Katz: Observations from the week

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
8:30
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1. The coach of the year race may come down to three recognizable names: Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Texas' Rick Barnes and San Diego State's Steve Fisher. At this point in the season, Calhoun may be the favorite with the Huskies picked near the bottom of the Big East. UConn does have the potential player of the year in Kemba Walker, but the Huskies still had to find ways to win against Michigan State, Kentucky, at Texas, Villanova and Tennessee in a collective manner and Calhoun has molded this young team around Walker. It has been his best coaching job in years, despite missing the first practice while at an infractions hearing answering questions about whether he promoted an atmosphere of compliance. The irony is that Calhoun just signed a new four-year deal last spring amid an unexplained absence last season that appeared like he might retire. Now he's looking as energized as ever.

Barnes has done a sensational job with the Longhorns, a year after his most difficult season. Texas is doing a masterful job of winning big-time games at Michigan State, over North Carolina in Greensboro and at Kansas as well as asserting itself over Texas A&M to become the top team in the Big 12. Barnes is maximizing the talent and has Jordan Hamilton playing within the system after he never turned down a shot last season. The defense has been solid and freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph came in ready to contribute at a high level.

Fisher is completing quite a career turnaround after being fired at Michigan. The Aztecs were the Mountain West Conference preseason favorite and they are living up to the hype. San Diego State has experience at all five positions and has won games playing quickly and in the half court.

2. Pitt is the best team in the Big East. If there were any doubts all you had to do was watch the start of the game against Syracuse and then see how the Panthers held on to win that game at the Petersen Center. Pitt has the most experience of any team in the Big East and it has showed. The only blip was getting pushed around against Tennessee in the Pittsburgh Penguins arena. Pitt did beat Connecticut at home and Texas in New York, so the Panthers do have a rightful argument to be the second best team in the country behind Ohio State. Pitt isn't as talented as it was two seasons ago when it was a layup away from a Final Four. But with the Big East champ likely getting a No. 1 seed, the Panthers could be on a similar path to the Final Four.

3. Under the radar moves. One of the least publicized coaching moves happened in Conference USA when Donnie Jones went from Marshall to Central Florida, and Tom Herrion moved on from being a Pitt assistant to Marshall. The moves couldn't have turned out any better for both schools. Jones led Central Florida into the Top 25 earlier this season. Now, the Knights and their youthful roster have hit the skids, falling to 1-4 in the conference. But the Knights are 14-4 overall and did knock off Florida and Miami on neutral courts.

Meanwhile, Marshall beat West Virginia earlier in the week in a nonconference rivalry game. Marshall, like UCF, has been nipped in C-USA, losing by one to East Carolina on Saturday to drop to 1-3, but both teams are a tough out for every C-USA opponent. You can expect that Marshall and Central Florida, which have arguably combined for the best nonconference wins in the league, to be pests throughout the conference season.

4. Florida State is the second best team in the ACC. That's the answer to the ACC's season-long question after this past week. Now it looks more like the Seminoles' loss at Auburn was the fluke, not beating Duke or holding on to beat NC State after that win. Florida State went on the road this past week and beat Miami, and then came back home to beat Boston College. The Seminoles have one of the best players in the country in Chris Singleton -- who can defend Kyle Singler well -- and suddenly a more than capable side act in Derwin Kitchen. The Seminoles aren't as offensively challenged anymore. Leonard Hamilton has this team playing up to its potential and in position to -- gasp -- win the ACC. Fear not ACC fans there will be at least two NCAA tournament teams with Duke and Florida State.

5. Not so fast. OK, so I got ahead of myself when I made my bold prediction that Colorado would make the NCAA tournament. But that's because I thought CU was past blowing road games it should win. The Buffaloes lost at Nebraska and at Oklahoma last week. Colorado now has to make up for it somewhere else, like at Baylor, and can't afford to lose at Texas Tech and Iowa State if the Buffs are going to make the NCAAs. Road games at Kansas and Missouri are highly unlikely. That also means that home games against Kansas on Tuesday, Kansas State on Feb. 12 and Texas on Feb. 26 have grown in importance. Colorado started off with three quality wins over Missouri, at Kansas State and over Oklahoma State, but that clearly wasn't enough. Losing to USF in overtime in San Francisco doesn't look as bad after the Dons beat Gonzaga and at least the Harvard loss was on the road and the Crimson did beat BC. Now the Buffs are in the middle again, unsure of which way they will go if they're not careful.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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