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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Medcalf/Brennan: At The Watercooler

Every Sunday, two of our writers will gather at the proverbial watercooler -- in this case, the digital one -- to discuss all the latest happenings in college basketball. Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan kick things off with another statement win for Florida State and Syracuse's fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Eamonn Brennan: Myron! We're back on another beautiful (OK, cold and wet) morning in the Midwest, after another Saturday of college hoops and, well, that was not just another Saturday of college hoops. Yesterday was one crazy game after another for like 12 hours straight. It was magnificent. Your game of the day?

Michael Snaer's game-winning 3-pointer against Duke gave FSU a second win over the ACC's elite.

Myron Medcalf: Yep, Eamonn! Bonkers. So I'm watching this Animal Planet show about alligators being raised in the Rocky Mountains -- it's bananas -- but the ridiculousness of the show's concept is kind of like what happened Saturday. None of it made sense but it was all fascinating. For me, I loved Duke versus Florida State. The ACC is a three-team race right now after an amazing effort by the Seminoles to beat the Blue Devils. Um, what happened on that last play? Why didn't Duke defend?

EB: I think the Blue Devils totally discounted the possibility of a pass there, which is part of why it was such a great play by Luke Loucks to find Michael Snaer in the first place. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton's reaction killed me -- like it was just another day on the gig, no matter what horrible block/charge call seemed to go against his team in the second half. He was calmer than pretty much everyone on Twitter. You have to think his team feels that, too.

MM: For sure. Florida State has to be one of the most confident teams in the country after destroying UNC and then sending a message with a road win over Duke. You think the Seminoles are a legit contender for the ACC title now?

EB: After this week, how can you not? I know it's not the prettiest of teams, and I know there are going to be some truly bad offensive performances, but this team is one of the most athletic, defense-oriented teams in the country. When you have a two-game streak like this, you have to be seen as legitimate.

Here's my two-part, subject-changing question for you: 1.) Are people going to overreact to this Syracuse loss at Notre Dame? 2.) How are you reacting?

MM: 1.) People are definitely overreacting to the Syracuse loss because they were waiting for it. All of the folks who said, "There's no way these guys are No. 1" got exactly what they wanted. 2.) I had a different reaction. I think losing Fab Melo disrupted chemistry and changed the Syracuse D. He had 11 blocks in his last three games. Jack Cooley becomes vintage Kevin Garnett (17 points, 10 rebounds) for the Fighting Irish and that wasn't tied to Melo's absence? I disagree. For me Kentucky is 1a. Syracuse is still 1b. If Melo doesn't return, let's talk. But right now, it's still a tough team that took a tough loss … like every other team in America has at some point this season.

Fab Melo's absence left a void in Syracuse's frontcourt, which Jack Cooley exploited to the tune of 17 points and 10 boards.

Where is Syracuse ranked right now in your eyes? And what was your take on the loss?

EB: Hmm. I think they'll probably be ranked No. 2 or No. 3, depending on what the pollsters do with Missouri, but no matter what the polls do, I agree. I don't put too much stock into Saturday's loss, because Melo was out and, more than anything, it happens, you know? Syracuse shot the ball horribly on the road in Big East play. A loss was going to pop up here eventually, and Notre Dame was ready to take advantage. The question is how quickly Melo can return to the lineup, and if/how that changes this team in any real way going forward.

Speaking of Missouri … on a normal Saturday, that was the win of the day. Yesterday, it was one of three. Either way, huge, huge victory for the Tigers on the road. This team has to be seen as a legit national title contender now, right?

MM: Definitely. Most of the top-10 teams are still figuring things out in one way or another. Not Missouri. The Tigers are confident in who they are. And they're as tough as any team in the country, too. Speaking of toughness … where was Baylor's?

EB: I really want to defend Perry Jones III from all those charges about him being soft … and then I watch him play, and I can't disagree! That's how I feel about this Baylor team. They have been incredibly impressive for much of this season, but I feel like they lack that hard edge in the middle of their lineup. Jones and Quincy Miller simply don't give that sort of look to your team. I wonder if that's an issue going forward.

MM: I agree that it's hard to defend Perry Jones when he disappears in a huge HOME game. I was waiting for him to have a Wooden moment -- "Forget this, there's no way we're losing this one!" -- but it never happened. And to be honest, the only time that has happened was during Baylor's win at BYU. Does the Big 12 have an argument for best league in the nation given the turmoil in the Big Ten and Big East in your opinion?

Missouri is fueled by its guard play but the Tigers have found an extra dimension with the increased production of forward Ricardo Ratliffe, right.

EB: There are good teams in that league, but … I don't think so. I still think the Big Ten is the deepest conference in the country. Now, if you're looking for genuine potential Final Four teams, I think you're best looking at the Big 12. That's always the difficulty in this conservation -- good teams versus depth, more good teams versus pound-for-pound, etc. But however we want to break this down your point is well taken.

I just want to say this: On a neutral court in the tournament, when guard play is so important, I'm not sure I'd take another team in the nation over Missouri.

MM: That's a bold statement but it's hard to make an argument against it. Can we agree that Ricardo Ratliffe is the most important player in America? I mean, the guards are the core of that team. But without his efficiency and production, the Tigers are not a top-5 team.

EB: Entirely true. They have such a symbiotic relationship, Ratliffe and that frontcourt. With all that great guard play, he gets easy looks, but without him that team can't rebound, score in the low block, any of it. He's incredible.

Did you stay up late for UNLV? That was one of the more impressive performances I saw all day. And what about Louisville-Pittsburgh? Besides being a casualty of scheduling prime-time games in the offseason, it was an eighth straight loss for Pitt. Are we in full-on lost-season mode with this Panthers team?

MM: I thought the Lobos could make the MWC a three-team race. Not anymore. They're not the same level as UNLV and San Diego State. Twenty-one turnovers? Not going to get it done. Tough day for Pitt, too. "College GameDay" was there. So much talk about Travon Woodall returning. But he's still not ready. Yep. Hit the red button. Not sure how the Panthers can make anything of this disastrous campaign.

Tennessee, however, makes me think that there's still time for a lot of teams. How about Jarnell Stokes going from high school to SEC starter in a matter of weeks? Can Cuonzo Martin do something with this team?

EB: How cool is that story? Dude is barely 18 -- just turned, I believe -- and he's stepping on the college floor and helping to take down UConn. I like the way this Tennessee team plays. The Vols are about what they are, in terms of talent -- .500 or so seems about right for them -- but they always play hard. And against a team still struggling to figure out its leadership issues (as Jim Calhoun discussed on the podcast this week) simple things like "playing hard" and "playing smart" are sometimes enough to overcome the talent deficit.

UConn big men Andre Drummond, left, and Alex Oriakhi combined for 11 points in the Huskies' loss at UT.

I'm still waiting for Connecticut to figure some of this stuff out. Having Ryan Boatright back would be one major step. But even without him, this is a really good team. Or, it should be. What's the deal with this frontcourt? It appears Andre Drummond is still behind schedule, and Alex Oriakhi is nowhere near last year's stride. Those two rebounded well yesterday, but they should be dominating the low block against a team like the Vols. I expected copious dunkage. I did not get it.

MM: It's like a plague affecting the entire national scene. "Big Man Inactivity Syndrome." It's so frustrating to watch Drummond and Oriakhi watch everyone else when they should be dictating the game. I'll tell you what. I think UConn is talented. But don't be surprised if its stint in March Madness ends after one game. Too much inconsistency inside.

MM: Within the drama that the weekend's upsets and great games offered, a 6-foot-10 big man from Kentucky stood out for me. There hasn't been a lot of separation at the top of the rankings. And this could continue for the rest of the regular season. But Anthony Davis continues to make Kentucky look like the team that will be the most challenging foe in the NCAA tournament. He was amazing against Alabama. The latter didn't play a bad game, but Davis was just too much of a force. That won't change in the coming weeks. And that's why I'm still picking the Wildcats to win it all.

EB: He's special. There are a lot of special players in college hoops this season, and we saw more than a few of them on display on Saturday. If there's anyone in the country that can stand up to Thomas Robinson's deserved POY candidacy, it appears to be West Virginia forward Kevin Jones. He was brilliant Saturday in a huge home win over Cincinnati; no one in the Big East is playing remotely as well as Jones is right now. I love me some T-Rob, but Jones deserves plenty of early POY love. Then again, that could change in five days' time. By next Saturday, who knows. In any case, this Saturday was as good as any day of the season this year, and if this is an indication of where we go from here, our Sunday mornings at the imaginary watercooler are going to keep getting longer and longer and longer.

So much to discuss, so little time. Until next Sunday, Myron.