- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.) Per the usual, we begin with video.
Evan from New York City writes: Eamonn, it seems like you aren't sold on Syracuse at all. You keep bringing up their nonconference schedule, you wrote in Poll Thoughts that you could make an argument for Ohio State still being No. 1 in the polls, and in your guys' roundtable Tuesday you wrote "Yeah, this could take awhile," about when the Orange will eventually lose their first game. What do you have against Syracuse?
Eamonn Brennan: Nothing! I have absolutely nothing against Syracuse! I promise! To paraphrase Dave Chappelle: Please believe me! Please believe me!
Here's my thing about the schedule: I'm greedy. I admit it. I like to see good college basketball teams challenge themselves. I respect programs that make potentially inadvisable scheduling decisions because they're willing to go anywhere and play anyone. And I do think there's some real value for one's team in that exchange. Syracuse hasn't done that this season, and has rarely done that in the past few seasons, which is why you see comedically derisive blog posts like this one at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician -- the complaints about Syracuse's schedule are generic because they are recurring complaints.
Eight of the Orange's first 10 games have come at home. The only other two -- wins over Virginia Tech and Stanford -- came at Madison Square Garden. Those are the facts.
Of course, there are some mitigating factors here. For one, Syracuse can't control its Big East/SEC Challenge schedule, which gave it that game versus Florida at home. It also can't really control the content of the NIT Season Tip-Off. And yes, I realize Madison Square Garden isn't the Carrier Dome, and it's fully (furiously types "Syracuse to New York" in Google Maps) 246.7 miles from Syracuse to New York City. Of course, Syracuse has a huge fan base in the NYC area, and Syracuse fans have often taken pride in their ownership of MSG in recent seasons, so I think that complaint -- painfully generic though it may be -- is valid all the same.
Despite these mitigations, this simply hasn't been a very challenging first 10 games for Syracuse this season. I, the selfish college basketball fan, would like to see how the Orange would fare at, say, Gonzaga, where Michigan State played Saturday. But it's Jim Boeheim's program, and he can schedule like he wants. I'm cool with it. Besides, let's keep in mind this team is really, really good, one of the best in the country. With all that depth and talent, I wouldn't be shocked if Syracuse was the best team in the country by the end of the season. I'm just not convinced, at this early stage, that the Orange have done enough to prove they deserve to be ranked ahead of Ohio State. (It's worth noting the Cuse are ranked No. 5 in adjusted efficiency, so there's that, too.)
The good news in all of this, of course, is that rankings don't matter. Neither do early-season scheduling laments. Hooray for that. The other bit of good news is that college basketball allows these arguments to be settled on the floor. We always have that going for us.
Anyway, one last thing: When I wrote "Yeah, this could take awhile," I meant it is a compliment! Syracuse is so good, and its nonconference and Big East schedules align so well, that it is favored significantly by Ken Pomeroy's predictive system in every game until its Feb. 13 trip to Louisville. That's crazy, and not in a bad way. Don't sweat the small stuff, Cuse fans. Yeah, I'd like it if Boeheim scheduled a bit tougher in November and December. But it's hardly the end of the world, and though it may be tedious to hear dudes like me point this stuff out so frequently, please know I feel no animus in the process.
(For a good follow-up on this dynamic from Syracuse fans themselves, check this message board discussion.)
Steve in Jeffersonville, Ind., writes: I'm a longtime IU fan who just realized Murray State might threaten Coach Knight and the Hoosiers' perfect record. How worried should I be?
Brennan: Ha. Well, for one, unless you think Murray State is going to go undefeated in the NCAA tournament, I think your beloved Hoosiers are safe.
I actually got in a quick little discussion with my CBS buddy Matt Norlander about this yesterday. Basically, Matt thinks posts like the one I wrote yesterday (which was built off Pomeroy's analysis of Murray State's schedule Sunday) are entirely premature. My response is a two-fold:
1. Matt is just a big ol' wet blanket.
2. No one is saying Murray State is going to go undefeated!
Seriously. There's a very slim chance -- Pomeroy puts it at 6 percent -- that Murray State stays perfect throughout the rest of its season. The reason this got brought up is that, while still very unlikely, Murray State's remaining schedule is so bad that it is slightly less unlikely than usual that the Racers could finish the regular season and OVC conference tourney with a perfect record. Why bring this up on Dec. 13? Because the Racers just beat Memphis at Memphis, easily the toughest game on their schedule. In a way, it's all downhill from here.
Of course, college basketball is college basketball. Teams get upset all the time. Murray State could just as easily -- probably more easily -- lose a handful of games this season. The headline of Matt's post ("Murray State will not finish undefeated this season") is almost certainly correct. But in any case, the possibility is out there. Do with that information what you wish. (Except, you know, don't put your old Hoosiers memorabilia on eBay. That stuff isn't losing value anytime soon.)
@natereed10 writes: If you had to put a grand on a team to win the national championship right now, who would you go with?
Brennan: I can only assume you are not referring to real money, because that would be unethical, unsavory and possibly illegal. I can only assume you are referring to one thousand jelly beans, which I would not bet lightly in any circumstance, because I love jelly beans. Provided those assumptions are correct, and we are talking only about jelly beans, I would have to go with ... North Carolina. The Tar Heels have flaws, and I think Kentucky and Ohio State are absolutely right there thus far, but at full strength and with no injuries, I think UNC is still the most complete team in the country on both ends of the floor or at least will be by the time March rolls around. We'll see.
@harvardcrimson writes: Will Harvard get back into the Top 25 despite not playing a game this week?
Brennan: It will almost certainly take a loss by either Vanderbilt, Creighton, Texas A&M or perhaps Michigan State (at least in the ESPN/USA Today) coaches' poll, and the only team among that group with a clearly probable loss is the Aggies. (A&M plays Florida in Sunrise, Fla., a tricky quasi-away game that should go a long way toward justifying or undercutting A&M's strange ability to stay in the Top 25 throughout the first few weeks of the season despite not really beating anyone of note.) In any case, it's a shame Harvard was dropped from the polls this week. All the Crimson did was go on the road to play at Connecticut. They lost. No shocker there. They're supposed to lose that game. Pretty much any team in the country is supposed to lose that game. Why voters suddenly thought Harvard was underserving of a top-10 spot after losing at Gampel Pavilion is just another example of the poll logic that so baffles me on a weekly basis. What are you going to do?
@GySgtLester writes: Why is SDSU not ranked? Surely we are better than Vandy. Less votes than Cal shows that the Aztecs are given no respect.
Brennan: You know, I can't really disagree. The one caveat is that Cal lost to SDSU in SDSU's building, and that's an incredibly tough place to play. (Just ask the members of The Show who have pummeled my Twitter feed for the past week.) And I will say this: San Diego State is still ranked just No. 60 in adjusted efficiency, far lower than their impressive results thus far (8-2, with a 77-67 loss at Baylor and an 85-83 loss at Creighton) would immediately indicate.
That said, yeah, if you're looking at results, I'm not sure how Cal can be considered a more deserving poll inclusion than SDSU. And there are about five teams that probably deserve to be ranked more than Vanderbilt. But don't let it get you down. If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times -- OK, more like 5,000: Polls don't matter. If SDSU deserves more respect, they'll get it by continuing their winning ways. Ain't college hoops grand?
@ExtraKrispyWBP writes: Is Jordan hulls as an all-around top three point guard in the Big Ten behind Jordan Taylor and Aaron Craft?
Brennan: Right now, yeah, he is. A couple of caveats are applicable: Purdue's Lewis Jackson has a better turnover-to-assist ratio, and Michigan State point guard Keith Appling is rounding into an excellent offensive player that is already a lockdown defender on the other end. Hulls's size prevents him from really contributing on the defensive end, especially if his matchup is bigger, more athletic, and so on. But in terms of offensive efficiency, Hulls is great -- his effective field goal percentage (71.4) and true shooting percentage (74.0) rank No. 9 and No. 6 in the country, respectively, and if his turnovers come down even slightly, his offensive rating -- already a very good 128.4 -- could rise even more.
For those less statistically inclined, Hulls is just a guy you want on your team. He captains Indiana's players on the floor. He typically makes smart decisions. He gets the Hoosiers into their offense and gets shots for everyone else, but you can't play off him or ignore him, because when he finds an inch of space to launch that jumper, he makes you pay. Listed generously at 6-foot-0, Hulls is always going to be limited by his size. But within his own skill set, few players in the country maximize their ability like this.
@mcmurrayjt writes: Does Xavier go undefeated in the non-conference even with the suspensions?
Brennan: This is just guesswork, but I'll say no. Why? Because traveling to Hawaii without freshman Dezmine Wells is a difficult thing to do, even when Tu Holloway makes his return to the lineup (after serving his one-game suspension against Oral Roberts Sunday). Xavier's first game at the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22 is against Long Beach State, a team that has pressed Kansas at Kansas and beat Pittsburgh at Pitt. Mark Lyons will still be out for that one, as will Wells. Holloway and forward Kenny Frease, along with the rest of Xavier's talented roster, is probably capable of pulling through that game. But given the circumstances, the travel and the missing guys, LBSU could be very dangerous.
@ThatPipkensGuy writes: Niners have some momentum after pulverizing Davidson. Does Charlotte beat Memphis on NYE?
Brennan: If devoted Twitter follower ThatPipkensGuy isn't the No. 1 Charlotte fan in the country, I don't know who is. Always good for a question about the 49ers. I love it.
In any case, it's way too early to tell. Charlotte has been playing better after early losses to Lamar and East Tennessee State, but Alan Major's team is still really struggling on the offensive end. Let's see how upcoming games against Miami (Fla.) and Arkansas go before we start predicting another Memphis upset. But right now, given the Tigers' struggles (especially on the glass on both ends of the floor), it would appear the answer to "Can X team beat Memphis on X date?" should almost always be "hey, maybe!"
@rmj_equals_hero writes: Suppose you had to pick one player to make up all 12 roster spots (like the movie "Multiplicity"). Which player would you pick?
Brennan: First of all, tremendous "Multiplicity" reference. Was that movie the beginning of the end of Michael Keaton being an actual movie star? Jackie Brown came a year after, and when you're in Quentin Tarantino's ode to 1970s blaxploitation cinema, it's usually because your career needs revitalization. (Always an overrated Batman, too, that Michael Keaton. Maybe that's unfair because Christian Bale is so good, and Christopher Nolan's Batman is so obviously superior to Tim Burton's, but it's how I feel. There, I said it.) That said, I was 12 in 1997. I suppose I could be wrong.
Anyway, this is a fantastic question. My first instinct was to go with Kentucky forward Terrence Jones. He can handle the ball, shoot it a little bit, he can guard pretty much any position on the floor. But then I wondered what it would be like to try to coach 12 Terrence Jones'. Can you imagine? What happens if they share the same mood, and the "zero" (Coach Cal's words, not mine) that Jones posted at Indiana Saturday becomes a team-wide malaise? That's why I'll go with Jones's teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Like Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist is incredibly versatile and athletic. Like Jones, he can guard a variety of positions on the floor, and the communal athleticism of the 12 Kidd-Gilchrists would make up for any size issues the Kidd-Gilchrists playing center and power forward would have to deal with. Unlike Jones, however, Kidd-Gilchrist appears to be an absolute competitive killer, the guy who shows up for each and every game with one goal in mind: win. Of course the insane natural ability is nice, too, but I'll take 12 of that guy any day.
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag.