Every Friday I will give my thoughts on the game I love, college basketball.
There are a number of teams off to great starts that have not been in the big dance for a while. Let's look at a few of them:
Baylor has not been to the big dance since 1988 and Scott Drew has done a super job. His team won the Paradise Jam, beating Wichita State, Notre Dame and Winthrop in the tournament. The Bears also won at South Carolina. The team's lone loss came against Washington State by just three points. Baylor has balance as four players average in double figures, led by Curtis Jerrells (13.6 ppg.). Baylor has an underrated diaper dandy in LaceDarius Dunn.
It is hard to believe that Houston, which gave us Phi Slamma Jamma, has not made the NCAA tourney since 1992. Tom Penders' club enters this weekend with a nine-game win streak, including a convincing 83-69 win over Kentucky. The Cougars are 10-1, with the lone loss coming against VCU. Robert McIver (20 ppg.) can flat out play as one of the premier stars in Conference USA.
Rhode Island last made the big dance in 1999 and Jim Baron has this team rocking and rolling. The Rams enter Friday with a six-game win streak and their lone loss this season came at Boston College by just four points. Will Daniels is averaging over 18 ppg. and shooting 50 percent from the field. Rhode Island is in the AP top 25 for the first time since 1998.
Congratulations are in order for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. He earned his 600th career collegiate coaching win recently when the Mountaineers won at Canisius. Huggins joined a select circle of active coaches with 600 wins, including Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Eddie Sutton, all of whom have already surpassed the 750-win plateau.
How about a salute to Andy Kennedy and the Mississippi Rebels. Ole Miss is unbeaten and the recent win over Clemson sent a message that this team is for real. The team's resume also includes a win over New Mexico. Kennedy's club had 23 offensive rebounds in that upset. Dwayne Curtis and Chris Warren form a 1-2 punch, combining to average over 30 ppg. One key is the work on the boards as Mississippi is averaging eight more rebounds than its opponents. With a victory over Southern Mississippi on Friday, Ole Miss would have its best start in school history.
A number of schools have received a boost recently. Tennessee got a spark when JP Prince became eligible after transferring from Arizona. Prince had 23 big points (nine-of-14 field goals) in the win over Xavier. He will be called upon this weekend when the Vols meet Gonzaga. Sherron Collins is back to give Kansas even more depth in the backcourt. Juan Palacios is in the Louisville frontcourt and word is David Padgett could be returning sooner than originally expected. Brook Lopez became academically eligible and made an immediate impact for the Cardinal. Anthony Mason Jr. had been bothered by a foot injury but came back and played well in the Rainbow Classic for Norm Roberts' Red Storm.
NC State suffered a blow when starting point guard Farnold Degand, the transfer from Iowa State, suffered a season-ending torn ACL. The 6'4 Degand started all 10 games for the Wolfpack and led the team in assists (2.9 per game). He also shot 50-percent on three-pointers while averaging 6.9 ppg. It is a difficult situation because Degand red-shirted at Iowa State during the 2005-06 season, then sat out last season as a transfer.
Look for this weekend's Wisconsin at Texas game to be a physical battle. Bo Ryan deserves credit for taking on this tough road game just before Big Ten conference play gets underway. It will be a challenge for the Badgers to stop the dynamic backcourt of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams.
One of the misleading records in college basketball belongs to 4-6 Davidson. My friends, Stephen Curry and company can flat out play. Look at some of the teams that beat Bob McKillop's club – North Carolina, UCLA, Duke and NC State. Yes, the Wildcats already have more losses than last season (29-5 in 2006-07) but the strength of competition will make them even better in the Southern Conference. This team will still be heard from and people will not want to see DAVIDSON in their bracket come NCAA tournament time.
My neighbor and veteran NBA official, Bob Delaney, has a new book out that is called, "Bob Delaney COVERT (My Year Infiltrating the Mob)". He wrote the book with author Dave Scheiber. Bob shares his experience working undercover for the New Jersey State police prior to his outstanding career as a NBA referee. It is a dramatic story that takes you on a rollercoaster ride involving Delaney's life chasing the mob. After you read this intriguing story, do you think he is bothered by screams from coaches Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or cries from players when they are unhappy with a call?
Trust me, you find out all that screaming is CUPCAKE CITY!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.