Man, that team was great.) On Saturday, Beilein will face off against his old school with what is pretty clearly the best and most talented team he has ever coached.
Seattle (Gonzaga vs. Kansas St.): Gonzaga began the season as hot as any team in the country, but it has taken a step back since. The first cracks in the foundation showed at Washington State, where the Zags needed a last-second Kevin Pangos winner to escape with a two-point win. On Saturday, an impressive Illinois toppled Mark Few's team in Spokane. Maybe this putatively neutral-court game will give Gonzaga the chance to hit the reset button -- even if taking down the physical Wildcats won't be easy.
Tucson, Ariz. (Florida at Arizona): This is the game of the week, and there's no close second. It's not just because a very good Florida team is going on the road yet again (last time we saw that, we saw Florida State take a rivalry beating for the ages), but because said very good Florida team is doing so against a very talented Arizona squad that has, thanks largely to a soft November schedule, flown under the radar so far. But the Wildcats have the size and athleticism to match up with the Gators; the question is whether they can hold them back on the offensive end. In any case, it's going to be a good one.
Berkeley, Calif. (Creighton at Cal): Creighton's offense is, surprise surprise, one of the most efficient (and entertaining) in the country, and while All-American/divinely gifted scorer Doug McDermott continues to have much to do with that, credit should also go to senior guard Grant Gibbs, whose 138.4 offensive rating is among the 15 best in the country. Gibbs might be the nation's best passer, and he creates points for teammates (McDermott especially) while rarely turning the ball over. But Cal shouldn't be underestimated. After an 81-56 blowout loss at Wisconsin, the Bears gave UNLV all they could handle Sunday, and if they can maintain that scoring pace, they might be able to keep up with the Bluejays.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Three Questions For This Week
Can West Virginia get back on track?
It may be too early to make that bold of a statement, but the Mountaineers certainly took a step in the right direction by defeating rival Marshall and then previously-unbeaten Virginia Tech. Against the Hokies, Juwan Staten hit a layup with just under 4 seconds to win it for WVU, which improved to 4-3 in time for Saturday's tilt with No. 3 Michigan in Brooklyn. Bob Huggins' squad starts two transfers in Staten and Aaric Murray, so it's understandable that chemistry has been lacking early. But West Virginia is talented enough to make some noise in a woeful Big 12 if it builds on the momentum it created this weekend.
With players studying for and taking exams, things will be pretty slow this week until Saturday, when Florida-Arizona highlights an excellent batch of games. One contest to keep an eye on, though, is a showdown between Belmont and Middle Tennessee on Thursday. MTSU is 7-2, with its only losses coming against Florida and Akron (in overtime). Belmont (6-2) is led by standout guard Ian Clark, who averages 19.4 points per game. The Bruins won at Stanford last month and turned in a solid performance in a 10-point loss to VCU.
-- Jason King
Upset Pick Of The Week
Memphis over Louisville, Saturday: The Tigers have been much maligned this season. But Memphis may be ready for a game like this after failing to knock off one of the big boys in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Geron Johnson and Shaq Goodwin have found their footing for Josh Pastner and Memphis lately and this game against an old rival is at home and could be a turning point for the Tigers this season. With Gorgui Dieng still out for Louisville, the Cardinals continue to be vulnerable inside. The Tigers will take advantage in front of a frenzied FedExForum crowd.
-- Andy Katz
Katz's Monday Musings
• One month into the season and there are already candidacies being formed for national player of the year. It's still so early, but the players who stand out the most have been Doug McDermott (Creighton), Mason Plumlee (Duke), Erick Green (Virginia Tech), Brandon Paul (Illinois), Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Otto Porter (Georgetown), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State) and Cody Zeller or Victor Oladipo from Indiana, but I'm not sure which Hoosier I'd pick now if I had to choose just one. What I love about this race is that it will be wide open. And as you can see, one player can change the way a team is performing and the overall perception of that squad's postseason chances.
• Kansas coach Bill Self said Ben McLemore was the team's top NBA talent a year ago, when the Jayhawks had Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. McLemore sat out due to academics. Keep watching his trajectory -- he will get only better and make more of an impact. He scored 24 points in a win over Colorado on Saturday after 21 against Oregon State previously. The two best players in the Big 12 this season will likely to be first-year players in McLemore and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
• Utah has been abysmal lately, but Larry Krystkowiak has turned the corner to where the Utes are more than competitive. The win over Boise State at home wasn't a fluke. Utah was one missed 3-pointer away from forcing overtime Saturday in Provo against rival BYU. The best way to honor the late Rick Majerus would be for this program to be relevant again. Majerus put so much of his life into building the Utes into a national winner. The Huntsman Center faithful deserve a relevant product again. Krystkowiak is close to delivering a relevant team.
To read the rest of Andy Katz's Monday Musings, click here.