Jamaal Williams (Washington), Jason Klotz (Texas) and Kelvin Torbert (Michigan State) are the super-subs of the 2004-05 season. All are sixth men on top 25 teams who were averaging better than 10 points per game without having been in the starting lineup once.
Williams is the best of the three in this respect. His production is often immediate. Williams, the team's fifth-leading scorer, is actually scoring at a better rate per-minute than Washington's do-everything star, Nate Robinson, and rebounding at a better rate than anyone else on the team. Robinson may get the most attention, but Williams is among the team's most valuable contributors.
Rocking the Rim
Sophomore year has been the key to the development of past Connecticut big men, Donyell Marshall and Emeka Okafor, and so far it is proving to be such for Josh Boone, who has emerged as a dominant big man through Connecticut's nonconference schedule.
Boone, has exceeded expectations this season statistically, albeit against fairly mild opposition. He showed flashes of his ability last season, and a key for Connecticut's hopes of repeating will be whether he can maintain this level through the rigorous Big East schedule.
Matchup note of the week
There are two terrific NCAA rematches in a span of a little more than 24 hours on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Cincinnati and Illinois meet in the Las Vegas Classic on Friday, while Georgia Tech visits Kansas on Saturday.
To refresh your memory, Illinois and Cincinnati met in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, with Illinois winning 92-68, behind 31 points from Deron Williams, who made his first seven shots from the field. Illinois shot 63.6 percent from the field, perhaps sparked by some comments from Cincinnati players during pregame stretching that they were just using the game as a warm-up to play Duke.
This marks the first regular-season meeting between these two teams since Dec. 18, 1984, and the first New Year's Eve game for Illinois since a 73-72 win over Loyola in 1982.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech will be fighting an uphill battle against Kansas. The Jayhawks are eager to avenge the Elite Eight matchup last season, which Georgia Tech won in overtime, 79-71 (behind 29 points from Jarrett Jack). The numbers show that Kansas has a lot going for it -- a 14-game home win streak and the most impressive New Year's-related nugget we could find -- a run of 17 straight seasons in which the Jayhawks have won their first game of the New Year.
In the bonus
Depending on when you're reading this, a dozen or so men's teams can claim that they have either equaled or bettered their performance from last season before the New Year. Toss out the squads like Loyola and Arkansas-Pine Bluff that only had to win once to achieve that, and discard those such as Texas A&M and the Citadel, that did so against cupcake schedules, and you're left with a small handful of schools that should legitimately boast about that accomplishment.
Some will say that Arizona State or San Diego are the most impressive of that group, but allow us to cast our vote for Evansville, which has overcome some on- and off-court adversity.
The Aces, 7-22 in 2003-04, are 7-2 heading into a New Year's Eve clash with undefeated Missouri Valley Conference rival Wichita State. The only blemishes on the record are due to a last-second tip-in by Purdue and poor free-throw shooting (10 for 22) in a five-point loss against Eastern Illinois. Evansville has already rallied to win three times in games in which it faced a double-digit deficit.
"Last year those were losses; this year, they're wins,"' said third-year coach Steve Merfeld, who is still seeking the same success he had in five seasons as head coach at Hampton. "I think the main reason (for the success) is our experience. Last season, we only had five returning players. This year, we have 10."
Evansville has won five of six games since three players were dismissed from the team on Nov. 30, and subsequently are facing criminal charges of stealing electronic equipment from school dorm rooms. Merfeld acknowledged the play of his three senior guards, particularly top two scorers Lucious Wagner (13.0 ppg) and Andre Burton (11.2 ppg), for their confidence and poise on the court in the face of difficulty.
"You have to give everyone in the program credit for that,'' Merfeld said. "You can move forward or take steps back. They've chosen to move forward."
Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's college basketball coverage and "Baseball Tonight."