November 17, 2006
Each Friday I write about the sport I love, college basketball.
This is a great time for fans in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes are battling for number one on the gridiron and Thad Matta has a solid team on the court. I know Matta has an impressive freshman class, but let's give some love to a couple of veterans – Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler. The dynamic duo guards are the heart and soul of the Buckeyes.
Down at Durham, North Carolina, coach Mike Krzyzewski had has a number of impact diaper dandies. After seeing the Dukies early this season, I was very impressed with the big man, Brian Zoubek. He is very aggressive offensively. Mark it down, Mr. Zoubek is going to be a big star!
In the first three games I called this season, I felt the officials were trying to send a message. They were clearly calling the games tighter, with fouls and palming violations being more obvious. I believe that the officials will loosen up a bit as we move forward.
There were a number of early season surprises, like Butler beating Notre Dame and Indiana, Southern Utah winning at Utah; Cornell upsetting Northwestern; SE Louisiana over Oregon State and Vermont over Boston College to name a few. I feel there are a couple of reasons for shock city. First off, the three-pointer has changed the game. I also feel some of the smaller conferences have something to prove and come out more hungry.
Watching Indiana guard Earl Calloway, he is vastly improved and playing more under control. He looks much better than when I saw him early last season. Calloway will be an important player for Kelvin Sampson in his first season running the Hoosiers.
I like what the NIT has done, going to a regional format for the early rounds. It makes it feel special when the teams get to the Final Four of this event at Madison Square Garden.
I was very impressed with the play of Butler's AJ Graves. The guard has a good understanding of the flow of the game. You don't see spectacular talent but you see a player who can make a major impact. He did not shoot well against Indiana but he made his free throws and did the little things to get his team to the winner's circle.
One key for Notre Dame will be the point guard play of Kyle McAlarney. He has to distribute the rock inside for the Irish to be successful. Mike Brey's squad needs to find ways to win close games; last season was heartbreak city with 12 losses coming by six points or less.
It is early in the season but Illinois is shorthanded. Guard Rich McBride is sitting out a suspension for an off-court issue. Forward Brian Randle is sidelined for up to four weeks with a groin injury. Now guard Jamar Smith is out 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain.
I see too many big men trying to go away from their strengths. There are too many 6-11 players who want to step out and shoot from the perimeter instead of posting up down low. They then play more like 5-11 players outside.
Kentucky center Jared Carter will be sidelined for several weeks with a shoulder injury. His absence will hurt Tubby Smith's depth inside.
California suffered a blow when center Jordan Wilkes was lost for the season with a torn tendon in his knee. That will take away from the frontcourt depth of Ben Braun's squad.
North Carolina's depth is evident this season. Freshman William Graves has opted to redshirt. The 6-6 forward will have four more years of eligibility and retains the ability to practice with the squad. This is a positive long-term move.
Georgia guard Channing Toney has decided to transfer. That move came after the son of former 76ers guard Andrew Toney served a suspension for academic reasons. Toney started 51 games for Georgia over the past two seasons.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.