|ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball||[Print without images]|
|No team has gotten within 12 points of Billy Donovan's Gators this season.|
|Florida knocked off Arizona in overtime last season. The two square off in Tucson on Saturday night.|
A: Illinois' backcourt -- Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have been one of the best -- if not the best -- guard duos in the country. They combine to average 31.7 points for the 10th-ranked Illini, who improved to 10-0 following Saturday's 85-74 victory at Gonzaga. Paul had 35 points in the win. Guard Tracy Abrams (11.6 points) ranks third on the team in scoring.
B: Mark Turgeon -- Maryland fans have to feel good about the direction of their program under Turgeon, who is 8-1 in his second season. Even though the Terrapins have played only one high-level opponent -- they lost to Kentucky in the season-opener -- it's clear this team has enough pieces to compete for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2010. Center Alex Len and guard Dez Wells are All-ACC-caliber players. "Our chemistry is good," Turgeon said by phone Tuesday. "We're getting better, but I was hoping we'd get better faster. I'm not seeing an everyday 'bring it' attitude in our guys yet. That gets a little frustrating."
C: Gonzaga -- For the first month of the season, I was as excited about this Gonzaga squad as any in recent memory. My enthusiasm was tempered last week when the Zags needed a last-second shot to beat Washington State. And it all but disappeared following Saturday's home loss to Illinois. Gonzaga is still a very good team that's completely deserving of its No. 14 national ranking. But labeling the Zags as "elite" may be a stretch.
|There were plenty of good seats still available at UCLA-Texas.|
D: The Big 12 -- I've covered the league since its inception, and I can't remember the conference ever having this bad of a season. Only two teams (Kansas and Oklahoma State) are ranked. And when it comes to quality wins, well ... there are hardly any. The Big 12 is 2-8 versus top 25 teams and only 4-9 against opponents ranked in the RPI top 50. "Once January gets here, our league will be as good as it's been," KU coach Bill Self said. I'm not so sure. Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State have the personnel to be strong, but have been far from impressive.
F: Football stadiums -- Venues such as Houston's Reliant Stadium should not be hosting regular-season basketball games. Especially in December, and especially in Texas, where folks simply don't give a hoot about hoops until bowl season is over. The announced attendance at Saturday's Texas-UCLA game was 2,797. My guess is that it was about half that figure. The game would've been better suited for a high school gym.
Ranking the best coaches from a non-Big Six school, in order of total points, with number of first-place votes in parentheses (voters: Eamonn Brennan, Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil, Myron Medcalf and myself):
1. Brad Stevens, Butler (2) -- 46
2. Shaka Smart, VCU (2) -- 37
3. Mark Few, Gonzaga (1) -- 35
4. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State -- 24
5. Fran Dunphy, Temple -- 21
6. Steve Fisher, San Diego State -- 20
7. Stew Morrill, Utah State -- 15
8. Dave Rose, BYU -- 12
8. Bob McKillop, Davidson -- 12
10. Greg McDermott, Creighton -- 10
Also receiving votes: Steve Alford, New Mexico 9; Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's 9; Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's 7; Dan Monson, Long Beach State 5; Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State, 4; Rick Byrd, Belmont, 3; Steve Prohm, Murray State 2; Dave Rice, UNLV 1; Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa 1; Josh Pastner, Memphis, 1.
1. Missouri coach Frank Haith told me Sunday that the addition of Oregon transfer Jabari Brown could change the entire feel of his team's backcourt. Brown will give the Tigers the outside shooting threat they currently lack. For the past few weeks, point guard Phil Pressey has forced shots he normally wouldn't take -- simply because he didn't have any other options on the perimeter.
"He doesn't have to do that," Haith said of Pressey. "We want Phil to be Phil. The greatest quality he has is making people around him better. He needs to get back to doing that in order for our team to be really, really good."
Brown's presence will certainly help. Although he was ranked as the seventh-best shooting guard in the 2011 class, Brown's talents extend far beyond his ability to score from beyond the arc.
"He's just a great scorer," Haith said, "and he can handle [the ball], too. That means he can score off the bounce, on pull-up jumpers or in the lane. And he's got a high basketball IQ. He can really give us something."
Brown played in just two games at Oregon last fall before transferring.
2. Had a chance to catch up with former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis in Houston on Sunday. Davis is in his first year as coach at Texas Southern, which is off to a 1-8 start. Three of the Tigers' losses were by single digits, and two of them (against Colorado and Houston) came in overtime.
|Mike Davis, in his first season at Texas Southern, saw his team push Colorado to double OT.|
Davis, though, is hardly discouraged. Texas Southern -- which also lost to Michigan State, San Diego State, Northwestern and Boise State -- has played one of the nation's toughest schedules. And Davis didn't even join the program until August.
"It's a great situation for me," Davis said. "I get a chance to try to do something that's never been done at Texas Southern: win consistently in the nonconference and put ourselves in a situation to go deep in the tournament. I think we can do something really, really special here. You really don't have to leave Houston to get players. This is a basketball mecca. I'm in the right city."
Davis, who was fired by UAB in March after six seasons, said living in Houston is also benefiting his son, Antone, a seventh-grader who has aspirations of playing in college. "I need to send UAB a thank-you letter," said Davis, who led Indiana to the 2002 NCAA title game. "He's playing against the best competition out here, and he's learning from the best coach."
3. The "best coach" to whom Davis is referring is former NBA star John Lucas, who trains players of all ages five days a week in a Houston gym. I watched Davis' 14-year-old son work out Sunday against some of the top high school prospects in the country. Also taking part in Lucas' training session was South Plains (Texas) Community College center Yanick Moreira, who has signed with SMU. I couldn't have been more impressed with the overall athleticism of the 6-foot-11 Moreira, who also considered Pittsburgh, Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M. I asked him why he picked the Mustangs.
"It was pretty easy," Moreira said. "I had my coach helping me, as well as a few guys back home. All of them told me Larry Brown was the right guy to coach me and make me better."
What was Brown's recruiting pitch?
"He said, 'If you promise me you're going to work and play hard every single day, I'm going to make sure you're going to become a pro,' " Moreira said. "I think we can be pretty good at SMU. We can make big schools scared to play us."
4. With the NCAA still dragging its feet on the Myck Kabongo situation -- and seriously, this is getting ridiculous -- Texas freshman Javan Felix has been thrust into a difficult situation. The point guard is averaging a little less than four turnovers a game while shooting a paltry 30 percent from the field. Felix played 38 minutes in last weekend's 65-63 loss to UCLA in Houston.
"That's about 23 more minutes than we expected when the season started," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He's done a pretty good job. There's been a lot put on him. At the end of the game, that's where he's got to get better."
Felix had two turnovers in the final three minutes against UCLA and also fired up some ill-advised shots.
"More is expected of me than we originally planned," Felix said as he left the locker room, "but I'm ready to take that challenge on. I feel like I'm getting better every game. I'm just going to keep listening to Coach Barnes and stay positive about everything."
5. Last Saturday was my first chance to see UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson in person. Both freshmen were incredibly impressive, but they'd be even better if they each dropped about 10 pounds, especially in the lower body. Neither seemed to have much burst off the dribble.
6. At 8-1, Virginia Tech ranks as one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Hokies are averaging 82.2 points per game, a mark that ranks 11th in the country.
"We're playing my style of basketball: up-tempo," first-year coach James Johnson said by phone last week. "We're in good condition, so we can really run the floor. I want our guys to beat the defense up the floor and take good shots early in the possession so they don't have to grind it out 5-on-5 all the time."
Johnson, who has just eight scholarship players, eventually wants to employ the same frenetic style on defense, too.
"The way I envision the future is us attacking on the defensive end," he said. "But with our numbers right now, I feel the only place we can do it is the offensive end. As time moves on, we'll get more players in here, and I'll extend the defense and press."
|Billionaire T. Boone Pickens tweeted out his Christmas present to fellow Oklahoma State fans.|
7. Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens kicked off his Christmas shopping this week by purchasing the remaining 4,000 tickets for the Cowboys' New Year's Eve showdown with No. 14 Gonzaga. Pickens, who will give away the tickets to OSU fans beginning today, said he hopes the gesture will "put a great exclamation point on a promising OSU basketball season." The 24th-ranked Cowboys are 7-1.
8. Add Washington State's Ken Bone to your "Coaches Doing a Heck of Job" list. The Cougars look like a totally different team than the one I saw get crushed Nov. 19 by Kansas in the CBE Classic before falling in the final seconds to Texas A&M the following night.
Washington State put on an incredible performance against then-No. 10 Gonzaga last week but fell 71-69 on Kevin Pangos' last-second layup. Four nights later, it beat Fresno State 59-50.
"Our kids have done a nice job dealing with adversity," Bone told me Tuesday. "When things have gone bad, they've bounced back. They're a group of high-character guys."
Bone kicked Reggie Moore -- who was considered one of the Pac-12's top point guards -- off the team during the offseason for a violation of team rules. The Cougars were dealt another blow when DaVonte Lacy went down with a knee injury early in the loss to Kansas. Lacy is Wazzou's second-best offensive player, behind forward Brock Motum.
"The ligaments pulled away from the capsule that covers his kneecap," Bone said. "There was a lot of fluid in his knee. The old-fashioned solution would be to get in there and drain it. But they felt it would be better to get that thing to drain naturally."
Bone praised team doctors for using hydrotherapy to help Lacy maintain his stamina while his knee healed. He made his return against Gonzaga and scored 22 points in 28 minutes.
Best on top: Big Ten (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State)
Best at the bottom: Pac-12 (Arizona State, Utah, Washington State, Washington, USC)
Where'd they come from: Illinois-Chicago
Where have they been: Villanova
What in tarnation has happened to: Colorado
Call me when you play someone: Syracuse
Take the day off: Duke
Too much credit: Connecticut
Deserves more credit: Russ Smith, Louisville
Brilliant: Champions Classic and Crossroads Classic
Are you bananas: Four basketball games at one time at Jerry World
Needs to retire: Jim Burr (official)
Time to give up on: West Virginia
Don't lose faith in: Illinois State
Son that deserves a pat on the back: Tyler Self (scored first career basket for Kansas)
Son that deserves a swat (or three) on the butt: Mike Anderson Jr. (received third DUI)
Each week, I'll pick the top five players -- and three reserves -- to play for a high-profile coach at his current school. Disagree with my selections? Let me hear about it.
Michigan State's All-Tom Izzo team
G -- Mateen Cleaves: Three-time All-American led Spartans to 2000 NCAA title
G -- Charlie Bell: Defensive standout led Spartans to three Final Fours
G/F -- Jason Richardson: Scored 14.7 points as a sophomore on 2001 Final Four team
G/F -- Morris Peterson: Scoring leader for 2000 NCAA championship team
F -- Draymond Green: Played in two Final Fours; 2012 NABC National Player of the Year
G -- Kalin Lucas: Led Michigan State to 2009 NCAA title game
G -- Drew Neitzel: One of the top 3-point shooters in school history
F -- Zach Randolph: Sixth man for 2001 Final Four squad became a star in the NBA
Wichita State 60, at Tennessee 52: The Vols are averaging 37 points in their past two games.
Florida 74, at Arizona 62: The Wildcats' first game against a quality opponent ends in a loss, but the setback won't define their season.
|Butler will face a tall order against the No. 1 Hoosiers at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.|
Indiana 75, vs. Butler 58: The Hoosiers are too quick and athletic in transition for Butler. Then again, so was North Carolina, and we all know how that turned out.
Notre Dame 72, vs. Purdue 61: Two teams headed in opposite directions. The Fighting Irish are rolling and the Boilermakers are reeling.
Louisville 72, at Memphis 61: The Tigers have no chance if Joe Jackson doesn't come to play.
Gonzaga 74, vs. Kansas State 59: The Wildcats have trouble scoring, which isn't good against a ticked-off team looking to bounce back in front of a pro-Zags crowd in Seattle.
Creighton 70, at Cal 65: This could be one of the more competitive games of the weekend. Both teams are extremely well-coached.
Last week: 6-1
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, Las Vegas: I can't stand sushi. Actually, let me rephrase that. I've never had sushi. But if I did, I'm guessing I'd hate it. Not real big on raw meat. But I still had an incredible meal at this upscale eatery in the Cosmopolitan hotel, thanks to some advice from our friendly waiter. "Order the fried chicken," he said. "It's the best thing on the menu." I would later learn that the battered bird at Blue Ribbon was regarded as some of the best in the country. I can certainly see why. The crust is seasoned with shichimi pepper, which makes it a tad spicy. A ramekin filled with wasabi honey comes on the side and the portions are huge. I think you'll love it -- and if you don't, you can always stop by the pizza joint next door.
Banger's Sausage House & Beer Garden, Austin, Texas: Some friends and I stumbled upon this popular hangout on Rainey Street while in town for a bachelor party last month. Banger's specializes in different varieties of sausages and bratwursts -- the Louisiana Lightning was really spicy -- but the thing that stood out were the sides. Served in mason jars, the German potato salad and the jalapeno creamed corn with onion gratin nearly put me in a state of euphoria. The house-made Snickers Ice Cream Jar was one of the best desserts I've ever had. If you're more thirsty than hungry, Banger's has more than 100 beers on tap and a nice outdoor area with picnic tables and music.
Frankie Bones, Hilton Head, S.C.: The culinary highlight of this summer's spur-of-the-moment getaway to Charleston/Hilton Head came during our visit to Frankie Bones, one of the most highly rated restaurants in the area. I hit the lottery with the teriyaki steak and fried shrimp combo. The steak was full of flavor and the shrimp was battered lightly enough that it didn't lose its flavor. So impressed was I with Frankie Bones that I recommended it to my editor, who visited during his trip to Hilton Head a few weeks later. "You definitely know your food," he texted after his meal. Hey, whatever it takes to impress him, right?