Five observations from this past week:
1. This freshman class continues to get better and will have a say on the national title. Duke’s Kyrie Irving was the star of the crew before he got hurt. If and when he returns he’ll shoot in the top tier again. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger has been a man inside for the Buckeyes. Kansas’ Josh Selby proved his worth with his winning shot against USC. Texas’ tandem of Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson will be a reason the Longhorns are in the race for the Big 12 title. Kentucky’s Terrence Jones has been highly productive and one of the many reasons to take the Wildcats seriously throughout the season.
2. The Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu might be one of the most anticipated events in December. The outcome will have major implications for a number of teams. Butler can change this team’s current perception with a title. Baylor now comes in hungry to prove it belongs in the elite conversation. Washington State has a home win over Gonzaga but nothing else to shout about yet. Mississippi State desperately needs quality wins. Florida State hasn’t been able to win elite games so far (losses to Florida and Ohio State).
3. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin didn’t schedule like Gonzaga’s Mark Few, nor should he. So you can’t compare Gonzaga’s 6-5 record to the Bearcats’ 8-0 mark. But the Bearcats needed something positive to occur in the pre-conference schedule to give them some momentum going into the Big East. While the wins aren’t going to excite the selection committee yet, it’s better than losing at Fordham or at home to St. Bonaventure as St. John’s has already done.
4. Tennessee will be one of toughest teams to figure this season. The wins over Villanova in New York and Pitt in Pittsburgh were real. Tennessee was the better team on both days and it showed. The Vols weren’t against Oakland at home or at Charlotte. Shooting 2-of-17 from 3 like they did against the 49ers is going to lose them a lot of games. But the Vols can’t be dismissed as an SEC East title contender. They are simply as unpredictable as most and it just makes this part of the chaos of a surreal season that will see an eight-game suspension for head coach Bruce Pearl to start out the SEC.
5. Howard Moore’s composure was something to behold as UIC beat Illinois at the United Center in easily the Flames’ most significant win in 20 years. UIC has been to the NCAA tournament three times since it last beat Illinois (1990). But the program desperately needed credibility in the city and when it hired one of its own in Moore the first step was taken toward creating awareness. Now the win over the Illini will do even more for his profile in the city, the school’s recruiting and overall interest in a town that craves a college basketball team to call its own. Moore wasn’t being frantic during the last few hectic possessions. He was calm, cool and collected and his players displayed the same attitude in winning the game.